Beasts, gods and a poet

A garden isn't just about plants. Explore the fascinating sculptures and other architecture hidden in the gardens of Hampton Court Palace, Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, Kew Palace and Kensington Palace.

By Historic Royal Palaces

The Tijou Screen, Hampton Court Palace (2016) by Andrew ButlerHistoric Royal Palaces

Tijou Screen, Hampton Court

This flamboyant, extravagant masterpiece represents the pinnacle of Jean Tijou's career. Tijou arrived at Hampton Court Palace at the same time as William III and Mary II in 1689.

This screen, constructed in 1690, has 12 panels, two each of six designs, depicting the emblems of England (the rose), Ireland (the harp), a thistle for Scotland, William and Mary's monogram, the garter star and Fleur de Lys.

The Privy Garden and Tijou Screen, Hampton Court Palace (2016) by Andrew ButlerHistoric Royal Palaces

The screen was originally intended for the East Front Garden but was eventually installed in the Privy Garden after the latter was nearing completion.

William approved the screen but, to the gardeners' despair, asked for the newly-planted Privy Garden to be lowered several feet to give a view of the Thames.

The Tijou Screen, harp panel, Hampton Court Palace (2015) by James BrittainHistoric Royal Palaces

Just a few months later, William fell from his horse and died. The unfortunate Tijou presented his unpaid bills to Queen Anne, but was never fully paid.

Several years later he vanished, possibly back to his native France, leaving behind these fabulous screens. 

The newly restored Great Pagoda at Kew (2018) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

The Great Pagoda, Kew Gardens

At 163 feet tall, the 18th-century Great Pagoda at Kew Gardens is hard to miss. But it's even more striking thanks to its 80 iridescent dragons - which returned to the Pagoda in 2018, almost 200 years after they were removed.

The newly restored Great Pagoda at Kew (2018) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

The dragons that disappeared from the Great Pagoda 200 years ago were wooden, but their 21st-century counterparts are thoroughly modern, having been 3D printed. 


Thanks to a major conservation project by Historic Royal Palaces in partnership with Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, you can once again climb the 253 steps to get a spectacular dragon-eye-view of the gardens.

The newly restored Great Pagoda at Kew, Richard Lea-Hair, 2018, From the collection of: Historic Royal Palaces
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The Great Pagoda after restoration 2018 carved dragon close up, Robin Forster Photography, 2018, From the collection of: Historic Royal Palaces
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The Privy Garden and Tijou Screen, Hampton Court Palace (2016) by Andrew ButlerHistoric Royal Palaces

Sculptures of mythological figures, Hampton Court Palace

Sculptures depicting mythological figures such as Apollo, Adonis and Venus are dotted around the gardens at Hampton Court Palace. The 17th-century originals were almost certainly made in Italy, shipped from Livorno and offered for sale to William III.

The Privy Garden and Tijou Screen, Hampton Court Palace (2016) by Andrew ButlerHistoric Royal Palaces

It might seem curious that Apollo, the sun god, is shielding his eyes from the palace, rather than from the glare of the sun. However, this figure could represent William's great adversary, Louis XIV of France. The French King is dazzled not by the sun, but by the magnificence of William's new palace!

Privy Garden, Hampton Court Palace (2019) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

The original baroque Apollo and his marble companions first appeared in the garden at Kensington Palace but were soon brought to Hampton Court. 

The Privy Garden and Tijou Screen, Hampton Court Palace (2016) by Andrew ButlerHistoric Royal Palaces

They are now displayed inside the palace, in the weather-proof surroundings of the Orangery: the sculptures in the gardens are modern recarvings.

The Three Graces in the Great Fountain Garden, Hampton Court Palace (2016) by Andrew ButlerHistoric Royal Palaces

This statue of The Three Graces, a small cast of the original in the Louvre, was placed at the head of the Long Water in the 1850s

The Great Fountain Garden, Hampton Court Palace (2015) by Robin ForsterHistoric Royal Palaces

The three goddesses traditionally represent grace, charm and beauty.

East Front, Kensington Palace (2012) by Robin ForsterHistoric Royal Palaces

Statue of Queen Victoria, Kensington Palace gardens

The first historical object you'll see at Kensington Palace greets you before you even enter the door. 

Queen Victoria at the unveiling of HRH Princess Louise's statue of Her Majesty in Kensington Gardens (1893)Historic Royal Palaces

The statue of Kensington Palace's most famous resident, Queen Victoria, was designed by her daughter, Princess Louise, in the 19th century.

Bust of Ossian in The Glen, Hillsborough Castle and Gardens (2019) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

Ossian statue in the Grotto, Hillsborough Castle and Gardens

Look out for Alexander Stoddart's bust of the mythical Gaelic poet, Ossian and accompanying bench and stones in the Grotto at Hillsborough Castle and Gardens.

The Glen and statue of Ossian, Hillsborough Castle and Gardens (2019) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

Together these sculptures tell the story of the castle's links to the Romantic movement and the Gaelic Revival.

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Find out more and visit the gardens in our care at the Historic Royal Palaces website

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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