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Long ago and far away when we didn't have two ha'pennies to rub together, a favourite family outing was to Kew. There we would rejoice the passing of winter with a picnic beside a carpet of bluebells and nodding daffs. When the roses bloomed we took jam jars and collected fallen petals to make perfume that never quite worked out. If we were too early or the roses late, no matter. The jars were ready for catching tadpoles. At Kew (within easy reach of central London by public transport) we made our own fun, teasing ducks, surprising young lovers, trying out homemade kites, and searching for chestnuts bound to make us neighbourhood conker kings. Kew's botanical gardens are no longer a popular venue for large families having to count their small change. Until a decade or so ago admission remained at a penny. Now it costs considerably more, but is still a bargain as admissions in the London area go......

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........ Our senses were well pleased by a visit to The Original Maids of Honour, the adorable bow-windowed tea shop across from the Gardens' main entrance. Their maids of honour tarts are famous, baked from the same recipe as those served to Henry V111. If that's not reason enough to drop in, their homemade ginger chocolates presented in miniature carrier bags should be. Sandwiches and pies as well as the tarts are sold from a counter for a take- out. Or you can relax in the dining room. At our fireside table a third chair was taken by a large tortoise-shell cat who blinked wisely at everything we said. Outdoors heavy clouds rumbled across a leaden sky. We tucked into our veal, ham and egg pies and had no need for a plant to exhilarate and make our minds glad.

IF YOU GO: Kew Gardens is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the winter and 6:30 p.m. in summer. From central London it is reached by tube (District Line Kew Gardens station) or bus (routes 65, 237 and 267), and best of all in summer by river boat from Westminster Pier.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB,(0181) 3325000.