Treasures of London – The ‘Old Lion’ Maidenhair Tree, Kew Gardens

Celebrated in the 2002 list of 50 “Great British Trees”, the Maidenhair Tree is one of a number at Kew Gardens known as an “Old Lion” – the name collectively given to the few remaining trees with a planting date of 1762.

The Gingko biloba or Maidenhair Tree was one of the first of its species to be planted in Britain and, along with the other ‘Old Lions’, was brought from the Twickenham estate of the Duke of Argyll in 1762.

It was planted in what was then a new five acre arboretum laid out by William Aiton, employed as the gardener at the first botanic garden at Kew (this was established in 1759 at the behest of Princess Augusta, wife of Frederick, Prince of Wales – who had died in 1751 – and mother of King George III, and John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute).

Originally located against the wall of the ‘Great Stove’ glasshouse to provide it with protection, the tree has stood alone since 1861 when the glasshouse was demolished. It can now be found adjacent to the Wisteria arch close to the Secluded Garden Conservatory. Several further Gingko trees were planted in the garden in 1773 under the direction of botanist Sir Joseph Banks.

The other four ‘Old Lions’ at Kew are a False Acacia (Robinia pseudoacacia), an Oriental Plane (Platanus orientalis), a Caucasian Elm (Zelkova carpinifolia), and a Pagoda Tree (Sophora japonica).

WHERE: Kew Gardens (nearest tube station is Kew Gardens); WHEN: 9.30am to 4.15pm daily (check closing times for glasshouses); COST: £13.90 adults; £11.90 concessions; children under 17 free; WEBSITE: