This is the first in a series of adventures I’ve been sent on, by and for The King’s Ginger. I’m going to follow the life, loves and hobbies of King Edward VII, spin you all an entertaining yarn or two, and, since this is of course primarily a fashion blog, show lots of pictures of me in frocks. So here goes!
For this inaugural outing, and because it was a nice day (a rarity in this ‘worst summer for 18 years’), I wanted to spend it outdoors. Bertie (for that was how old Ed was known to his family), simply adored nature. Alright, so he was probably best known for shooting it, but during his mother’s reign and therefore, his time as the Prince of Wales, the popularity of the great gardens of England was at its peak. Kew Gardens (now known as the Royal Botanical Gardens) in affluent west London, was first opened to the public in 1810, having been a private pleasure garden up to that point. After a few decades of decline, they were presented to the nation as a royal gift in 1840 and placed under the control of Queen Victoria’s office of public works, where they flourished. As the Prince had spent time at nearby Chiswick House, there is little doubt that he would have visited the gardens. During his reign, he even gave over one of the properties, Cambridge Cottage, to be a Museum of Forestry. It’s now a gallery full of lovely botanical and transport artwork (smashing art deco posters and so on).
So, anyway, I toddled off to Kew to explore the glorious gardens and see some of the bits I could associate with King Edward. The Japanese Gateway is a smaller replica of the Western Temple of the Original Vow in Kyoto, built in 1910 for the Japan-British Exhibition held at White City. The opening of the Exhibition itself was delayed by Bertie’s passing in May of that year, but open it did, and remained so until the following October. On its closure, The Japanese Gateway was then dismantled and reconstructed at Kew in 1911, near the famed Pagoda; and Japanese gardens were planted around it.
The Pagoda itself dates to far, far earlier. Finished in 1762, it was originally covered in iron tiles and guilded dragons, looking far more jazzy than it does now. It still looks pretty spectacular, but perhaps one day, the dragons will be replicated… one can hope! You can see it on the left, and on the right, I’m perched in front of the Gateway, with its stunning wood carving and detailing (knee support a glamorous extra).
A view of the Gateway from the side. The Japanese gardens surrounding it are so lovely. I’m a huge fan of white pines, having bought my lovely mum a bonsai one, several Christmases ago. Perhaps one day, I’ll actually get to go to Japan!
In true English style, it started to chill off by that point, so we headed into Temperate House – the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world. This incredible structure was actually completed over a staggering forty years, and was only finished around the time Edward ascended the throne. Today it holds a huge array of plants, from citrus bushes (citrus being used as an ingredient in the King’s Ginger of course), tea, and the magnificent, sixty-foot Chilean Wine Palm, which was grown from a seed in the 1820s and is still growing now. Mind-boggling (if you’re a gardening nerd like me)! The plants and the Victorian ironwork are like art to me, and the spiral staircases leading to the viewing gallery are exquisite. It’s in dire need of restoration though, and I hope that Kew raises the money required to keep this hugely important glasshouse open.
I couldn’t resist having a pose, of course.
I didn’t see nearly enough in Kew as we had one more stop to make on this Ginger adventure, so I hope to return soon. The highlight may well have been the small glasshouse with the water plants. Absolutely beautiful. And you have to love a bit of an OTT Victorian cornucopia.
So, the final stop on my whirlwind tour of Bertie’s west London was Chiswick House. This stately pile was built in the early 18th Century, and its owners, the various Dukes of Devonshire, played host to scores of royals over the many decades since. If you’ve ever seen ‘The Duchess’ starring ol’ spoonface Knightley, this is where Georgiana actually lived with the Fifth Duke. She called it her “earthly paradise”, and it’s not hard to see why. Queen Victoria, two Russian Tsars, and the kings of Prussia and Saxony stayed and were entertained here by the Sixth Duke. He kept an elephant and other exotic and terribly un-PC animals in his glorious gardens. But, importantly for me, during the 1870s the tenant was none other than the Prince of Wales, soon-to-be Edward VII; whose royal offspring tended flower beds in the gardens. We went inside to explore, only to be greeted by signs forbidding photography, so, banished to the gardens, we explored outside instead. Jolly good thing, too, as the whole place was apparently turned into a lunatic asylum from 1892-1929… probably has bad vibes (maaan).
There wasn’t time to see even a fraction of the loveliness on offer. The blurb tells me there are “formal gardens, relaxed sloping lawns, a naturalistic lake, avenues of trees, ornamental woods and shrubberies, almost “wild’ woodland, the House and Conservatory, temples and statuary”, but I only really saw the lake and its stoney inhabitants. I did make friends with one lovely lady. Dear old Edward was such a fan of the female form, I wonder if she was lucky enough to catch his eye and become one of his many girlfriends? I was that admiring myself, I had a go at imitating her stately stance. Forget Blue Steel, this is my new look, Limestone! I also did a bit of wistful posing at the water’s edge.
But since the whole story revolves around the revivifying taste of The King’s Ginger, I decided to end my little trip by offering a nip to the only royalty around. Swans, as you know (or perhaps not if you’re a Former Colonial), are all owned by the Queen, so they are about as royal as they come. Therefore, I thought they might appreciate a snifter of this most monarchic of libations…
Seems not. So off I popped to share it with a much more feisty-looking and still very well-to-do dame I found around the corner. Bottoms up, Sphinxy!
I hope you’ve enjoyed my story, and if you’re tempted by my mild silliness to try some King’s Ginger for yourself, I’ll be launching my monthly competition next week, so you can win a bottle all for yourself. So until then, stay spicy everyone!