Historic Gardens

Unusual autumn gardens

Our gardeners are busy working behind-the-scenes to maintain our beautiful gardens. But it's not just the picture-perfect bedding and topiary that's commanding their attention. This season our gardeners are tending to flowers that only blossom in the evening, fruit trees that are linked to royalty and plants that were once cultivated for their healing properties. Take a look at some of the more unusual finds in our gardens this autumn.

1. A plant that only flowers at night

You might not be able to see it in all its glory, but something enchanting happens in Walmer Castle's glasshouse overnight.

Epiphyllum, also known as 'Queen of the Night' or 'Orchid Cactus', is a succulent plant that only flowers in the evening. During the day, Epiphyllum looks rather non-descript among the other foilage in the glasshouse, but at night it's known to have some 25-30 large white flowers in full bloom. Then, come morning, the flowers have wilted again.

Originally from South America, the Queen of the Night isn't typically pollinated by bees, rather moths and bats. It was brought to Walmer Castle by the Lord Warden's wife in around 2008 and remains a fascinating addition to the glasshouse to this day. It's likely to flower until mid-September.


2. Red squirrels are back at Belsay

A scurry of squirrels has returned to Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens this autumn - and if you're lucky you might spot one of these rare sightings for yourself.

Our gardeners are delighted to see the red squirrels again after a notable absence for several years. This was in line with a national decline in sightings. We're trying to entice more of these little critters, so look out for the feeding stations around the garden. These stations are topped up with specific red squirrel feed which encourages the reds into the garden and helps to support the population.

Red squirrels are the UK's only native squirrel species but are officially classed as 'Near Threatened' in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.


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3. Osborne's Storybook Fungi

Look out for a colourful spread of fungi growing across the gardens at Queen Victoria’s holiday home on the Isle of Wight. The early fungi are usually spotted by trees, although we think the best place to admire them - at a distance - is in the lawn areas where the vibrant red heads pop against the green grass.

Right through to the first frost, the wild fungi can cover the lawns in small but brightly coloured patches, making a spectacular sight for garden explorers. The scarlet toadstools dotted with white spots are known as fly agaric (pictured) but you might also spot other varieties over the autumn like waxcaps or Clavulinas. But do watch your step. They may look enchanting but these fungi can be extremely poisonous so please leave them where they are and don't touch.


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4. A Pear Tree Named By Elizabeth I

Every autumn our Black Worcester pear tree is in full bloom and ready for harvest. But what many of our visitors don't know is that these striking fruit trees are linked to Elizabeth I's visit to the region in the 16th century. 

The story goes that on Elizabeth I's famous visit to Kenilworth Castle in 1575, the queen was presented with a pear tree. She named the tree 'Black Worcester' for its dark colouring and it's this variety that still grows in our Elizabethan garden today. Keen observers will notice the tree also features on the crest for the City of Worcester.

The pears will cling to the trees through to the winter, but many are now being harvested for pear and cinnamon tray bakes. 

You can spot four Black Worcester trees in each quarter of the Elizabethan Garden today.

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5. A medicinal plant with teeth

A plant with teeth might sound like something from The Little Shop of Horrors musical, but that's the myth behind henbane at Mount Grace Priory, House and Gardens.

According to the medieval Doctrine of Signatures, plants that resemble a part of the human body were intended by God to be a cure for diseases that affected that area. Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) is said to resemble teeth along a jawline, owing to its jagged autumn seed pods (pictured). Therefore it's believed that this is one of the reasons henbane was used to treat toothaches during the medieval period.

We grow henbane at Mount Grace to mirror the gardening adopted by the Carthusian monks in the 15th century. During the autumn, our gardens team gathers pods from the tiny henbane seeds which then undergo a long period of refrigeration to induce germination. The seedlings are then carefully transplanted and grown under glass before being reintroduced to their garden setting in spring.

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Historic Gardens

The historic gardens in our care are among the finest in the country.

As the weather cools, our gardens transition into a vibrant autumnal colour palette of yellow, orange and brown. Keep cosy and enjoy wandering through our historic gardens where you'll discover the stories behind our leafy woodlands, decorative flower beds and seasonal kitchen produce.

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