Daringly innovative when it opened in 1848, the Palm House in Kew Gardens remains one of the most beautiful glass buildings in the world today.
Seemingly weightless, vast and yet light, the Palm House floats free from architectural convention, at once monumental and ethereal. From a distance, the crowns of the palms within are silhouetted in the central dome; close to, banana leaves thrust themselves against the glass. To enter it is to enter a tropical fantasy. The body is assaulted by heat, light, and the smell of damp vegetation.
In Palace of Palms, Kate Teltscher tells the extraordinary story of its creation and of the Victorians' obsession with the palms that filled it. It is a story of breathtaking ambition, of scientific discovery and, crucially, of the remarkable men whose vision it was. The Palm House was commissioned by the charismatic first Director of Kew, Sir William Hooker, designed by the audacious Irish engineer, Richard Turner, and managed by Kew's forthright curator, John Smith, who battled with boilers and floods to ensure the survival of the rare and wondrous plants it housed.
"The most enthralling historical book I've read this year."
– Claire Tomalin, New Statesman 'Books of the year'
"Teltscher skilfully brings to life the human story behind the growth of Kew and the creation of its extraordinary centrepiece. What's more remarkable, however, is her command of the details of the new technology that went into the construction of the Palm House [...] she makes such matters unexpectedly fascinating."
– Literary Review
"A fascinating and rip-roaring account of the building of one of the great – and experimental – glass buildings of the Victorian age."
– Daily Telegraph
"A glorious green adventure story."
– Ann Treneman, The Times 'Books of the Year'
"Stories of botanical exploration are combined with biographies of the characters behind the famous building, transporting the reader to 19th-century London and the countries that supplied the palms for the glasshouse. One can only marvel at the scale of the achievement and feel humbled by how much we owe to the enslaved peoples who enabled countless plants to be brought to our shores from the colonies."
– Rachel de Thame, Sunday Times
"The fascinating story of one of the greatest showpieces of Victorian Britain: the Palm House in Kew Gardens."
– Sam Leith, Spectator
"The story of the creation of the Palm House and the men whose vision it was, are engrossingly told."
– Choice Magazine 'Hardback Book of Month'
"I stand corrected by this exhilarating book – but also delighted, astounded and vastly entertained [...] This is gardening history at its best – a sparkling window on the colourful and contradictory Victorian era."
– Ambra Edwards, The Garden
"This beautifully crafted book invokes a world of breathtaking Victorian engineering, glass houses and lush tropical vegetation to tell a tale of exploration, botanical science and the making of new imaginaries."
– Vinita Damodaran, Professor of South Asian History and Director, Centre for World Environmental History, University of Sussex
"Lively [...] vividly drawn [...] Wearing her research lightly, Teltscher tells her tale of politicking and financial wrangles, domestic tragedies and epic plant hunting expeditions with a pace and vibrancy more commonly found in novels than in academic study."
– Gardens Illustrated
"Put simply, Kew's Palm House is the most important and exquisite glass building in the World. In this finely crafted tale, Kate Teltscher reveals the extraordinary characters, both human and botanical, who brought about this most improbable of architectural miracles. Through the lenses of history, society and politics, we see the Palm House as an ark for the tropical rainforests, an enduring and poignant symbol in today's unprecedented environmental crisis."
– Dr William J. Baker