Chihuly at Kew, 2019


‘Cattails and Copper Birch Reeds’ on the approach to the Temperate glasshouse

Dale Chihuly’s glasswork has appeared in some of the most fabulous venues around the globe for five decades, yet I’d never registered its existence until recently. I think that I must have slowly absorbed its impact and beauty while reading various garden blog posts about his work (e.g. from FlowerAlley). Fortunately for me, there is currently a wonderful display to bring me up-to-date at The Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. So this post covers my visit last week to see the gardens and ‘Chihuly: Reflections on Nature‘. The exhibition finishes on 27th October, 2019, so I just made it in time!!


Opal and Amber Towers: A pair of these energetic, sizzling cones stand sentinel at the main entrance to the Temperate glasshouse

Happily, I chose the only dry day of the week and the stormy sky backdrops and sunny intervals worked some magic on the installations. For instance, look at these sparkles:


The glistening Scarlet and Yellow Icicle Tower is how all kniphofia should look don’t you think? Although maybe not as tall (~30 feet)!

The medusa-like ‘Summer Sun’ installation stands lakeside, at the edge of the Palm House parterre and dazzles, with or without direct sunlight. It is a well-travelled exhibit and was previously in London (Berkley Square) in 2014.


Summer Sun

With its vibrance and size (5.5m, consisting of 1,573 hand-blown glass elements weighing in at 2,000kg) Summer Sun sits comfortably in front of the ornate Palm House (built in 1844 by Richard Turner) adding a little nuclear fizz to the scene as dusk falls.


The Palm House with ‘Chihuly: Summer Sun’ at Kew Gardens

Whilst many of the installations convey a lot of movement through their dynamic twisting shapes, there are several much more rigid (but no less organic) affairs on display. These are typically labelled in the guide as ‘* Reeds’ and I can see how they would work successfully in a many locations. My favourite of these Reeds was ‘Neodymium Reeds and Turquoise Marlins’ (Marlins not shown below, being off to the sides):


Neodymium Reeds work brilliantly in perfect purple tones with the silvery olive trees and vertical cypress trees in the little dell front of the King William Temple.

Neodymium Reeds was in the lovely, recessed Mediterranean garden that climbs up to King William’s Temple. It feels like this little dell should be peaceful and contemplative, but, as pointed out by all the upright structures, overhead the planes roar in takeoff every few minutes.


Niijima Floats

Elsewhere, appropriately overlooked by the Great Pagoda and in the shade of the Japanese Gateway, ‘Niijima Floats’ (created in 1991 and inspired by Japanese fishing boats) appear to hover just above the gravel of the rock garden. These vibrant marbles feel planetary, with sufficient gravity to bulge slightly about their waistlines like giant pumpkins. They are some of the largest glass spheres ever blown (~1m in diameter)

Chihuly’s ‘Garden Cycle’ began in 2001 and built on his considerable interest in glasshouses, so it is no surprise that, for me, his most stunning works at Kew are displayed inside the glasshouses. The newly restored Victorian Temperate House is the stage for an incredibly diverse set of free standing exhibits that are sunk so deeply into their surroundings that I swear that some of them have truly rooted and are growing.


Inside the Temperate house the exhibits are multiplying!

One of the joys of the Kew Glasshouses are their beautiful open upper walkways and these are the places to get a sense of scale and immersion in the plants and palms growing there.


Stairway to heaven …  or at least to the upper balcony in the Palm House

The upper walkway in the Temperate House certainly allows the best views of many partially eclipsed installations that are dotted around the vegetation at ground level.


A view from the Temperate upper balcony into the plant canopy reveals Chihuly glass in their natural environment.

But best of all is the view across the restored glasshouse itself, together with a new piece commissioned to grace this fantastic structure – a 9m drop of blue ‘Persians’:


Blue Persians, a hanging sculpture created for this architectural space.

OK, so I’ve left my absolute favourite till last. It’s a piece displayed in the Waterlily House, a house so humid that my camera steamed up every I tried to use it (adding a certain/literal atmosphere to the shots). It is the sculpture called ‘Ethereal White Persian Pond’. I am told that at the beginning of the 2019 Chihuly Kew season there were lengthy queues to get into this glasshouse. Well, it is still busy in there, but the display is still also ethereal and magical:




About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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14 Responses to Chihuly at Kew, 2019

  1. Eliza Waters says:

    You did an excellent job photographing this extensive installation, Allison, an amazing exhibit! I had to go online to see if I could find a video of an installation in progress. What an endeavor, astonishing in scope, it is boggles the mind that there is so little damage. True professionals!

    • Yes, amazing. I read that the Kew installations came in eleven 40-foot shipping containers and took 18 people 18 to install. I can only image the glasshouse gardeners praying that those installers had small, light feet!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful exhibition. It is hard to pick a favourite but I think Ethereal White Persian Pond just sneaks ahead.

    • It was wonderful! Many of the pieces had something outstanding about them (colour, location, size, shape, detail etc), but the White Persians in the Waterlily House ticked the most boxes.

  3. I am almost speechless! What a sight it must be in person! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Sharon says:

    Fantastic photographs. You’ve reminded me that I’ve some to share from a night visit last month.

  5. susurrus says:

    I missed seeing this so am grateful for your post. I particularly liked seeing the niijima floats.

    • Happy to have been able to share! The location for the Niijima Floats was perfect and the arrangement appealed to the astronomer in me as well! From what I’ve read, it looks like these floats are often displayed in boats on water, which would add a whole other ‘reflections’ dimension.

      • susurrus says:

        I hadn’t connected these with the floating ones. The name should have given me a clue, but I was too busy trying to spell Niijima. 🙂
        They look so different on the ground without the reflections, but they are just as effective.

  6. shoreacres says:

    I absolutely adore Chihuly’s work, and I have yet to make it to an exhibition. I’ve been told there are some pieces on permanent display in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, and probably elsewhere, but these installations are simply thrilling. That last photo is stunning. I looked at my bank account, but I don’t quite have what it would take to get there for a visit. But I thought about it!

    • I love the idea that the context for these works of art is a significant factor and changes so much with each exhibition. There is an interesting, parallel-themed ‘Chihuly: Celebrating Nature’ at the Franklin Park Conservatory, Ohio until the end of March next year … if that is any better?

  7. Pingback: Chihuly nights at Kew – Allotment Life

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