Cleve West: Walking tall at Kew

Urban Gardener

You can see the arch of Wembley Stadium from where I'm standing but autumn leaves still block the view to the floodlights of its less celebrated twin, Griffin Park, home to Brentford FC. Some of you will know that I'm standing on the Xstrata treetop walkway at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The structure, designed by Marks Barfield Architects (the team responsible for the London Eye), opened in May this year, and is a welcome tonic for those of us who are still in mourning because the Henry Moore exhibition, which ended earlier in the year, couldn't remain as a permanent fixture at Kew. The beauty and modesty of the new £3m structure is underlined by the fact that it starts in a thicket of sweet chestnuts planted by Capability Brown in the 1770s.

Of course, being able to share the canopy with squirrels and woodpeckers is fascinating but the understated elegance of the structure (some 400 tons of steel) will make it as popular as the Palm House for generations to come. It's as stunning from the floor as it is from the 200m long gangway that loops 18m high through the chestnuts. These support structures, not unlike cubist redwoods, blend well with the surrounding trees. Kissed with sunlight they glow like embers and the repetition of form through existing chestnuts, limes and oaks bestows a cathedral-like harmony.

For Tony Kirkham, Kew's resident arboriculturist and project manager, the treetop walkway is the embodiment of his passion for trees. Half the length of each support is buried underground, which means that just getting them into position, without damaging the root-systems of existing trees was a logistical triumph. It also means that the structure is easily strong enough to support the 3,000 or so visitors it receives every day. A lift allows wheelchair access, but the steps winding up to the canopy are comfortably wide and shallow enough to accommodate anyone with a reasonable level of fitness.

Birds such as treecreepers and nuthatches will need time to get used to the foot-traffic encroaching on their domain but visitors may be lucky enough to see a Purple Hairstreak butterfly, which favours the higher reaches of oak woodland in southern Britain. The canopy itself (which has already had a season to recover from the disturbance during the walkway's construction) will get better and better over the years, allowing visitors to immerse themselves among fresh buds of spring, glossy greens of summer and lemonade-light sparkling through the chestnuts' autumnal hues. At the base of the walkway groundcover will soon recover with bluebells and smyrnium, (characteristic of the gardens' more natural planting), spring bulbs and native grasses. The Rhizotron, at the base of the structure, is a subterranean information point that explains the symbiotic relationship between tree roots and fungal microorganisms in the soil.

It's predicted that the structure should last around 500 years and could well outlast many of the trees around it. One can only wonder what changes will be seen on the London skyline from the canopy. Assuming that climate change won't have turned the gardens into an aquatic attraction, 500 years should be more than enough time to witness (albeit with a good set of binoculars) hats being thrown into the air at Wembley when England finally get round to winning the World Cup again or even Brentford winning the FA Cup for the first time. In the meantime, if you find yourself on the treetop walk on a Saturday afternoon don't be alarmed if the chestnuts shiver and the walkway wobbles: Brentford will have just scored a blinder!

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Suggested Topics
Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing