Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Palm House at Kew Gardens


The Palm House was built by architect Decimus Burton and iron-maker Richard Turner between 1844 and 1848, and was the first large-scale structural use of wrought iron. The structure's panes of glass are all hand-blown.

Experts consider Kew’s Palm House as the most important surviving Victorian iron and glass structure in the world. It was designed to accommodate the exotic palms being collected and introduced to Europe in early Victorian times. The project was pioneering, as it was the first time engineers had used wrought iron to span such large widths without supporting columns. This technique was borrowed from the shipbuilding industry; from a distance the glasshouse resembles an upturned hull. The result was a vast, light, lofty space that could easily accommodate the crowns of large palms.
Heating was an important element of the glasshouse’s design, as tropical palms need a warm, moist environment to thrive. Originally, basement boilers sent heat into the glasshouse via water pipes running beneath iron gratings in the floor. A tunnel ran between the Palm House and the Italianate Campanile smoke stack that stands beside Victoria Gate. This 150-metres-long (490 ft) passage served the dual purpose of carrying away sooty fumes to be released from the chimney and enabling coal to be brought to the boilers by underground railway. Today, the glasshouse is heated using gas and the tunnel houses Palm House Keeper Wesley Shaw’s office.
Originally, palms, cycads and climbers were planted in large teak tubs or clay pots that sat atop benches above the iron gratings. However, in 1860, two large central beds were dug and the tallest palms planted in them. Subsequently, most of the glasshouse’s plants were dug into beds to form a miniature indoor tropical rainforest. Today, the tallest palms that need the most room are located beneath the central dome. These include the peach palm (Bactris gasipaes), babassu (Attalea speciosa), queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana) and the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera).


The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, usually referred to simply as Kew Gardens, are 121 hectares of gardens and botanical glasshouses between Richmond and Kew in southwest London, England. It is an internationally important botanical research and education institution with 700 staff and an income of £56 million for the year ended 31 March 2008, as well as a visitor attraction receiving almost 2 million visits in that year. Created in 1759 the gardens celebrated their 250th anniversary in 2009.


The Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is responsible for the world's largest collection of living plants. The organisation employs more than 650 scientists and other staff. The living collections include more than 30,000 different kinds of plants, while the herbarium, which is the one of the largest in the world, has over 7 million preserved plant specimens. The library contains more than 750,000 volumes, and the illustrations collection contains more than 175,000 prints and drawings of plants. The Kew site includes four Grade I listed buildings and 36 Grade II listed structures in an internationally significant landscape.

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