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Neil Miller blog: Snowdrops at Hever Castle

It's half term, the sun is high in the sky, and as I write, visitors both young and old are weaving their way through the Estate on the snowdrop trail.

I’m so glad I ordered in an extra 10,000 snowdrops from Scotland a few weeks ago - we now have an amazing 80,000 snowdrops in bloom at Hever Castle.

Snowdrops come in all shapes and sizes, some common, some extremely rare. These delicate plants exert a powerful pull in the horticultural world.

Snowdrops at Hever Castle(7318303)
Snowdrops at Hever Castle(7318303)

At the weekend, I was one of 850 people who crammed in to Great Comp Garden in Sevenoaks for their snowdrop plant fair - it’s quite a significant number of people to welcome for a sale that lasts for just two hours!

My fabulous boss Duncan gave me some money to invest and I bought some wonderful snowdrops to go in our Winter Garden at Hever Castle. I was drawn to Galanthus ‘Diggory’ , a beautiful snowdrop whose pure white bowl-shaped flowers hide green-flushed inner segments. ‘Diggory’ enjoys growing on banks and slopes and is good for underplanting roses or shrubs.

Joe Sharman, the famous galanthophile who has brought so many weird and wacky snowdrops to prominence, had a stand at the show. I managed to purchase a snowdrop named by Joe in 1990 - Galanthus elwesii, more commonly referred to as ‘Grumpy’ because of its green markings which mimic a grumpy face.

Neil Miller from Hever Castle
Neil Miller from Hever Castle

There were lots of snowdrop plants to choose from at the show and quite a few elbows and snowdrop aficionados to manoeuvre when choosing which plants to buy!

The Kentish horticultural glitterati were present and I spotted Quentin Stark, head gardener and galanthophile from Hole Park, Colin Moat from Pineview Nurseries and the Plants Fair Roadshow, Paul Edney - a fantastic herbaceous expert and modern-day plant hunter, Jane Streatfield from the National Gardens Scheme (NGS), luminaries from the Kent branch of the Hardy Plant Society and Andrew O’Brien the horticultural podcaster and blogger behind ‘Weeds & Words’.

Buyers snapping up the snowdrops
Buyers snapping up the snowdrops

Legendary garden writer and galanthophile Val Bourne delivered an amusing and enlightening lecture on snowdrop enthusiasts past and present. Val reminded us all that these plants can engender some wild and wacky behaviour - perhaps the feverishness they inspire comes from the fact that gardeners are pretty desperate come February to see swathes of flowers in bloom!

It's true for me, and the team at Hever that these delicate flowers really can pack a punch when they're planted in drifts through woodland, along borders and beneath winter shrubs and alongside water (currently, we have a lovely drift beside the outer moat).

If I have managed to inspire you to plant snowdrops then there’s still time to invest. Snowdrops prefer cool, moist conditions and can suffer surprisingly dry summers if they’re in shady spots. If you are planting, make sure you dig a deep, yet narrow hole of 10-15cm, firm the plant in and water the soil. Don’t forget to label your snowdrops!

Hever Castle in bloom
Hever Castle in bloom

February is a great time for planting bare root roses. If you are replacing spent or tired roses with new plants then you need to replace the soil. I have just finished emptying two beds in the Rose Garden to fill with some roses I’ve brought in from Bill LeGrice, a renowned rose specialist from Norfolk. One of the beds will be filled with ‘Nostalgia’ a rose with a beautiful vanilla cream centre and cherry red outer petals.

I like to empty the soil entirely and start from scratch, so for a few days, before I could add my lasagne soil-manure recipe, we had two beds that looked like two muddy plunge pools! If you’re keen to know how to make my ‘special’ manure lasagne - much-loved by the roses at Hever, then read on...

1. Empty your rose bed of soil.

2. Add a lovely layer of manure, then a layer of top soil, more manure and a final layer of top soil.

3. Add some mycorrhizal fungi.

4. Plant your bare root roses.

5. Come the summer, serve with an optional glass of Pimm's!

To learn more about visiting Hever Castle and seeing the snowdrops on display please visit www.hevercastle.co.uk

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