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Hever Castle in Bloom: Neil Miller's rose planting tips

By Neil Miller

When we experience a garden, if we are lucky, we use all our senses; sight, sound, taste, scent and touch.

As the roses begin to bloom in the garden I often feel quite peckish - this could in part be be explained by the the fact that the rose is from the same family as the strawberry and both are edible! Rose petals have been used in many a dish including fruit salads, cakes, biscuits, granola and ice cream.

With this in mind this year at we've added a culinary and sensory dimension to our rose tours at Hever Castle as we encourage visitors to try to make their own infused rose water and to bend down and really smell the roses, not just admire their gorgeous petals.

An Anne Boleyn rose looking stunning in a pot
An Anne Boleyn rose looking stunning in a pot

It's not an exaggeration to call this my favourite time of the year, a tour of the garden in June can be a real sensory experience.

Try walking around your garden at home and being led by the nose - it's a totally different experience. You may find yourself drawn to different plants - the lemon balm you'd forgotten about, say, or perhaps the hidden clump of mint beside the chives under the plum tree....?

Once you allow yourself to be led by the nose, you'll begin to plan your garden differently and I'll wager that once you start putting wonderful smelling combinations together you won't be able to stop!

Try going for some of the beautiful scented roses like David Austin's lightly fruity Darcy Bussell - this deep cerise pink frilly rose looks wonderful next to a sagey smelling salvia such as the light pink Salvia 'Moon Child', the lilac Salvia 'Dyson's Gem' or the creamy yellow Salvia 'Trelissick' . The combination of fragrances from the rose mixed with salvia will draw you towards the border as well as attracting the bees!

The rotunda in the gardens at Hever
The rotunda in the gardens at Hever

Lavenders grow wonderfully in a mixed border with roses. Why not try Rosa 'Gertrude Jekyll' a classic English rose alongside Lavandula x intermedia 'Hidcote Giant' - this bright violet flower is a winner of the RHS Award for Garden Merit and is known for its strong fragrance and is a favourite for gardeners who grow cut flowers.

If you want to try growing roses for rose oil then the damask rose (Rosa damascena) is a good choice - it's been used for centuries to make rose-scented oils and rose water. A single damask rose is powerfully fragrant and can scent an entire room!

Certain fragrances can evoke specific autobiographical memories and can be much stronger reminders of the past than other senses such as sight or sound. It's worth remembering this when you a plan a garden and if you want to evoke memories from childhood then go for the plants that you remember smelling, rather than seeing. The aromas as they bloom will immerse you in memories gone by in such a strong and evocative way, you'll believe you have travelled back in time.

Ab Fab and Rhapsody in Blue roses
Ab Fab and Rhapsody in Blue roses

It's probably no coincidence than memorial gardens for loved ones are often filled with scented roses. There's something very therapeutic about planting roses in memoriam. We were very pleased to have planted 100 new Caron Keating roses this year at Hever to commemorate the TV presenter's life.

Visitors to this year’s Hever in Bloom will be able to enjoy the rose displays in the gardens and in the castle itself.

They will be able to take a scented tour of the garden with one of the rose experts at Hever, taking in the different scents and strengths of perfume as they traverse the gardens designed and built by William Waldorf Astor at the turn of the 20th century. Visitors will be offered the opportunity to learn the basic principles of distilling rose oil, enjoy a tasting of various rose inspired recipes and peruse the rose collection and buy a locally sourced rose flavoured gin at the shop.

Hever in Bloom - a showcase of more than 4,000 roses - is at the castle from Wednesday, June 26 to Sunday, July 1. More details here

Neil Miller in the gardens at the castle
Neil Miller in the gardens at the castle

Neil’s top five aroma busting plants...

  • Magnolia grandifora, smells of almonds
  • Honeysuckle
  • Of course, lavender
  • Heliotrope - a lovely annual bedding plant that smells of cherry pie
  • Nemesia
Explore the gardens during Hever In Bloom
Explore the gardens during Hever In Bloom

Rose recipe idea from Hever: Rose cup cakes


200g unsalted softened butter

200g caster sugar

1 tsp rose water

4 medium eggs

200 grams of self-raising flour

Butter icing

200g cream cheese

100g unsalted butter

600g icing sugar

1 tsp icing sugar

1 tsp rose water

Happiness is cupcake shaped this summer
Happiness is cupcake shaped this summer


Preheat the oven to 180c/160c fan/ gas 4 and prepare your cupcake tin with cases.

Beat together the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffily then whisk in your cooled rose water. Beat in the eggs and then fold in the flour. Pipe your mixture into the cupcake cases then bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until the cakes appear golden in colour.

Mix together the ingredients for your butter icing, then pipe on to the top of the cakes and finish with sugared rose petals.

Iceberg wrapping the walls of the rose garden at Hever Castle
Iceberg wrapping the walls of the rose garden at Hever Castle

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