A man and a woman walk across a bridge at Witley Court.

Summer Garden Highlights

From the afternoons Queen Victoria spent painting landscapes at Osborne to the 19th century loos built in Brodsworth's backyard, discover how our gardens have been shaped by history.

This summer take a walk through our historic gardens as sweet smelling roses, royal myrtle and freshly clipped topiary tell a sensory story from the past. You can even pack a picnic and feast among the flowers like our ancestors might have done. Here is our pick of the top gardens to visit this season.

Eltham Palace pond with lily pads

1. Eltham Palace and Gardens

The Courtaulds gave their medieval palace a modern spin in the 1930s. Their gardens are no exception, and with the help of former Assistant Director of Kew Gardens, John Gilmour, they set about transforming their landscapes too. Summer is the best time to enjoy this rare surviving example of a 1930s garden as it bursts into vibrant colour. Picnic beside the Courtauld's fashionable Rock Garden or take a break in their Sunken Rose Garden. Here you can find historic varieties like Rosa 'Gruss an Aachen' and a range of hybrid musk roses such as R. 'Felicia' as well as fragrant lavender.

Wander around the bedding on the Rampart Steps and discover the dark-leaved, orange flowered Dahlia 'David Howard'. This is a new addition to the gardens this season and will flower until the Autumn.

Throughout the season, take a walk with the bees and butterflies along the 100 metre herbaceous border. Our gardeners tell us it is already looking particularly good, although it's not expected to peak until the end of the season.

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Fountain with Witley court in the background

2. Witley Court and Gardens

One of England's great country houses, Witley Court is fondly remembered for its extravagant Victorian garden parties. Experience its outdoor charm this summer with ornate bedding featuring pink begonias and Osteospermum 'Tresco' colours in the circular beds with Heliotrope 'Marine', pelargoniums and orange zinnias throughout the decorative borders.

A summer visit is not complete without taking the chance to explore the enchanting woodlands. Follow the winding paths and look out for climbing plants such as honeysuckles as they wrap themselves around the trees.

It will be hard to miss the grand Perseus and Andromeda fountains, which began firing again in the spring after months of conservation work. See for yourself why these elaborate fountains are compared to Rome's Trevi Fountain and those at the Palace of Versailles near Paris.

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A man and woman walk along Osborne’s terrace

3. Osborne

Queen Victoria frequently wrote about her love for Osborne's gardens. From painting on the terrace, to helping Albert in the garden, it's little wonder she called Osborne her 'paradise'. Take a stroll around the vast seaside estate and see why she chose to spend her summers at Osborne. In the summer bedding, enjoy rich hot colours including Victorian favourites such as fuschias and pelargoniums contrasted with gold, silver and variegated foliage plants. 

Be one of the first to wander around the newly upgraded lower terrace, which has recently reopened to the public. In July keep an eye out for the topiary, which will be looking its sharpest after its seasonal clip.

Ask our gardeners about myrtle's long history at Osborne and see the plant grown from the original sprig which was given to Victoria by Albert's grandmother in 1845. Sprigs of this delicate white flower have been used in royal wedding bouquets for generations, by brides including Victoria's daughter, also named Victoria, and most recently Kate Middleton. The myrtle will flower again in July and August.

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Brodsworth bedding in the summer

4. Brodsworth Hall and Gardens

Brodsworth's Victorian gardens are almost exactly as they were during the late 19th century. Discover the statue walks, fern dell grotto and exotic summer parterre to get a sense of the life of the wealthy Thellusson family, who built the home and gardens in the 1860s.

In the  pleasure grounds, set in an 18th century quarry, smell the fragrance of more than 100  rose plants. Compare this to the wild roses of the Rose Dell in the mid-summer, flowering in warm shades of pinks and red through to vivid yellow. See the large scale Victorian flower garden with warm, tropical shades of reds and oranges. Discover more than 4400 Tagetes 'Golden Gem', 2200 Coleus 'Velvet Red' and 2800 Gazania 'Kiss Golden Flame' dominating the parterre with their dramatic and vibrant colours.

While you're exploring the gardens, discover the recently restored privy - a  Victorian loo that was hidden under a mountain of ivy for decades. The restoration, unveiled in May, features a pagoda-styled roof and strongly-scented flowers including roses and geraniums. These were planted as the originals were more than 150 years ago.

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A pond with lilly pads in the Queen Mother’s garden with Walmer Castle in the background

5. Walmer Castle

Celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the Queen Mother's Garden at Walmer Castle this summer. Given to the Queen Mother for her 95th birthday in 1997, the garden also commemorates her role as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. At the time she said: 'I have been given many presents before, but never a garden.' The garden was designed by celebrated landscaper Penelope Hobhouse, whose design style fitted well with the colours and styles enjoyed by the Queen Mother.

Chat to our gardeners to learn about the symbolism in the garden, from the soft shades that the Queen Mother loved, to the E-shaped topiary initial of her name. Then see if you can spot the tadpoles that live and feed within the 95 ft pond in June. By the end of the month you might even be lucky enough to see the froglets and toadlets perching on the lillypads.

Throughout the rest of the season, delight in the flowering roses including the historic Rosa 'La Follette' in the castle moat.

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'step into englands story