One thing that I noticed in Havana that I attributed to the lack of a capitalist mindset was the number of visitor attractions that were completely off-limits because there was some work underway at the site (new paving, exterior cleaning and restoration, preparations for a rally). “It would never happen if local management valued cashflow and revenue” I thought to myself time and again.
Visiting Kew Gardens for the first time this weekend I was reminded of my Cuban experience. I’m not a gardener and so the finer details of the range of flora there past me by, and I didn’t bring a macro lens to go in search of them. I went expecting to be impressed by objects on a larger scale; The Princess of Wales Conservatory sinking into the ground around it; The Palm House, an outstanding feat of Victorian engineering; The Pagoda, an 18th Century expression of fascination with the Orient, and The Temperate House, the worlds largest surviving Victorian glasshouse.
Perhaps I expected too much, or perhaps the self-imposed time constraint of knowing I had to allow time for a long drive home afterwards, but I wasn’t hugely impressed. Yes it has colour and texture aplenty, with a little wildlife for good measure, but then so does the Botanic Garden at Durham and in a much more compact setting.
Yes it has some history (George III was kept away from the public eye during his “madness” and was virtually exiled to Kew. His palace has now gone, but that of his wife and daughters remains, together with their kitchen garden), but so does every National Trust property that I visit.
It has a magnificent Palm House, whose exterior is stunning, but whose interior…? Sunderland Winter Gardens anyone?
So I was relying on the showstoppers to save the day. Except that the Temperate House is closed for renovation, and just like the Havana Capitol no access to the interior was allowed and any exterior shots had to be taken over a fence! At least they preserved a little colour outside.
So to The Pagoda. Oh dear. The sad old thing is in desperate need of some TLC. It is apparently about to undergo a two-year restoration project which will bring back its vibrant colours and gilt dragons. I have a shocking sense of timing it seems.
Thank heavens for the Palm House.