Q&A with Hever Castle’s Head Gardener

Garden

Neil has been Hever Castle’s Head Gardener for 14 years so it’s fair to say he knows a thing or two about the horticultural world! We asked on social media if you had any gardening questions for Neil, and you did not let us down.

  1. How many different types/kinds of flowers grow at Hever Castle?
  2. Which plant gives you the most anxiety every spring?
  3. Which TV gardeners have inspired you? 
  4. What is your number 1 plant to attract pollinators?
  5. Which is your favourite part of Hever Garden?
  6. I’d appreciate any information on your soil amendments/fertiliser/pest & disease control you use for all those gorgeous beds of roses. 
  7. Do you have any advice on shrubs that would grow well by a wall in a shaded area?
  8. When my spring bulbs have finished flowering, how do I care for them until next year?
  9. What can we do to not have tiny worms in our fruit framboos?  
  10. What are the oldest perennials? Also, what part of the grounds is your favourite?
  11. I planted some sweet peas and let them germinate in our mini greenhouse, but it didn’t work. Maybe it was too hot? 
  12. What food would you recommend for roses?
  13. What continues to flower from spring through summer?
  14. What would you say is the most special tree in the grounds?
  15. How best to repair box hedges which have a bit of box blight?
  16. What’s the best policy for daffodils after flowering? De-head? Leave alone?
  17. I’ve recently discovered heucheras for myself and then just fell in love after seeing them in your garden! Any tips to keep them healthy and bushy? 

Q1: How many different types/kinds of flowers grow at Hever Castle?

A: Hundreds and hundreds! You name it and we will probably grow it here.

Q2: Which plant gives you the most anxiety every spring?

A: Definitely the Magnolia. It looks stunning in March, but the dreaded frost can kill the lovely blooms in one night, so I always keep my fingers crossed that there are no frosts.

Q3: Which TV gardeners have inspired you? 

A: It has to be the one and only Alan Titchmarsh, closely followed by Charlie Dimmock.

Q4: What is your number 1 plant to attract pollinators?

A: I would say lavender.

Q5: Which is your favourite part of Hever Garden?

A: My favourite area has to be the Rose Garden.

Q6: I’d appreciate any information on your soil amendments/fertiliser/pest & disease control you use for all those gorgeous beds of roses. 

A:  Feed roses twice a year with a granular rose feed in March and again in August. Once the first flush of roses have finished and you’ve applied a slow release fertiliser also in March, mulch all roses well with a soil conditioner. Watch out for pests and diseases, especially black spot. Either apply a fungicide such as rose clear or collect all defoliated leaves and burn them, don’t compost. Don’t worry too much about greenfly/blackfly, leave them for the birds.

Q7: Do you have any advice on shrubs that would grow well by a wall in a shaded area?

A: Camellias, Hydrangea, Weigela, Escallonia, Daphne and Euonymus and Garrya Elliptica love shaded areas.

Q8: When my spring bulbs have finished flowering, how do I care for them until next year?

A: Let all the foliage die down naturally, leave the bulbs in situ and apply a general fertiliser to promote healthy growth for next season.

Q9: What can we do to not have tiny worms in our fruit framboos?  

A: These worms are probably the larvae of a tiny beetle. To control the infestation you need to continually look out for the beetle on the canes throughout the spring. Pick them off, this is possible even though they are very small and immerse them in a bucket of soapy water. You can use an organic spray such as Bug Clear Gun for fruit and veg. Start spraying when pink fruits emerge then two weeks later do not spray when in flower. Please read the instructions very carefully before use. Or there is a host plant odour called Karimone, a water trap that you can obtain from Ken Muir, fruit specialist or Harrod Horticulture. The trap catches male and female beetles which may help reduce infestation levels. 

Q10: I would like to know what are the oldest perennials? Also, what part of the grounds is your favourite?

A: The perennials aren’t really that old here at Hever castle, probably 10/15 years old at the most. We like to replace the perennials every so often to guarantee a continued top quality display. My favourite part of the gardens is definitely the Rose Garden.

Q11: I planted some sweet peas and let them germinate in our mini greenhouse, but it didn’t work. Maybe it was too hot? 

A: Probably too hot. If you sow them in pots in autumn, leave them in a cold frame or cool greenhouse. However, in spring you can plant them in situ.

Q12: What food would you recommend for roses?

A: Well rotted compost and a good all round fertiliser that is high in potassium to promote healthy strong blooms. Apply in March and August.

Q13: What continues to flower from spring through summer?

A: Heucheras, Abutilon Megapotamicum, Erysimum Bowles Mauve, Perennial Geraniums, Jacobs Ladder, Hardy Fuchsias and Euphorbias all have a long flowering season

Q14: What would you say is the most special tree in the grounds?

A: That is a difficult question to answer, probably the Wollemi Pine. The world’s oldest and rarest tree dating back to the dinosaurs.

Q15: How best to repair box hedges which have a bit of box blight?

A: Cut out dead growth and pick up all dropped leaves. Burn these leaves, do not compost them as this will spread the disease. Apply a general fertiliser to promote healthy new growth. You can apply a chemical control spray 6 times a year with a fungicide, i.e. provanto fungus fighter. Or ideally replace the box with alternatives such as Ilex Crenata, Taxus Baccata, Osmanthus Delavayi, Euyonomous or even Rosemary.

Q16: What’s the best policy for daffodils after flowering? De-head? Leave alone?

A: It is best to deadhead daffodils after flowering and allow the leaves to die down naturally for six to eight weeks. This will allow all the goodness to go back into the bulb for next years growth.

Q17: I’ve recently discovered heucheras for myself and then fell in love after seeing them in your garden! Any tips to keep them healthy and bushy? 

A: Keep them well mulched. They tend to get a bit woody as they age, so every few years lift them and divide them. This will keep them bushy and healthy. Also, they do not like to be waterlogged

Click here for further information about the gardens at Hever Castle.

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