Head Gardener Neil Miller celebrates 20 years at Hever Castle

February 04 2022 | Garden

Twenty years ago today (4 February), while one boy wizard – Harry Potter – was the number one film in the UK, our own horticultural wizard Neil Miller first picked up a spade at Hever Castle and began work on the gardens here. 

Hailing from an insurance brokerage background, Neil is living proof that no matter what life path you are on, it’s never too late to chase your dream job.

Neil’s interest in horticulture started aged just five years old when he would help his grandfather in the garden. His parents gave him a little patch to plant a potato and from that humble potato-growing experiment his floriferous passion blossomed.

Neil’s arrival at Hever Castle is the perfect example of being in the right place at the right time, Neil was having a look around the gardens, got chatting to the head gardener and his enthusiasm and passion led to a position at Hever where he started on the 4th February 2002. Neil steadily worked his way through the ranks to become Head Gardener in 2006.

From the moment visitors arrive at the gates to the Gardens, Neil’s vision can be seen as seasonal blooms happily welcome all. Neat topiary, manicured lawns and the eye-poppingly beautiful carpet-bedding that visitors enjoy beside the Yew Maze all bear Neil’s signature.  The perfect straight lines in the Italian Garden and the garden rooms that grace the Pompeiian Wall are testament to his desire to keep the art of Edwardian gardens and bedding alive in horticulture.

A rose specialist, Neil’s quest to introduce scented blooms to the Rose Garden at Hever Castle & Gardens is another legacy that visitors enjoy in the summer. 

A project that sprung from his two-decade association with the gardening charity Perennial can be enjoyed in Faith’s Garden on Diana’s Walk where glorious plants from Perennial’s 2017 RHS Hampton Court Garden are thriving.

Neil’s association with the gardening charity Perennial has raised lots of money over the years. He has featured in their calendars (not always clothed!), given multiple talks and even flung himself off the ArcelorMittal Orbit in the Olympic Park to raise funds.  

With over 125 acres to tend and a team of ten gardeners, Neil Miller is always busy with new projects as well as tending established areas of the Castle & Gardens.

He is particularly proud of the people he’s worked with over the years at Hever, and recently said “my team are passionate and driven and their enthusiasm helps make my job much easier.”

In 2021 Neil Miller led his team to seven gold medal wins in a row at the South & South East in Bloom Awards, as well as being personally awarded the prestigious South & South East in Bloom ‘Horticulture Achievement Award’ in 2017 and Outstanding Achievement Award in 2021.

Neil has said that for him, gardening at Hever Castle is “a walk in the park”, he adds “whether I’m at Hever or my tiny third of an acre at home, I don’t panic, I just immerse myself in the work.”

Duncan Leslie, CEO at Hever Castle & Gardens says of Neil’s 20 years as Head Gardener: “Neil has an infectious enthusiasm for the gardens here and shares a vision for making them ever more engaging.  He has built a truly exceptional team of equally passionate and proficient gardeners, and under his care they flourish!”

The American billionaire Warren Buffet said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it’, but in our eyes, the reputation of our Head Gardener Neil Miller could never be anything but glorious, and we are not the only ones who think so!

Tom Hart Dyke, creator of The World Garden at Lullingstone Castle says: “Neil is a real inspiration to know, he’s a fantastic gardener and takes everyone as he sees them. He came over to see me before I started the project at Lullingstone and he was inspirational, I remember him saying to me – ‘whatever anyone says if you think you can do it, then do it!’”

Clare Foggett, editor of The English Garden says: “One of the first times I met Neil was in a windswept Cambridgeshire trials field, judging roses in a group that included some of the country’s most renowned rose breeders. Intimidating company, but Neil made it much less daunting and the hours inspecting hundreds of plants for the slightest sign of blackspot flew by in his company. Since then he’s been kind enough to always respond to a plea for a quote or an interview for the magazines I’ve worked on, and gave me a wonderful, personal tour of Hever Castle’s gardens a few summers ago (graciously overlooking how dishevelled I was after deciding to cycle there). If I’m allowed to have a favourite head gardener, Neil is definitely mine!”

And Neil is our favourite Head Gardener…..Happy Anniversary Neil!