Things to see and do

Seasonal Garden Highlights at Eltham Palace

A rare and fine example of an Arts and Crafts garden, with an intriguing mix of medieval features woven into the landscape. Highlights include the Sunken Rose Garden planted with scented hybrid musk roses, and the Rock Garden with a series of pools and cascades. Admire the stunning herbaceous border created by award-winning garden designer Isabelle Van Groeningen. Take a journey through a year of seasonal garden highlights at Eltham Palace and Gardens.

Eltham Palace with south moat and stone bridge during spring
The palace with south moat and stone bridge during spring

Eltham Palace in Spring

Bulbs are one of the many stars of the show at Eltham from late winter into spring, and they are found in several areas of the garden.

In the garden rooms the wide borders under the Chinese privet trees are almost completely filled with drifts and clusters of hellebores, variously coloured pink, ivory and ruby, and intermingled with delicate epimediums.


The air within the garden rooms is often heavy with scent on a calm spring day. Shrubs such as Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill' and the fragrant sweet box (Sarcococca confusa) fill the air with scent, enticing you to come closer.

Also worth a look are the soft pink flowers of the spring pea on top of the rock bank, which with some hellebores and Scilla give a flowery foreground to the Palace. The Cyclamen coum and primroses at the bottom of the bank are now quietly spreading over their bed of leaf mould.

You will know you are there from the delicate scents of the Sarcococca, dwarf evergreen bushes with shiny leaves and an elegant habit. They are tucked away at the back of the border, and their flowers are insubstantial and fading now, but it will soon be the turn of the camellias.


Beyond the top of the moat areas are spangled with early bulbs such as cyclamen, snowdrops, yellow aconites, primroses, sky-blue wood anemones and wine-coloured hellebores

Within the Inner Court seasonal bedding schemes are planted in the terraced beds close to the palace, providing a great splash of colour with primulas, pansies and tulips in late spring.


One of the major features of the gardens at Eltham Palace is the long herbaceous border, which reaches its peak in late summer when it glows in rich purple, copper, yellow and blue flowers attracting butterflies and bees.

Designed by Isabelle Van Groeningen to establish a new garden in the dry south moat as part of the successful Contemporary Heritage Gardens scheme, it is one of a series of borders which encircle the medieval fortress.

It contains 18 different varieties of oriental poppy, 21 different varieties of peony and 20 different varieties of Clematis.

The border is 100 metres long and features traditional herbaceous plants such as delphinium with deep turquoise spires which contrast with the flat heads of Helenium 'Moerheim Beauty' and Eupatorium atropurpureum. Geranium 'Kashmir White' rises out of a sea of Nepeta 'Walkers Low'. All this colour is set off by huge architectural clumps of Miscanthus.


Roses can be found in bloom at Eltham during summer in both the Rose Garden and the Rose Quadrant. Historic rose varieties include Rosa 'Gruss an Aachen' bred in Germany in 1909. Also excellent are the indispensable hybrid musk roses such as R. 'Felicia'

Along the top of the sunken wall of the Rose Garden is a lavender hedge which, with the roses, scents the garden throughout the summer.

From the Rose Garden visitors can walk through the delightful shady garden rooms, planted for winter interest but almost as varied in the summer, and emerge into the beautifully calm and light area following the bank of the moat to admire the bridge.

The shade provides ideal conditions for flowering shrubs such as the silvery blue lacecap hydrangeas (Hydrangea aspera Villosa Group) and almond-scented white flowers of Eucryphia.


Leaving the moat area, a stairway can be taken to the top of the Rock Garden and then on to the medieval embankment to the south where mown grass pathways meander through a beautiful wildflower meadow beneath parkland trees.

Closer to the palace the dahlias in the summer bedding scheme will provide colour and interest right through to the autumn. Their vibrant blooms stand out against the dark green of the trees beyond before being matched for colour when the trees take on their autumn hues.

The Sunken Rose Garden at Eltham Palace in summer surrounded by lavender
The Sunken Rose Garden in summer surrounded by lavender

Eltham Palace in Autumn

Eltham Place provides a fiery farewell to summer with wonderful autumn colour provided by the trees, shrubs and herbaceous borders.

Prunus maackii, the Manchurian Cherry, with bark that glows orange, lines the drive to the car park. Flanking the coach park the colour changes to burgundian red of Prunus sargentii or Sargent's Cherry.

In the parkland Liquidambar styraciflua is the star, an elegant cone with deep scarlet leaves like widespread fingers held at an idiosyncratic angle. Nearby is an ornamental hawthorn, Crataegus persimilis 'Prunifolia' with huge scarlet fruit shiny among the mat crimson leaves.

At the far end of the dry moat are several hybrids of Rosa moyesii which are tall hardy shrub roses festooned with fruit.

In the long herbaceous border asters and monkshoods are the remnants of the summer's spectacular display. These varieties are probably among the most rewarding of the genus to grow and include Aster x frikartii 'Monch' and Aster 'Little Carlow'.

The tall white daisy at the back of the border is Leucanthemella serotina which provides a contrast in flower shape and habit with the deep blue, poisonous monkshood or Aconitum wilsonii 'Barker's Variety'. The Sedum, asters, Achillea and Veronicastrum will keep their sculptural seed heads long into the autumn and winter.

The moat at Eltham Palace
Reflections of autumn colour in the moat

Eltham Palace in Winter

Traditional English summer plants are a well-known feature of Eltham Palace but winter is celebrated too. While the Garden Rooms are best in late spring with hellebores and epimediums carpeting the ground, the rooms are divided by shrubs which were rare in the 1930s.

These include the recently bred Viburnumx burkwoodii, grown for its richly scented flowers in winter and the strange, fiercely spiked Japanese Bitter Orange (Poncirus trifoliata), a novelty even today with hard green fruits that often persist through winter.

Elsewhere scent abounds with Stachyurus praecox, Chimonanthus praecox, Viburnum farreri, Lonicerax purpusii, Edgeworthia chrysantha, Mahonia 'Charity' and many daphnes including the variegated Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata'.

Hellebores emerge gradually and from December onwards their flowers unfold in a kaleidoscope of colours from creamy white through dusky pinks to wine dark reds and purples, echoed by Cyclamen coum.

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A snow covered Eltham Palace from the south
A snow covered Eltham Palace from the south
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