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Hever Castle head gardener Neil Miller on getting gardens ready for autumn

By Neil Miller

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless ,With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run." (To Autumn, by John Keats 1795 - 1821)

The golden autumnal light at Hever
The golden autumnal light at Hever

Keats knew what he was talking about when he wrote that autumn was the ‘close bosom-friend of the maturing sun’.

We’ve been treated to some delicious sunshine over the last few weeks and autumn has indeed been the season that conspires with the sun to ‘load and bless’ the vines.

We’ve enjoyed a bumper crop of fruit on the vines that twist their way along Pergola Walk and the fruit from Anne Boleyn’s Orchard has been put to good use by Les in the Castle kitchens - more of that later…

Keats was a nature lover, he composed his poem ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ while sitting under a plum tree in his garden in Hampstead. I’d like to rest awhile under the apple trees at Hever composing some verse, but this month I’ll be mostly raking leaves, clearing leaves from beneath the roses, lifting dahlias, planting 20,000 tulips, planting winter bedding and cutting back the yellowing foliage of some of the herbaceous perennials.

A big part of the work will be clearing the leaves
A big part of the work will be clearing the leaves

November is a really busy time for the gardeners at Hever and I’m lucky to have such a hard-working enthusiastic group of horticulturalists on site here who really get stuck in to planting the winter bedding and clearing the ever-falling leaves.

I’m also in the lucky position of being able to pick the brains of our RHS students who study onsite here.

The meadows by the lake are still flowering
The meadows by the lake are still flowering

We hope their enthusiasm and knowledge will be put to good use this month when we plant up a large border containing 11,000 tulip bulbs. The aim of the bed, situated just inside the Castle entrance, is to trial old and new husbandry techniques for keeping the squirrels off your bulbs!

We’ve asked our followers on social media to share their squirrel busting tips with us and we hope to select the best 10 ideas and trial them in the Castle tulip bed. Watch this space!

November is a good time of the year to look at the larger maintenance projects needed in your garden space.

Our loaded vines on Pergola Walk needed some attention this month and we decided to replace some of the pergola poles.

With the help of a cherry picker, and three guys, we were able to remove the large poles and insert new ones which we hope will last for quite a while.

Hever Castle's grounds
Hever Castle's grounds

Pergola Walk is a special place in autumn - it affords one of the best views of the colours around the Lake as you progress from Half Moon Pond all the way down to the Loggia.

The Rose Garden at Hever is famous for its wonderful collection. If you want to get going with a rose garden of your own, November is a good time for planting bare-root roses, in fact you can plant them any time from now until March.

For your more established roses, it’s good to get the gloves on and clear the spent leaves from around the base of the plants to prevent disease.

If you have an abundance of apple or pear trees, then you can begin the process of pruning now (and up until February).

Encore apples
Encore apples

We cleared a veritable mountain of apples from Anne Boleyn’s Orchard this month. The apples that twist around the orchard square are called ‘Encore’ and these tasty bright greeny-yellow cookers were actually introduced in 1906 by J Cheal, who designed the gardens at Hever for William Astor. Encore has a fabulously creamy texture and received the RHS Award of merit and 1906 along with the RHS First Class Certificate in 1908.

We passed the crop of apples on to Hever Castle’s Head Chef Les Woolven and with a dash of inspiration he has created a delectable ‘Caramelised Apple Sausage Roll’.

If you have any squirrel-busting ideas such as soaking your tulip bulbs in paraffin, please do get in touch with us on social media via @hevercastle on Twitter and on Instagram @hever_castle - we might even trial your suggestion!

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