The last thing I ever thought I would do in my directorship at Kew Gardens would be to close it.

As a botanic garden, Kew exists to be observed. To grow, to inspire, and to teach. Locking the gates was hard. The gardens did, after all, remain open throughout both world wars. Incredibly, during WWI, the Zeppelin raids were not considered a great enough threat for closure, and the Gotha bombers didn't have the range necessary to reach Kew. During WWII, Kew remained open and the male gardeners who went to war were replaced by women. The gardens were turned over to experimentation for the 'Dig-For-Victory' campaign, the Broadwalk dug up and turned into 'Show-Allotments'. The public were encouraged to come in to view these all year round to learn how to grow their own vegetables. How wonderful it would be to do that now as we confront depleted supermarket shelves.

So who am I to close Kew Gardens? This is a question I have agonised over. After the government asked people to avoid public spaces, before lockdown as we now know it, I was determined that we remain open. Nature is an incredible balm for stress – something we are realising more than ever now that it has been largely taken away from us. I wanted the gardens to act as an oasis of calm for the local community – our most loyal friends – who can mostly reach us on foot. We hung on as long as we possibly could, but in the end, the question became…who am I to endanger people’s lives? On our final day of opening, I saw a few too many people queuing for coffees and congestion at our main gate, and I knew what had to be done.

Full closure is the only way to ensure our staff and visitors are kept safe – the one thing that truly matters in all of this. The government reminds us daily to 'stay at home.' We have received questions around opening to members, but to staff the gates would require a minimum of 16 staff members, most of whom would arrive on public transport. We would require a team of first aiders, and cleaners for the toilets. Opening would also put our horticulture staff at risk, and therefore, our world-class collections too. We have 20,000 species of plants here and I am determined they continue to be cared for.

There is still so much enjoyment to be gained from Kew Gardens. We are sharing daily content on our digital channels, inviting people to escape the confinement of their homes and enter our weird and wonderful world of plants and fungi. From content generated by our key workers on the ground, up in the treetops and inside the glasshouses, to blogs, beautiful images and videos, we invite you to joins us. Visit our website or head to (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram).

We cannot wait to once again throw open the gates of our beautiful gardens and welcome you back. Until then, stay safe, stay at home, and stay with us.

Richard Deverell, Director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew