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A pond in the Palace’s walled garden

Written by Lucy Hart, head gardener

Surrounded by a 1-mile-long moat, Fulham Palace once had an incredible water habitat which encouraged plant and wildlife diversity. White (Nymphaea alba) and yellow waterlilies (Nuphar lutea) were known to be growing in moat the 17th and 18th centuries, along with sweet-flag (Acorus calamus). The moat got filled in the 1920s but during summer 2024 we were able to reintroduce two of those [the white water lily and the sweet flag] to the garden on a smaller scale in our new pond which is in the walled garden.

The 2021 consultants Dr Mark Spencer and Joe Beale carried out a number of biodiversity surveys at Fulham Palace. The surveys unanimously revealed that if we wanted to continue to improve and enhance our biodiversity and wildlife activity at Fulham Palace, we needed a standing water source – in other words a pond.

As part of the Fulham Palace going green project, funded by the Kusama Trust we have been busy building a pond in the Palace’s walled garden. It’s been a complete and utter joyous garden project with instant gratification. Even whilst we were filling up the pond area with rain water, already the dragon flies were settling in.

In February 2024 we invited three experts within the field; Dr Mark Spencer, Gideon Corby and Russell Miller, to advise us on best practice, tips and trips for building a pond. It was a very useful and insightful exercise and then from further information from specialist pond plant suppliers the pond was designed, permission sought from Historic England to dig it, lined, filled planted and edged. We filled the pond with rain water that we collect from the vinery and garden bothies roof. Luckily, we were not short of rain in April and May 2024 and we were able to fill up our bowser tanks to allow the rain harvesting tank re refill.

Pond design

There was much consideration over what type of liner to use for the pond.  The decision to use a butyl liner over a natural clay liner was not taken lightly. Ultimately the success of the pond heavily hinged on it retaining water and subsequently providing a standing water source for wildlife. A clay lined pond requires depth for digging to incorporate enough clay up to 400mm deep, to seal the pond floor. Being a Scheduled Ancient Monument, digging down at Fulham Palace is strictly limited by Historic England because of the special archaeology beneath the ground. We would have had to use most of our allowed pond depth for the layer clay. Even with that a clay lined pond was still risky. Fulham Palace soil type is the very well drained ‘river terrace gravel’ (being so close to the Thames) and does not naturally waterlog. Therefore, the chances of a clay lined pond which also requires specialist experience to apply the clay correctly, called puddling, and thus holding water, was pretty slim.

A butyl liner has a life span of 50 years and as so is a fairly long-term investment. I don’t expect to have to reline it in my life time at Fulham Palace!

Before the pond was lined, a group of us here at the Palace saw the unique opportunity to bury a time capsule!

Caution – deep water

To encourage as bigger range as possible of creatures to our pond we have a variety of depths ranging from a 1cm very shallow beach slope then 20cm, 30cm, 40cm deep shelves to a very deep well in the centre. The central deeper part of the pond offers a stable temperature, reduced risk of drying out, and a diverse microhabitat that can support a variety of wildlife species. Deeper parts of a pond are important for maintaining biodiversity and providing ecological niches that differ from those found in shallower waters.

Overwintering at the bottom of ponds is a common survival strategy for frogs in Britain, allowing them to endure the cold winter months until conditions are suitable for activity and breeding in the spring. It provides a relatively stable environment with protection from extreme cold and predators.

Safety is always on the forefront of everyone’s mind when we mention we now have a pond. Considering the deep well in the centre of the pond in particular, we ask all visitors to take extra care when viewing the pond – please keep young children supervised all times and stay on the outside of the log and dead head boundary – you can still get up really close. The natural barrier doubles up as shelter and habitats for land-based pond dwellers such as toads and frogs.

Rocks in the pond

Rocks around the edges and within the pond act as drinking platforms for bees and sloping jetties for young amphibians to leave the water once the tadpole stage is over.

Partially submerged rocks within in the ponds can benefit frogs and toads that need a point above the water on which to rest and breathe.


Ponds are crucial for supporting a wide range of wildlife due to their provision of water, diverse habitats, abundant food resources and stable environments. By meeting the essential needs of various species, ponds contribute significantly to local biodiversity and ecological health.

Before the pond was built seven species of Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) were recorded on Fulham Palace grounds during the 2021 survey period. Four records of three species were observed in the walled garden.  The ambition is to survey the walled garden again and see how many we have now. Joe Beale commented in the 2021 Fulham Palace moth survey that a slightly larger water source than our half barrel ponds could encourage some of the Odonata that currently visit as non-breeders to remain to breed.

Britain has two native frogs, two toads and three species of newts.  Of these, the common frog and common toad are likely to be found in gardens throughout Britain. The common or smooth newt and the palmate newt are also widely distributed.

After only a month of the pond being filled with water, we have experienced a huge amount of dragon fly activity! Pond skaters and water boatmen have appeared. Their presence in a body of water can apparently be an indicator of good water quality, as they thrive in clean, oxygenated water.


The plants selected are native species adapted to a range of water depths to attract a whole mixture of wildlife. Within the water itself we have floating (and planted) oxygenators, marginals and plants for deeper areas such as water lilies. We have bog plants for the bog beds located on the edges at soil level. These are lined pits with soil at the edges of the pond and here I took the opportunity to grow some indulgent Lobelia species from North America that I have always wanted to grow but it’s always been to dry.

In total we have planted 70 plants in total consisting of 27 different species!

Some of what we’ve planted in the bog beds are: 

  •  Hemp agromony (Eupatorium cannabium)
  • Queen Victoria (Lobelia cardinalis)
  • Blue cardinal flower (Lobelia siphilitica)
  • Purple loostrife (Lythrum salicaria)

Some of what we’ve planted on the shelves are:

  • Cyperus sedge (Carex pseudocyperus) which will grow up to 5cm
  • Yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus) which will grow up to 10cm
  • Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) which will grow up to 20cm
  • Arrowhead (Sagittaria sagifolia) which will grow up to 30cm
  • Water crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis) which will grow up to 40cm

Some of what we’ve planted in the deep water are: 

  • White waterlily (Nymphaea alba) 
  • Bog bean (Menyanthes trifoliata)
  • Amphibious bisort (Persicaria amphibia)

Next steps

So now the plants are planted and settling in, that by no means makes the pond project complete. The plants will need lifting, dividing and repotting next spring. We will also need to continue to remove yellowing and rotting down vegetation so it doesn’t raise the nutrient level of the water.

For now, though we shall we be simply enjoying the pond and its serenity. We will also keep monitoring how it continues to establish, welcoming and noting what new creatures visit us next. See you there!