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Hever Castle head gardener Neil Miller talks about taking care of roses

By Neil Miller

Our beloved flower of England, emblem to friendship, love and beauty, I could wax lyrical about roses until the cows come home…but I’ll try instead, in this blog, to stick to sharing some top tips on looking after your roses to get the best out of them and help them to bloom all summer long.

Visitors traditionally come to Hever Castle and Gardens in the last week of June to see our stunning display in the Rose Garden, which forms part of the Italian Garden designed by William Waldorf Astor at the start of the 20th century.

The roses are out at Hever now (which I’d say is a week earlier than usual) and we are busy feeding, watering, deadheading and talking to them.

See the roses at Hever Castle with our video here...

We expect them to flower and last all summer long, providing colour and scent and food for the soul!

People have said to me in the past “roses look after themselves, don’t they?” But this is a fallacy. They do need love and attention.

I like to take a leaf out of the Prince of Wales book and have a chat to my roses! As I deadhead their spent blooms, I utter a few words of encouragement. I have also been known to whisper to them as I water.

Neil Miller takes care of Hever's roses (12342786)
Neil Miller takes care of Hever's roses (12342786)

Following the interminable drought conditions experienced by gardeners in the South East of England this year, it’s really important to make sure your roses are well watered.

Food is also a necessity. At the beginning of the season we use an all purpose rose feed which is high in potassium, and we feed again after the first flush of blooms in order to encourage a longer season.

If it’s been particularly dry (like last summer), it’s a good idea to water and then mulch around the plant to keep the water in, but be careful not to cover the stem of the plant as this can rot and the rose will die.

During the summer months, I quite often get invited to speak at our fabulous Kent and Sussex garden clubs, and if I get my way, I speak about roses! I’m always surprised by the number of people who are afraid of growing roses because they’re worried about greenfly, blackly or black spot.

When it comes to greenfly and blackfly, we leave them at Hever - we don’t treat. We may run our thumb and forefinger across the leaves, but more often than not we let nature work its magic, and we find that birds and insects clear the greenfly in days for us.

Black spot is a different matter - it’s a fungal problem and one that needs treatment in the form of chemicals from your local garden centre. Prevention though, is better, so make sure that you remove any leaves with black spot and don’t let them fall or collect around the base of your plants. Once removed, burn the leaves - definitely don’t put them in your compost bin!

Anne Boleyn Rose Garden at Hever
Anne Boleyn Rose Garden at Hever

A rose by any name would smell so sweet… or would it?

It’s notoriously hard to describe an aroma with words, but it’s important to establish that roses differ greatly in scent - in both their aroma and in strength.

Some of my favourite scented roses include 'Hever Castle' by Bill LeGrice and Gertrude Jekyll by David Austin.

For me, Gertrude Jekyll smells like a rose 'should smell'! A particular highlight of Hever in Bloom last year for me was to lead a group of partial sighted visitors through the rose garden, concentrating on the wonderful aromas wafting from thousands of roses.

A final word on the symbolism of roses...

They appear as symbols of love and passion in Greek mythology - Aphrodite, for example, the Goddess of Love, was seen as the creator of the rose.

Different colours are said to represent different themes; true love is represented by the red rose, while mystery is symbolised by the blue rose, innocence or purity can be found in a white rose, death in a black rose, friendship in yellow and passion in orange.

I'm particularly fond of the purity of the white 'Iceberg' a floriferous floribunda that borders an entire rose garden at Hever. If you keep on top of the deadheading, this rose will reward you all season long.

The roses at Hever Castle
The roses at Hever Castle

Top Tips for taking care of your roses:

  • Deadhead: make sure you deadhead your roses when the blooms are spent and the petals crisp up. Take your clean secateurs and cut below the spent bud and just above a new leaf.
  • Feed: use an all purpose rose feed early in the season and after the first flush.
  • Water: it’s important to water your roses - they don’t like drought conditions. Be careful to water under the leaves and water early in the morning or late in the evening to prevent the leaves being scorched.
  • Talk to them: a few words of encouragement can do wonders for the rose and for your soul!
  • Mulch: if you know there’s a dry spell forecast, then mulch around the plant, being sure not to cover the stem.
  • Let nature take it’s course: we do nothing for green fly other than thumb and finger!
  • Let them breath: make sure your roses can breath and have good air circulation around the plant. Bad circulation promotes fungal infection.

* Neil and the team are getting ready for ‘Hever in Bloom’ later this month (June 25-30) when the Rose Garden promises to be at its peak. Hever in Bloom will also showcase the new ‘Faith’s Garden’ planted with a myriad of perennials, and featured in Neil’s blog here

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