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Winter gardening advice from Hever Castle's Neil Miller

By Neil Miller

Yesterday felt like the worst weather cocktail ever served - we had sleet mixed with driving rain, shaken and stirred with a swirling wind.

It was impossible to get warm and nearly as difficult to stay dry. However, today we’ve woken to a winter wonderland of frost. It’s as though the Snow Queen herself has dusted the grass and shrubs with glittery grace.

Before we go any further and discuss top tips for this month, it’s probably worth noting that this is normal weather for this time of year. We’ve had mild winters of late where the plants have ambled on and everything’s come in to bloom ahead of time. But actually, plants do need a good dose of cold weather at this time of year; it gives them their much needed rest.

Another frosty morning at Hever
Another frosty morning at Hever

They can hibernate and sleep helping them to store energy for the next season when they will literally spring into action.

So, here it is - Merry Christmas - all the daffodils and tulips are in. The pansies and wallflowers are brazening out the cold and delivering colour and in the perennial areas the tall grasses and uncut seed pods provide architectural beauty as well as much needed food for the birds.

We have colour in the winter garden thanks to the reddish tinge of the mahonias. Beside the moat the orange and golds from the reed mace are a delight.

Top tips for dealing with frost...

1. Keep off the grass!! Don’t walk on frosty grass - it will kill it and you’ll be left with yellow footprints.

2. Try to use grit rather than salt. Salt is a killer to plants and grass.

3. Don’t worry if your pansies look a bit shrivelled under their frosty coating - they will bounce back.

If you can get outside when the sun is shining then it’s great to check on your plants to make sure those who dislike the cold are insulated.

It’s important not to water now - the winter plants will survive the cold and snow but they won’t enjoy a wet cold. If you feel the urge to water, resist and leave it a week, then assess the situation.

We like to make sure our feathered friends at Hever are well looked after by topping up the bird feed and defrosting the bird bath when it freezes over.

Grasses beside Diana's Walk provide colour and architectural interest and bird food
Grasses beside Diana's Walk provide colour and architectural interest and bird food

We have a lot of topiary at Hever so we are mindful of the need to gently knock the snow from the hedges as the weight can damage and break the branches and lead to a misshapen form next year.

If it gets too cold to venture outside, I’ll pop some Christmas music on and go through the seed catalogues making a wish list of seeds for 2018!

More details on Hever Castle at www.hevercastle.co.uk

Get along and see the beauty of the reeds at Hever
Get along and see the beauty of the reeds at Hever

Top-tips for dealing with snow...

1. In general, don’t worry too much about knocking the snow from your plants, snow acts as an insulator and will keep your plants warm. However, do knock it off any ornamental plants such as yew trees, otherwise the weight of the snow will affect the shape.

2. Bring tender plants indoors. At Hever Castle this means bringing in the citrus plants.

3. If you are going to keep plants outside make sure you put either a horticultural fleece over vulnerable plants or use chicken wire and straw around the top of the plant to protect it.

The outer moat is frozen over
The outer moat is frozen over

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