Kew Gardens in full Indian blossom

(Photo by Andrew McRobb)

Located in the south west part of London Kew Gardens is one of the proudest parts of English cultural heritage. Being over 170 years old, it obtains a rich collection of botanical specimens that is considered as one of the largest in the world. Throughout the years the gardens have made a huge contribution to the study of botany, which encouraged putting them on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

This place is a vivid space for a celebration of other cultures and traditions, and the festival attempts to show that from a new perspective every year. And how exactly does it provide a refreshing experience to its visitors? What Kew Gardens do is try to extend the traditional idea of a historical exhibition space by presenting supplementary elements and constituting a particular layout that would include both the primary aspect — the botany — and the characteristic feature(s) of a culture that’s related to a selected specimen.

Orchids Festival has become one the most popular events held by Kew Gardens in recent years. Even though the Indian culture as a particular feature has never been presented before, each year the festival happens to be the centre of attraction for many locals and tourists.

From the 4 of February Kew Gardens starts its annual Orchids Festival that this year will be celebrating India’s magnificent culture, rich with colours and a vibrant diversity of accompanying symbols — one of which is flowers. The great variety of traditional floral abundance can be found throughout the whole exhibition space, and it can definitely be considered as the best that Kew Garden had shown in the last few years.

This February the inspiration is represented through installations in the shape of the most traditional animals deeply associated with India such as peacocks, tigers and elephants. And of course a national Indian flag, as one of the most important features at the festival, deserves a special attention. To create a complete experience of the Indian culture, this year Kew Garden even accompanies the exhibition with the musicians, who play traditional songs in the orangery, while visitors unhurriedly observe the presented floral creations.

Another worth attention element that visitors find is a traditional Indian marriage swing and a floral pond in the greenhouse. The festival explains that historically the orchid holds a very special and significant meaning as a flower when it comes to wedding ceremonies. Orchids are considered to convey a sense of affection, profound love and perpetual support of partners towards each other. This particular aspect is great at demonstrating how traditional symbols are still deeply rooted in the modern Indian culture today.

This year the exhibition includes a variety of entertainment going on and that certainly creates an engaging presentation. A pleasant addition is film screenings in regards of India state, as a composite of various cultural influences and representations, that takes place in the Princes of Wales Conservatory film room. Visitors will be able to enjoy some visual bits of Indian culture, which allows to illustrate the story of a country and how it preserves the history of traditions throughout several thousand years.

Kew Gardens also presents the ‘Orchids Lates’ evenings for those who want to enjoy a more intimate look at the flowers. ‘Orchids Lates’ are a nice extension of the experience that gives visitors a chance to try exotic botanical cocktails, meanwhile receiving talks from Kew explainers about the prosperity of the culture and traditions.

Music, as one of the best companions that can reflect the spiritual and cultural sides of any culture, is vividly present in both day and evening exhibition parts. ‘Orchids Lates’ present exclusive live performances of traditional Indian music as well as special inclusion of performances by electric violinist Jyotsna Srikanth. Another, rather educational, element that is included in ‘Orchids Lates’ is hands-on interactive workshops with volunteer guides of Kew Gardens that give a chance to really immerse in the Indian culture and floral aspect of it.

For those who might not find it enough, Kew Gardens also present such additional entertaining treats as Vinyasa yoga classes, dishes inspired by Indian culture in the Orangery restaurant and even Henna tattoo drawings, which surely guarantee a delightful day of Indian culture.

Orchids Festival is developing into something new and more entertaining each year, and gives Londoners this much needed extra dose of sun, light and colour during the last month of winter.