Plant Family Beds and Rose Pergola
What are the Plant Family Beds?
The Plant Family Beds (formerly called the Order Beds), are a unique feature of botanic gardens. In different gardens the layout and design may vary but their function remains the same: to arrange plants according to their relationships with each other. This creates a feature that is both attractive and informative, allowing students of botany to gain an understanding of plant relationships and garden visitors to see a wide range of plant forms in one location.
Plants that are closely related are grouped together in families. Throughout history botanists have studied plants to name them, classify them and work out how they are linked together.
Different classifications have been produced, from the ‘sexual system’ of Carolus Linnaeus, the ‘father of modern botany’, who devised a classification based on the sexual parts of flowers in the eighteenth century, to the most recent system of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG), which is based on DNA and therefore represents the most stable and accurate classification yet. The APG classification is based on how plants have evolved and aims to identify the common ancestors of today’s plant families.
History of Kew’s Plant Family Beds
The area that today contains the Plant Family Beds and Rose Pergola was originally a kitchen garden that supplied fruit and vegetables to the royal family. In 1846, a new garden was laid out at Frogmore, so supplies from Kew were no longer required.
Queen Victoria presented the land to the state and it came under the remit of Kew’s Director, William Jackson Hooker. He filled it with a collection of hardy herbaceous plants arranged in irregular beds according to the classification of French botanist Antoine Laurent de Jussieu (1789).
In 1869, the arrangement of these Herbaceous beds was changed, to fit with the arrangement of families and genera described in Genera Plantarum (1862–83). This classification was written by Kew botanist George Bentham and Joseph Hooker, William Hooker’s son. The specimens in the Herbarium were also rearranged in this system, which reflected the views of evolutionary relationships of plants at that time.
Since then, botanists at Kew and other institutions have honed the classification in line with new findings and current thinking.
Kew’s Plant Family Beds today
In recent years there have been major developments in our understanding of how plants are related to each other. This work has been carried out by scientists around the world, including in Kew’s Jodrell Laboratory, using molecular characteristics and DNA gene sequencing.
The Plant Family Beds are nearing the end of a 4-year reorganisation programme reflecting the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group's latest arrangement of flowering plants (APGIII). Over the past two years existing plants in the beds have been checked, propagated and moved to their new positions.
The next phase is to propagate and introduce relevant plants from other areas of Kew and source additional species from other botanic gardens and seed lists. The final stage will be to develop interpretation explaining the new arrangement and how it has been developed.
Once the work is completed 102 separate beds will display 93 plant families. Plantings will show the typical characteristics of each family, as well as highlighting the diversity that can exist within related plant groups. The plants are mainly hardy herbaceous species but small trees and shrubs have been introduced to represent as much diversity as possible outside at Kew.
Familiar garden plants are planted alongside more unusual species from Kew’s living collections. There is something to see at any time but the peak season of interest is spring and summer, when a host of flowering plants can be enjoyed in this historic walled garden.