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The best Christmas presents for gardeners from Hever Castle head gardener Neil Miller

'Tis the season to be jolly and to fork out more than just your seed bed for your broad beans (although now is a good time to do this and plant seeds if you want an early crop).

If you’re stuck for gift ideas for the gardener in your life then look no further, I’ve trawled the catalogues and spoken to friends to find the top gifts for 2019...

Hever Castle head gardener Neil Miller
Hever Castle head gardener Neil Miller

1. Plant Society Subscription

There are lots of plant societies and groups out there that you can belong to so I’ll be giving some of my gardening friends a subscription to the Hardy Plant Society and encouraging them to meet up with the Kent Group who run lots of fun events. I’ll also be passing on some of the Perennial calendars featuring two of our gardening team Jack and Rhys raising funds (and a smile or two) for

this amazing charity. It was great to hear Zoe Ball talking about the calendar on her BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show the other morning - a real boost for the Perennial team.

2. Bee and butterfly seed mats

Bee and Butterfly seed mats are a great gift for the gardener in your life who enjoys encouraging bees and butterflies into his or her patch. The mats are impregnated with wild flower seeds specifically chosen to attract our flying friends into the garden. The mats are designed to help control weed growth and allow wild flowers to burst forth. The blue seed mat is bio-degradable so

I’d go for that one if I were you. They’re easy to lay, just make sure you’ve prepared your soil well and it’s clear of weeds, lay it on the soil and cover with 5cm of compost or sharp sand in order to keep the mat in place. You can purchase a mat sized 1×200×50cms for less than £10 via www.worm.co.uk

Gifts to encourage bees into the garden would be a good choice
Gifts to encourage bees into the garden would be a good choice

(Growing your own herbs and spices is also really good fun in the summer and it’s great to dry them to extend their use over the winter months. With this in mind, a hanging herb drying rack is also a good present idea and can come in at just under £10.)

3. Gardening books

I’m a compulsive collector of gardening books and this year I’m hoping to receive Jim Buckland and Sarah Wain’s book ‘At West Dean’. I have visited West Dean in West Sussex many times over the years for chilli festivals and the like and I love the gardens there. Husband and wife team, Jim and Sarah, have created a place that really engages the plant lover. In terms of giving a book as a gift to a gardener, you can’t go far wrong if you give The Rose Expert by D.G Hessayon. This book has proved invaluable to me over the years and takes you step by step through choosing, buying, planting and tending roses. With 4,000 roses at Hever, this book has been well-thumbed over the years.

Jim Buttress
Jim Buttress

Another favourite of mine in the recently published ‘The People’s Gardener’ by Jim Buttress. To know Jim is to know a true gardening legend, and I'm lucky enough to have met him on several

occasions. Jim is well known at another Kentish garden - ‘The World Garden at Lullingstone Castle’ where he’s helped Tom Hart Dyke over the years. Jim is a truly inspiring chap who started his life in the Royal Parks before making his way to the top as an RHS judge and even a television star!

4. Compost

Yes - really! We gardeners do like to receive dirt and compost for Christmas! One of my favourites at the moment is Dalefoot a company based in the Lake District who produce composts with a potash rich bracken base that are completely peat free. Dalefoot also blend herdwick sheep wool into their Wool Composts and this really does improve water retention and also makes for a slow release of nitrogen for the plants. If you don’t fancy wrapping a huge sack of compost, you can purchase a voucher from Dalefoot and then your gardener friend can order their compost come the spring from www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk

Do you know someone who would like compost for Christmas?
Do you know someone who would like compost for Christmas?

5. Passes to visit a garden

Here in Kent, in the garden of England, we are lucky enough to have some of the very best gardens to visit right on our doorstep. A year’s pass to Hever Castle is a fantastic gift and allows you access to all the events throughout the year and we have some exciting ones coming up straight after Christmas including a snowdrop talk by legendary garden writer Val Bourne on Saturday,

February 8. If you’re after something a bit different you could become a friend of Squerryes in Westerham. The garden is closed to the public now but you can become a ‘friend’ of the garden.

As an added bonus they have their own vineyard which does an amazing sparkling wine that feels like angels dancing on your tongue - in my mind, it’s better than champagne.

6. RHS courses

The RHS offer some really fantastic courses, we host courses at Hever Castle and Gardens but you can also register and take them in other venues in the county. Failing that, membership to the RHS is a great present and you get to receive The Garden magazine with your subscription.

Sophie Conran for Burgon and Ball
Sophie Conran for Burgon and Ball

7. Bird feeder

If like me, you are a great lover of birds, then a Sophie Conran fat ball feeder is a great stocking filler! If I get that in my stocking this year, I'll hop straight out into the garden (whatever the

weather) and hang it up so the birds can enjoy a good Christmas breakfast! Burgon & Ball is selling a pear and pomegranate fat ball that sounds too good to eat, for £7.99.

8. Bee saver kits

Finally, all gardeners, whatever their shape or size, love and engage with the environment so a great gift would be a Friends of the Earth Bee Saver Kit. The kit comes with some wildflower seeds, a bee ID guide and a garden planner. Eleven bee species have become extinct in the UK since 1900 and a further 35 are on the threatened species list. Bees have had it tough over the last few years and it’s essential that we safeguard them. To learn more click here.

There are some beautifully decorated trees at Hever Castle
There are some beautifully decorated trees at Hever Castle

I’ve got a pile of presents to start wrapping but before I can do that I need to check on the 400 or so Christmas trees I’m looking after at Hever this side of Christmas. Make sure you’ve placed your tree in a cool dry spot, away from the radiator or other heat source. Water it once it’s in place (don’t add anything to the water) and check the water level daily. Happy Christmas!

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