Historic Gardens

10 Flowers to see at our sites this Autumn

As the days grow shorter, our gardens still have spectacular displays to offer. Autumn brings new colour and layers to the garden, from the jewel-like glimpses of cyclamen to the unexpected boldness of nerines. Explore autumn colour that goes beyond the autumn leaves.

1. Cyclamen

(Cyclamen hederifolium)

Best time to spot them: September-December

Where: Brodsworth Hall and Gardens, Mount Grace Priory, Walmer Castle and Gardens

The dainty jewel-like flowers of cyclamen start to emerge in autumn and can be seen right through the winter, adding colour to the shaded areas they thrive in. Hardy, outdoor cyclamen can be found in shades of strong pinks through to white.

The Roman writer, Pliny the Elder, wrote of cyclamen in his Natural History, suggesting them as both a poison and a cure. The tuberous roots of cyclamen contain a toxin which has given cyclamen a long association with superstition and health.

Cyclamen were introduced to Britain in around 1597 and can be found under trees and in shaded areas at many of our sites.


2. Japanese anemone

(Anemone hupehensis, Anemone x hybrida)

Best time to spot them: Late August-October

Where: Eltham Palace and Gardens, Osborne, Walmer Castle and Gardens

A star of autumn gardens, these tall saucer-shaped flowers float alongside silvery buds above foliage which dies back in the winter after flowering, to return in spring the following year. These plants are sometimes also known as ‘windflowers’ for their gentle nodding movement in the wind.

Despite their common name, Japanese anemones originate from China, but have been grown in Japanese gardens for centuries. Japanese anemones were first brought to Britain by the plant collector Robert Fortune in the mid-19th century.

Japanese anemones feature in the contemporary heritage garden in Osborne’s walled garden . The swathes of pink flowers transform the area in late summer and early autumn, extending the garden’s flowering period.

3. Autumn Crocus

(Colchicum autumnale)

Best time to spot them: September-November

Where: Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens, Bolsover Castle, Brodsworth Hall and Gardens, Osborne, Walmer Castle and Gardens, Wrest Park

Autumn crocus is not a true crocus, they bloom in late winter and early spring.

These pale mauve flowers bloom in dense groups, on top of pale bendy stems, often in grassy areas where they can become established over several years. Because the flowers emerge from corms without leaves, which develop in spring, autumn crocus are sometimes called ‘naked ladies’.

In ancient Greece, the autumn crocus was recognised for its powerful poison, but it also has a long history of attempts to refine medicinal properties from the plant. In the 18th century, a French army officer, Nicholas Husson, developed a cure-all tonic called ‘l’eau de Husson’, which contained extract of autumn crocus. It became popular in high society after it was used by the Prince Regent, later George IV, to help treat his gout. The alkaloid Colchicine was isolated from Colchicum in the 19th century and whilst still highly toxic, could be more reliably experimented with for any medicinal properties, including in the prevention of gout.

Autumn crocus have been grown in Britain since the beginning of the 17th century.

4. Dahlia

Best time to spot them: August – early October

Where: Eltham Palace and Gardens, Wrest Park, Audley End House and Gardens, Osborne, Walmer Castle and Gardens

Dahlias originate from southern and central America. They were first brought to Europe in the late 18th century, but not successfully grown in Britain until the early 19th century.

The first ‘single’ flowers were soon bred to produce a variety of colours and fancier ‘double’ blooms, which became incredibly popular in the first half of the 19th century. Since then, dahlias have fluctuated in popularity, at some points being considered vulgar and only fit for allotments.

At English Heritage, dahlias can be found growing from kitchen gardens and walled gardens for cut flowers (Walmer and Wrest Park), to bedding arrangements and summer displays (Osborne, Eltham and Audley End), reflecting their changing popularity through history.

Did you know that Stonehenge once hosted dahlia shows ? During the 1840s, Stonehenge was the unlikely venue for dahlia shows, which featured competitions to find the best blooms, ‘floral devices’ – sculptures made entirely dahlias - live music, a ‘universal picnic’, and even a cricket match.

5. Rudbeckia

Best time to spot them: August – October

Where: Kenilworth Castle and Elizabethan Garden, Eltham Palace and Gardens, Mount Grace Priory

Rudbeckias originate from north America and today can be found in a dazzling range of shades of yellows and oranges, in various shapes and sizes.

They were brought to Britain in the early 17th century by the Tradescant plant collectors. Rudbeckia are sometimes called ‘cone flowers’ and their dark solid centres leave behind attractive seed heads into late autumn and early winter.


6. Chrysanthemum

Best time to spot them: Flowering September-November 

Where to see them: Audley End House and Gardens, Carisbrooke Castle, Home of Charles Darwin - Down House, Walmer Castle and Gardens.

Chrysanthemums come in a huge array of sizes, shapes and colours. They can produce a plentiful supply of cut flowers in autumn, right through to early winter.

Chrysanthemums originate from China, where they have been grown for centuries as a herb. Chrysanthemums are also very significant in Japanese culture, associated with royalty, having been brought to Japan through trade with China in around the 5th century.

Chrysanthemums are thought to have been introduced to Europe in the 17th century and were very popular as a cut flower in the 19th century as they can last for almost two weeks. At our sites, you can usually find them in kitchen gardens and cutting borders.

The diary of William Cresswell, a gardener at Audley End during the 1870s, refers to potting on Chrysanthemums into larger size pots, so we know that these autumnal flowers were grown at Audley End in the late 19th century.

7. Michaelmas Daisies

(Symphotrichum, formely Asters)

Best time to spot them: flowering August – late October

Where: Bolsover Castle, Eltham Palace and Gardens, Osborne, Kenilworth Castle and Elizabethan Garden

Michaelmas daisies provide fantastic late summer colour and a source of nectar for pollinators, from August through to October. ‘Michaelmas’ daisies are at their peak in late September, where their flowers coincide with the feast day of St Michael the Archangel, on the 29th September.

In the medieval period, Michaelmas marked the end of the farming calendar, when harvests had been collected and accounts must be settled. The flowers have come to symbolise the start of autumn and the shorter days leading into winter. Michaelmas daisies were popular with the Victorians and Edwardians.

The garden designers William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll both used asters for their soft billowy flowers, which suited their softer planting schemes in the early 20th century.


8. Nerines

Best time to spot them: Flowering during September and October

Where: Eltham Palace and Gardens, Osborne, Walmer Castle and Gardens, Wrest Park

Nerines grow from bulbs and flower during September and October. They form tall stems, topped with clusters of trumpet shaped flowers with curly petals mostly commonly found in shades of pink.

The plant doesn't have visible leaves during the flowering period and are a popular bloom for flower arranging. You can find nerines at Eltham Palace, Osborne, Walmer Castle and Wrest Park, where they add a last pop of colour to the late summer planting.

Nerines are a South African plant, brought to Europe in the 17th century. There is a ‘wild’ population growing on the Channel Island of Guernsey, said to have become established after a box of the bulbs washed up on the shore following a shipwreck. This legend has helped Nerines earn the common name of ‘Guernsey Lily’.

9. Sasanqua camellia

Best time to spot them: Late September – early November

Where: Osborne

Did you know that some camellias flower in the autumn? ‘Sasanqua’ camellias might be less well known that their spring flowering counterparts, but their smaller leaves and array of flower shapes and colours brighten up autumn gardens, particularly in sunny areas, and they offer a rare chance for scent in the garden after the height of summer.

Sasanqua camellia can be found in the pleasure grounds at Osborne and stand out as some of the last flowering shrubs towards the end of the year.

10. Bodinier beautyberry

(Callicarpa bodinieri)

Best time to spot them: October - December

Where: Kenilworth Castle and Elizabethan Garden and Walmer Castle and Gardens

This unusual plant is a showstopper in autumn. In summer, it produces small pale purple clusters of flowers, followed by glossy, round, purple berries in the autumn.

Callicarpa originates from western and central China. It is named after Emile Marie Bodinier, a French missionary and plant collector who sent back a specimen of the plant in the 1890s. It was only made more widely available after 1907. Its striking and unusual colour made it a popular exotic choice for gardens in the early 20th century. To get the most berries, a number of plants must be grouped together, which might have caused a decline in its popularity.

More to explore

  • Plan your visit

    From sweeping parkland to pretty parterres, find a place to visit and explore historic gardens this autumn. 

  • Gardens through time

    Use our timeline to trace the evolution of gardens in England and see if you can spot the signs of historical landscape design on your next visit. 

  • Join English Heritage

    Enjoy unlimted access to our glorious gardens and historic sites with an annual English Heritage membership.