February 2023 Talk: A Garden Reborn

Ruth Cornett,  the owner of the Eltham Gatehouse situated adjacent to the historic Eltham Palace and part of its history, gave an excellent and informative account of how she has renovated the Gatehouse garden which along with the house was neglected and semi-derelict when she and her husband bought it in 1998.  Having previously lived in a North London flat and from a rural Irish background, she was desperate to have a house and garden and set about renovating and restoring the  garden in 2015. Ruth showed us pictures of before and after.

Eltham Palace is a medieval house with a long history. At one time a Bishop’s Palace and a Tudor hunting lodge, it was bought by members of the American Courtauld family in  1933. They renovated the Palace and added an Art Deco extension, then handing it over to the Royal Army Educational Corps in 1945. Its head resided in the Gatehouse. When the army left in 1992 the Gatehouse was left empty and the garden was abandoned.

Before Ruth started to renovate the garden, to give herself a horticultural grounding, she and her husband completed an RHS horticultural course.  Drawing on her art history background, she has attempted to  acknowledge, respect  and sympathetically integrate Eltham Palace’s historic and cultural background in the  garden restoration. There are references both symbolic and practical in the garden to its historic past.

They began by clearing the garden and renovating the surrounding garden wall. They were faced with a number of problems, not least Japanese knotweed and honey fungus. Ruth said it was important to  begin with the structure as it was important to integrate the planting with the historic  structure. She began with the  paths, created a new seating area, removed overhanging trees, restored the long border  and redesigned the lawns. But her pièce de résistance was her use of some 150 roses and the circular rose bed which  she has designed in the shape of a Tudor Rose. To symbolise the rose foliage she has planted small yew trees in metal boxes at its edges. She also  has erected a stepped viewing platform so visitors can see the bed and roses in all their glory. She has used a wide range of roses, many Peter Beales and David Austin roses and she provided us with a list of them (see below).  Many  of their names have  a connection with the garden’s history such as William Shakespeare, W.B. Yeats, Anne Boleyn and Queen Elizabeth I.

As Ruth said, her garden is an on-going project, but it has become, in a relatively short time, a wonderful garden due to her hard work. She opens it for charity and CABAHS members will be notified of the dates. Members had the privilege  of going there in 2021. It was very impressive and I would recommend those who haven’t been there yet to visit it.

Angela B


  • William Shakespeare
  • Eden Rose ’88
  • Desdemona
  • W. B, Yeats
  • The Poet’s Wife
  • Anne Boleyn
  • City of Belfast
  • Queen Elizabeth
  • James Galway
  • The Pilgrim
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  • NI Centenary Rose
  • Madame Alfred Carriere
  • Felicite Perpetue

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