Nights Out: Midnight Ramblers at Kew Gardens,
Sunday 29 April 2007
The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew isn't just a place of beauty, it's a world-leader in conservation. The 300- acre plot by the Thames bursts with plant life. When the sun is shining, Kew is a favourite venue for a family day out. But you can see it by moonlight, too. During summer a "Midnight Ramblers" sleepover programme allows children - and horticulturally minded accompanying adults - to explore at night. Between 6pm and midnight, dedicated Kew Rangers guide groups on a torch-lit tour, playing games and exploring some of the collections, before everybody unrolls their sleeping bags.
After being divided into teams of 20, the evening starts with botanically themed group games. Then it's off to a hothouse conservatory to find, photograph and correctly identify the most weird and wonderful species: look out for flesh-eating Dracula plants, or sniff your way to the titan arum, the biggest, and smelliest, flower in the world. Once it gets dark, grab your free torch and glow-in-the-dark necklace, and set off through spooky woods in search of badgers and bats. Later, your team will learn how to plant seeds in the tropical nursery, before settling down for toasted marshmallows and bedtime stories round a campfire.
The amount of detail you'll see at night - particularly during the walk through the 19th-century arboretum - is necessarily limited. What you do get, however, is a view of the gardens very few, other than staff, ever enjoy.
Listening for pipistrelle bats on the architect John Pawson's low-slung, sinuous Sackler Bridge is an auditory marvel. Don't expect much kip - once the last of the inevitable giggling dies away, it's only a matter of hours until the Heathrow flight-path kicks in.
Snacks of a roll, juice, cheese and cake are handed out at 8.30pm. Breakfast is a pastry and fruit. Hot drinks all night.
The sleepovers are fully accessible to children in wheelchairs and with special needs. Several places are subsidised for community groups and social services.
Selected Saturday nights from 5 May to 10 November. Tickets £40 per person (adults and children); minimum booking four children, ages eight to 11, and one adult.
How to get there
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (0208-332 5655; rbgkew.org. uk), Surrey TW9 3AB. Victoria Gate, on Kew Road, is three minutes' walk from Under- ground and Silverlink station.
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