What?: Let’s face it, Kew Gardens’ children’s offer had been in dire need of a facelift for some time. Climbers and Creepers, the sparse and sweaty indoor playground that’s somehow managed to survive while its adjoining outdoor playground has been bulldozed to make way for the new arrival, was and continues to be crap. At best it’s now a glorified bus shelter for those days when rain wasn’t forecast but it pisses it down anyway. But the Children’s Garden; this is something else entirely. A beautifully landscaped oasis that elegantly straddles the line between garden and playground, the Children’s Garden offers a play experience like no other, being the size of 40 tennis courts and asking by way of six stepping stones on its entry path “what do plants need to grow?” – a question that’s answered with the garden’s four distinct sections: Earth, Air, Sun and Water.
Upon arrival in the garden, where you have to wear a coloured wristband so they know when to tell you to bugger off when your 90 minutes is up, we abandoned the buggy beneath the canopy walk – a smaller version of Kew’s famous Treetop Walkway that’s wrapped around a 200-year-old oak tree – and headed for the Air Garden. This was probably my favourite of the four areas with its giant colourful pollen spheres, mini trampolines and forest of spinning ‘windflowers’, as well as being one of the most photogenic (although to be honest it all looks pretty great) and the cutest for sitters, crawlers and cruisers thanks to its basically being Teletubbyland.
Next up was the Water Garden, which very quickly became a complete pain in the arse when Babu repeatedly tried to cross the little pond via the stepping stones then froze with terror every time she got to the middle. This was apparently so fun she refused to do anything else for about 20 minutes, ignoring my offers of help and attempts to move her onto something that might make her cry less. There was a little water pump here and lots of rocks, which Babu enjoyed climbing but I can imagine might be somewhat anxiety-provoking with a younger child (the garden, by the way, is aimed at 2-12s).
The Sun Garden makes the perfect picnic spot with its large expanses of grass, though if you really want to make the most of your 90 minutes (not long enough in our opinion) you’ll save your lunch for afterwards. Circles are a thing in this garden, with 37 metal hoops nodding to the cyclical nature of the passing of the sun. Together the hoops make up a ‘sun tunnel’ that’s finished with fire-hued panes of curved glass for that sunny glow, and a cluster of wooden, circular structures that frame the surroundings and offer seating/climbing options.
Finally there’s the Earth Garden, which will likely be the most popular with older kids thanks to its ‘wormhole’ tube slides, which can be reached via a climbing wall, by clambering over rocks or, for the not so brave, up a gentle flight of stairs. This garden is built on a giant sandpit, with buckets to fill with sand using ropes and pulleys, and cute wooden houses to hide in, and there’s a smaller slide for little ones (though our three year olds couldn’t have given less of a shit about that). If you get bored of all that then the Oak Tree Circle (mini treetop walkway) is a pretty good place for your toddler to trick you into following them and then making their escape down the second staircase as soon as you get to the top. You have been warned.
Where and When?: The Children’s Garden is located next to Climbers and Creepers. Timed-entry wristbands can be obtained from the green tent outside on arrival at Kew, but you might have to wait for a slot later in the day depending on popularity. The Victoria Gate entrance to the gardens is a five-minute walk from Kew Gardens Overground/tube station.
Best Bits: It’s the perfect mix of beautiful garden and awesome playground, making it the ultimate family-friendly hangout.
Worst Bits: 90 minutes isn’t long enough. Two hours would have been perfect.
Facilities: Baby changing (at the Climbers and Creepers toilets next door), buggy parking, step-free access (except to treetop walk).
Cost: Entry to the Children’s Garden is free when you buy a ticket to Kew. Day tickets cost from £16.50 for adults and £4.50 for 4-16s. Under-4s go free.
Would We Come Back?: Oh my God, yes. It’s worth getting Kew membership for.
Babu and Mae have a bounce on the giant pollen spheres in the Air section of the Children’s Garden at Kew.