Several years ago, we decided to check out the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. I'd seen photos of the famous Victorian glass houses and wanted to see them first hand.
The surprise was how much the entire family enjoyed the excursion - especially my husband, who knows a good spot for a photo op when he sees one.
He is also a very considerate son.
He knew that his garden-loving mum had never been to the 300-acre site that's been a center for the study of plants since the 17th century (even though she's lived just 130 miles away for her entire life). And so when we planned their Wimbledon visit, we decided to stay on in London so we could take her there.
But we had not planned for the London weather.
I'm an LA native and have lived in the San Fernando Valley for nearly 50 years, so I can handle a little heat. But my mother-in-law (who turns 81 next month) has spent her life in Britain, and until recently has had little experience with temperatures that get close to the 90°F mark.
The day we visited Kew, it was sweltering. The place is huge, and while there are plenty of trees (it is a botanical garden, after all), you had to walk along a lot of hot, shade-free asphalt paths to get to them.
We were cranky and eating the lovely picnic lunch we'd brought did not put us in a better mood.
Then I noticed that it was possible to tour the site on a nice, covered tram. The Kew Explorer is a 40-minute hop-on, hop-off service complete with tour guide. It costs £4 for adults and £1 for children -- and on the day we visited, I thought it was well worth it.
I knew that my mum-in-law would enjoy the gardens at Kew -- but was surprised at all the facility has to offer for children (even an adolescent like my 14-year-old).
We hopped off our tram to admire a large lily pond and noticed a banner for PLANTastic Play: a playground in the form of a giant plant, designed to introduce youngsters to the concept of biodiversity (yes, as beautiful as Kew is, it's primarily an educational facility... and they aim to teach people of all ages).
This installation appears to be part of Kew's "Summer Festival," which also includes a guided biodiversity tour and a fabulous exhibition of live butterflies in the Princess of Wales conservatory (which enthralled our entire party).
I was surprised to learn exactly how many kids' activities are on offer at Kew all year round: there's an indoor playground, a treetop walkway, and an aquarium. The different glass houses are architectural gems; many of them are designed with stairways that allow visitors to climb right up into the trees. And if you visit during London's usual chilly weather, it's nice and warm inside.
The Royal Botanic Garden has an extensive website, with so much information it could take you hours to get through it all. Suffice it to say, if you're planning to visit Kew with children, you'll want to read their Parents' Survival Guide here.
Disclosure: I was not compensated for this post.
See the rest of my London photos on Flickr, here.