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.
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