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Hever Castle's bluebells and how to join the RHS Gardening Week theme of Edible Britain

By Neil Miller

The bluebells are out now in Park Wood on the Hever Castle Estate.

The chief executive at the Castle, Duncan Leslie, made the decision last year to open this area to the public while the daffodils and bluebells are in full bloom and we’ve had lots of visitors taking a trail through the woods in the last month.

We are lucky in Kent and Sussex - we are spoilt for bluebell gardens from Borde Hill to Emmetts Garden.

Bluebells at Hever
Bluebells at Hever

Until this year, we could only share a smattering of these delicate flowers as they popped up along the outer moat, so I’m thrilled that we now have a trail that visitors can take through the woods - it takes between 20 - 30 minutes to walk the circuit.

Our native English Hyacinthoides non-scripta bluebell is delightfully delicate with long, narrow leaves ending in a pointed tip. The ‘Hyacinthoides’ part of the name means ‘like a hyacinth’.

Each leaf and flower stem comes up separately from the ground. The flowers are tubular in shape and can come in shades of blue, violet blue and even pink and white.

The plants grow from a bulb and enjoy spreading!

I was lucky enough today to take half an hour at lunchtime to go down to the woods and immerse myself in the green and blue sea that’s spreading beneath the trees.

The Japanese are very keen on ‘forest bathing’ - that is the art of immersing yourself in the woodland, and today I could see why!

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

The bright blue of our native English bluebell was a delight to see, especially when the sun’s rays made their way through the trees and down to the azure carpet below. *It is worth nothing that bluebells are toxic to humans and animals and should never be eaten.

But for something entirely different (and flowers you can eat!) ...

It’s RHS Gardening Week this week and to celebrate, the horticultural charity is asking gardeners up and down the country to share their love of home-grown produce to highlight this year’s theme Edible Britain.

When you think of edibles, you may be forgiven for concentrating on vegetables and herbs but did you know that nasturtiums, sweet peas, borage, chives, marigold, camomile or honeysuckle can all be eaten?

We have a mass of pansies still blooming in the garden at the moment. This bonny flower can be used in garnishes for winter soups, salads and desserts.

With a sweet, grassy flavour, the taste is mild - especially if you just stick to the petals.

Ornamental plants in the garden can provide a tasty snack - trust me! We have hostas aplenty on Pergola Walk where the shade of the watery grottos provides the perfect habitat for these edible

beauties. Hosta plants have been eaten for centuries in Japan and the flavour can be described as similar to that of asparagus.

Hosta leaves (9485591)
Hosta leaves (9485591)

If you have run out of salad leaves you can always run into the garden and pick young hosta leaves - as long as you haven’t sprinkled the ground with slug pellets or used any chemicals. Be advised though - these wondrous green leaves are toxic to cats and dogs - so don’t let them snack on them.

If you’ve ever subsidised lavender for rosemary when cooking your leg of lamb on a Sunday, then you’ll know that the lavender plant provides fantastic culinary flavour. Belonging to the mint family, the lavender plant is very versatile and the oil from the plant can be used (very sparingly) in cakes and breads. The flowers can provide a subtle ‘citrus’ flavour when used in cake mixes too.

As I detailed last year on the blog, rose petals have been used in many a dish including fruit salads, cakes, biscuits, granola and ice cream. And, don’t forget to collect rose petals in summertime and douse them in icing sugar - they make beautiful cake toppers.

Apple blossom is edible too, but I’d rather wait for the fruit from these fantastic trees. I’m sure that the blossom from the ‘’Encore’ apple trees in Anne Boleyn’s orchard would be tasty though, especially given their heritage.

Cupcakes with rose petals (9485593)
Cupcakes with rose petals (9485593)

The ‘Encore’ apple was introduced by J Cheal, who designed the gardens for William Waldorf Astor. It was first recorded in 1906 and raised by Charles Ross, Head Gardener at Welford Park in

Berkshire.

‘Encore’ is a bright greeny-yellow cooking apple with creamy white flesh, a distinct ribbing and a flattened base. This particular apple variety is known for making a soft baked apple with a rich

flavour.

This tasty delight received the RHS Award of Merit and the RHS First Class Certificate in 1908. These apples were also the inspiration behind Hever’s delectable ‘Caramelised Apple Sausage

Roll’ last year.

Why not share your edible beauties online with the hashtag #NationalGardeningWeek.

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