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Growing perennials? Expert garden advice from Hever Castle's Neil Miller

By Neil Miller

Perennial, the UK’s only charity dedicated to helping everyone who works in horticulture, unveiled a fantastic show garden at RHS Hampton Court this year full of grasses and colourful perennials and I was lucky enough to go along and help during the show.

I fell in love with the fantastic spiral colour garden designed by Tom Massey and at the end of the show I bought the lion's share of the plants from the show garden for Hever Castle.

The plants arrived two weeks ago from Hortus Loci - the specialist nursery in Hampshire who grew the plants for the show garden - and the team at Hever busied themselves unloading the 33 Danish trolleys laden with blooms and grasses.

Agapanthus and grasses from Perennial's 'Sanctuary Garden' at RHS Hampton Court
Agapanthus and grasses from Perennial's 'Sanctuary Garden' at RHS Hampton Court

We counted the plants off the trollies and marvelled at the heavenly mix of plants blending from vibrant reds and oranges of heleniums, geums and crocosmia through to the more restful purples and blues of the cornflowers and agapanthus.

We all agreed that the plants would find a natural home on Diana’s Walk, a relatively new long border at Hever Castle, developed in 2010 when the brambles and trees backing the Italian garden were cleared and the area opened up to visitors.

Diana’s Walk features prairie-style planting of grasses and self-seeding perennials. As with every perennial border gaps occur over time and these need to be filled.

Drifts of perennials
Drifts of perennials
Diana's Walk is a wildlife haven
Diana's Walk is a wildlife haven

We filled the gaps and getting the plants in the ground in in the border with drifts of achilea, verbena, agapanthus and heleniums interspersed with tall grasses - some nearly five feet in height.

These fantastic specimens help to boost the biodiversity of our gardens and the densely planted style provides a haven for wildlife and insects. The proof is in the pudding and Diana’s Walk really is a favourite for insects. In fact, one of our apprentice gardeners came across a wasp nest during the planting, but managed to escape with just a couple of stings!

If you’ve got a perennial border that needs a boost then you can do no better than achillea (yarrow), agapanthus and heleniums but don’t forget the grasses - they really give the border some depth and provide a fantastic backdrop for the more colourful perennials.

Verbena geums and grasses on Diana's Walk at Hever Castle
Verbena geums and grasses on Diana's Walk at Hever Castle

Growing perennials? Neil's top tips...

Achillea is easy to grow and mixes well with other perennial favourites. The plant comes in a range of colours from gold to blood red. Some species like Coronation Gold can grow up to a metre in height so may be better positioned at the back of the border. Taller species may need staking but otherwise they require little maintenance.

Agapanthus are the summer flowering showy perennial, chosen to add oomph to a border. They commonly come in shades of blue and purple. Originating from South Africa they range from fully hardy to half hardy, with the evergreen varieties generally the most tender. Agapanthus thrives in fertile, well-drained, but moisture-retentive soil in full sun. Water agapanthus plants regularly during the growing season, but only sparingly in winter.

Perennial Sanctuary Garden by Tom Massey. Image ©Britt Willoughby Dyer
Perennial Sanctuary Garden by Tom Massey. Image ©Britt Willoughby Dyer

**Perennial is the UK’s only charity dedicated to helping everyone who works in horticulture along with their families too. The charity provides free advice, support and financial assistance to people of all ages working in, or retired from horticulture. Perennial receives great support from gardeners, constructors, designers and nursery people who help to raise funds and awareness of the charity’s work. More details at perennial.org.uk

Head gardener Neil Miller at Hever Castle
Head gardener Neil Miller at Hever Castle
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