Monthly Archives: October 2020

Neil Miller, Head Gardener at Hever Castle

Hever Castle clad in Boston Ivy

Neil Miller, Head Gardener at Hever Castle, conducted his online Zoom lecture, a first for Grayshott Gardeners, in cooperation with the Perennial charity. Having missed out on live talks for most of this year, some 70-odd G G members took up the invitation to participate in an online Zoom lecture. Neil, a Lloyds broker in the City of London, changed tack midlife to retrain as a horticulturist, ran his own business, but nevertheless did not think twice when offered a job at Hever Castle, where he was subsequently appointed Head Gardener in 2006.

Neil did not disappoint. His photographs of the Castle and gardens with the abundant vistas were wonderfully varied and colourful; he managed to fit in a vast amount of information on the history of the estate, the plantings and the layout, as well as inherent values and plans regarding future work, young people and education. A fluent and inspiring speaker, Neil succeeded in conveying his enthusiasm for the different species of plants. The hard work involved in their care was not overlooked either, especially in wrestling (more or less successfully) with the effects of wildlife, such as badgers, rabbits and greenfly.

We heard how Hever Castle dates from the 13th Century, that it was Anne Boleyn’s childhood home, and was bought by William Waldorf Astor in 1902, who used his fortune to commission the 125 acre gardens, known then as an Edwardian Pleasure Ground, and which involved 2000 men and 4 years (as well as many litres of beer) to construct.

Amazing photographs took us along the Topiary Walk, past the Yew and Box Maze, the Chess Set, the Tudor Herb Garden; the Italian Garden with its statuary and mostly Roman artefacts, the Pompeiian Wall and its Mediterranean plants, such as pomegranate and pistachio trees, backed by the heat-retaining south-facing sandstone wall; and opposite the 1/8th of a mile Pergola walk and shade-loving camellias and hydrangeas, with a marble structure gracing the well in between. (fact-check by the editor: etymological connection with “well-to-do” may be fake news).

Nearby is a fountain based on the Trevi fountain in Rome, flanked by nude female statues, which in less liberal times used to be cleaned by ladies from the Women’s Institute. (Fact-check required – ed.) A favourite picture is the loggia at sunrise, glowing with warm Italianate colours. The sunken garden used to be filled with water for bathing by the Astor family. The 38 acres lake with its water maze attracts many youngsters, and the wildlife also serves as an educational resource.

Neil is a rose fanatic, and a large part of his time is spent on the walled rose garden with its 4000 fragrant rose plants – greenfly is dealt with organically by birds and hover flies but black spot is regretfully but necessarily kept at bay by spraying.

All the Gardens look immaculate, and it is hard to believe that until last month, 9 members of staff were furloughed, leaving Neil with only 3 members of staff to cope. However, Hever Castle is currently open for visits and stays, with Covid 19 precautions in place. The Autumn colours are particularly fantastic this year, as are the vistas.

Aerial view of the gardens

Many thanks to Neil, and to Perennial who have guided and fronted this Zoom lecture for Grayshott Gardeners as a new fund-raising activity to replace many others lost to the coronavirus. Neil is donating his fee for his talk to Perennial.

Further information on Hever Castle and its Gardens on their website: www.hevercastle.co.uk

Perennial is a charity which looks after former horticultural employees and their families: www.perennial.org.uk

Photographs supplied by Neil Miller

Photographic Competition – My Garden 2020

Grayshott Gardeners Patron and main instignator of the online Photographic Competition, Gordon Rae, reported that members had excelled themselves, with 35 entries; at a Spring or Summer Show, only 4 or 5 entries would be expected in the Photography Class.

Our members rose to the challenge, entering one photo on any aspect of their garden including “humour”. Photos included whole and parts of gardens, in sun and rain, patios, pets, hanging baskets, individual plants and flowers, wildlife, you name it, someone had photographed it.

The judge was Kathleen Bird, immediate past Chairman of Ludshott Photographic Club and a keen gardener herself. Kathleen holds both a Royal Photographic Society (Licentiate) and a Photographic Alliance of Great Britain (Credit) qualification.

Her task was not an easy one, as the range of subjects was wide and the standard was good. After careful thought Kathleen chose her first 3, a Highly Commended, 2 Commended and a group for display on the Grayshott Gardeners website (see photo gallery below):

1st “Bottoms up” by Doris Marjoram £25.00 cash prize

2nd “Flower Power” by Sue Wheeler £12.50 “

3rd “Dragonfly” by Karen Cozens £10.00 “

Bottoms up by Doris Marjoram
Flower Power by Sue Wheeler
Dragonfly by Karen Cozens

Highly Commended “Nymphaea Lily” by Alan (& Pamela) Wright

Commended “Heart Shaped Sunflower” by Keersten Kenny

Commended “Timorous Beastie” by Diana Grant

Of the winner, Kathleen said that this photo totally fulfilled the brief, was cleverly devised and executed having to use a tripod and a delayed shutter speed to take the “Selfie” and introduced a real element of “humour”.

In second place, the photographer had captured a lot of colour in the garden, totally filling the frame.

Kathleen was impressed by the Dragonfly which was awarded 3rd place, showing the insect in its natural environment, actually laying eggs in the pond. The photo was pin sharp and wait for it ……… taken on an Iphone.

Well done to everyone who entered this fun competition for helping to keep the club active while the COVID 19 restrictions are in place.

Our thanks to Gordon Rae for organising the photo competition, and to Kathleen Bird for judging the competition in such a thorough and professional way.

Cordyline by Anne Waddell