Kew is, without doubt, one of our great gardens and one of the greatest scientific foundations in the world. It is also a grand day out and if you are anything like me you will make straight for the palm house, which is nothing less than a tropical rainforest captured and contained by Turner and Burton’s great glasshouse. Everything was a-drip, leaves glistened in verdant green as I reached up to a palm frond above my head but this was only the understory for the real giants that give the palm house its name were far, far above. This is the land that dinosaurs inhabited and for humans, especially when masked in these strange times, it wasn’t a place to linger for too long.

Still, it was unmissable as was the water-lily house with its giant water-lily pads that famously will hold the weight of a small child. The flowers, in comparison are only as large as my own water-lily ‘Gladstoniana’ which, admittedly is the largest temperate water-lily that you can buy. It also has enormous white flowers but whilst flowers of the gigantic ‘Victoria’ begin white they turn bright pink when pollinated by industrious Kew gardeners who then save the ripened seed for next year’s show.

I looked at the map plotting my route to the Great Pagoda that has looked out over Kew since 1762 but, like Alice in Wonderland I was easily diverted and this time by a sign to ‘the hive’ which turned out to be a gigantic honeycomb of aluminium mesh where some 1,000 LED lights blinked on and off as they responded to the honey bees in Kew’s real bee hive buzzing in and out. I stood inside the 17 metre high dome and felt the ground vibrate beneath my feet as I learned about the hidden world of bees just as, in the Agius Evolution garden, I learned about the evolution of plants.

I should mention that there are 300 scientists working on all sorts of projects and nothing is stranger than the work that has created the Agius Evolution garden which is a gigantic family tree of plants and their relationship to one another and the world in which they live. Thanks to research into the DNA of plants I discovered that the lovely lotus that I had admired in the water-lily house isn’t related to water-lilies at all for its closest relative is the plane tree. Yes, I know it really is Alice in Wonderland territory so much so that the scientist themselves thought that they had muddled up the specimens until they checked again and again. For me nothing was stranger than the symbiotic relationship between a bacteria and a gunnera. This is the same gunnera that I have in my garden which will, in time, tower over my head like a rather spiny rhubarb leaf and which I now look at with new understanding as the bacteria helps the gunnera harvest oxygen in return for sugar.

Kew was a birthday treat and yes, I did reach Princess Augusta’s Great Pagoda with its ten stories and 80 gilded wooden dragons but I came away with a very different idea of plants and our place in the world.