In 1848 William Andrews Nesfield created an intricate geometric pattern of beds, or parterre, to surround the newly constructed Palm House finished.
His design comprised a rectangular terrace cut with 27 symmetrically arranged beds, defined with large urns. Box borders and stone curbs edged the beds, which he planted with 'one kind of plant for the sake of colour'.
Nesfield’s designs gradually disappeared, beds were replaced with grass, gravel paths with turf, and topiaried shrubs removed. With the First World War, the Palm House Parterre took on a new role, growing onions to feed the nation.
Flower beds were reinstated in the 1920s. Though designs were less complex than Nesfield’s they were more labour intensive as the bedding was changed twice a year, a practice which continues today.
The changing variety of plants exhibited in the Palm House Parterre has tended to reflect botanical thinking of the time.
The sculpture in the Palm House pond depicts Hercules wrestling the river god Achelous. It was made for King George IV in 1826 and formerly stood on the East Terrace of Windsor Castle. It came to Kew in 1963.
Ten heraldic figures, sculpted in Portland stone, look out over the Palm House pond. These are the ‘Queen’s Beasts’. They are replicas of sculptures that stood at the entrance of Westminster Abbey during her Majesty’s coronation in 1953.
Derived from the heraldry of the Queen’s ancestors, they reflect her royal lineage. They include the Falcon of the Plantagenets, the Black Bull of Clarence and the Unicorn of Scotland. They were created by the sculptor James Woodford, who also made the ones for the coronation, and presented anonymously to the Gardens in 1956.