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The Palace of Holyroodhouse garden

The garden, Palace of Holyroodhouse

The garden, Palace of Holyroodhouse JL Gibbons

Sun dial

The dial was originally placed in the centre of the King's Garden at Holyrood, coinciding with Charles's Scottish coronation at the Abbey of Holyrood. ©

When James IV built the first royal palace in 1503 and Holyroodhouse became the main royal residence in Scotland, the gardens were the setting for tournaments, hunting, hawking and archery. There was even a tennis court and a menagerie with a range of animals, including lions, tigers and bears.

By the time Mary, Queen of Scots lived at the Palace there was a series of enclosed gardens, including a walled Privy Garden to the north. Mary often practised archery, hawking, hunting (for which wild boars were brought from France), bowls and tennis in the garden.  

The new public garden at the Palace of Holyroodhouse

The new public garden at the Palace of Holyroodhouse ©

Physic Garden past and future

A small physic garden was established at the Palace in 1670 and became the origins of Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden.  A new public garden with three distinct areas, each representing a phase in the Palace’s 900 year history, was opened in 2020 and is used by school and community groups to explore how plants have been used to improve health and well being.


A debtors' sanctuary

From the 1500s, Holyrood Abbey offered the right of sanctuary for those who could not pay their debts. The debtors, known as ‘Abbey lairds’, found shelter from their creditors within the Abbey boundaries, which included Holyrood Park and the buildings on Abbey Strand. At the height of its occupation as a sanctuary, Holyrood sheltered around 6,500 debtors, including members of the aristocracy.  Although imprisonment for debt was abolished in 1880, the ancient right of sanctuary within the grounds of Holyrood has never been repealed.

Rejuvenated gardens

By the time Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their family stayed at the Palace, the gardens were overgrown, and the surrounding area consisted of slums and industrial buildings.  Prince Albert created a new carriage approach to the north of the Palace, sweeping away the Privy Garden in the process, and established new planting areas to the north and south.  

A garden party

Queen Elizabeth II at a Garden Party. ©

The Palace gardens have been improved and updated and today seven greenhouses supply the Palace with flowers for official events throughout the year. This included Queen Elizabeth II's annual Garden Party. A tradition established by King George V and Queen Mary, the Garden Party is a special occasion where up to 8,000 guests are invited to the Palace. On the day, 15,000 cups of tea, 9,000 strawberry tarts and 7,000 sandwiches are consumed.