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Snowdrops, feeding the birds in winter and winter gardening with Hever Castle head gardener Neil Miller

The Winter Garden at Hever is one of my favourite places - a small detour across the Monet Bridge on the Outer Moat takes you past vivid green, yellow and red and 'dogwoods' (Cornus) and on

towards the heathers which look particularly good at this time of the year. This little known spot provides a lovely vista of the Castle and the Outer Moat.

Hever Castle surrounded by snowdrops
Hever Castle surrounded by snowdrops

The Winter garden was redesigned in 2012/13 with the express intention of providing a secret corner dedicated to winter and it’s proved very popular with visitors who like to sit and contemplate

a while.We have speciality snowdrops dotted through the border here along with different dogwoods, a plant from the Cornaceae family, known for their vividly coloured bark that provide

much-needed interest in the colder months.

Last year I purchased some extra special snowdrops including ‘Grumpy’ Galanthus elwesii - a delicate snowdrop discovered by 'Mr Snowdrop' Joe Sharman, its distinctive green markings depict a grumpy face, which always makes me smile.

We also have lots of snowdrops like 'Wendy’s Gold' in the Winter Garden here too alongside ‘Colossus’ and and Galanthus ‘Green Brush’ with its unusual green tipped flowers.

The Estate itself is planted with over 80,000 snowdrops and visitors love to come, once the garden reopens in February, to take the Snowdrop Walk through Sunday Walk, Church Gill Walk and along the Outer Moat.

Snowdrops at Hever
Snowdrops at Hever

This year we are really going for it with the galanthus theme and have invited multi-award winning garden-writer and snowdrop fan Val Bourne to come and launch the Snowdrop Walk on Saturday, February 8 and to give a talk at 1pm in the Pavilion on these wonderful flowers which engender a passion like no other among its many collectors.

I have seen Val talk on a number of occasions and her snowdrop stories are both fascinating and entertaining.

Val Bourne
Val Bourne

The garden is closed this month and we have much to do before we open again on February 8, but I have found time to visit the perennial borders and check on the health of the bird community at Hever Castle. This is the time of year when birdsong sounds melancholic and eerily beautiful as they search the perennial border for food.

I was privy to a wonderful all singing-dancing spectacle yesterday as the tits, robins, starlings, sparrows, wagtails and finches feasted on the tall grasses, dried coneflowers, zinnias and verbena

in Faith’s Garden on Diana’s Walk.

The tall grasses looked spectacular framed against the back of the Pompeiian Wall and the delicate waving clusters of yellow stipa grass made me think of miles of golden sand.This golden

scene provided the perfect backdrop for the dark seed heads of the verbena bonariensis.

If you read my autumn blog then you will be familiar with my plea to leave perennials to dry in the autumn in order to provide architectural interest in the winter along with a much needed supply of food for the birds.

So, if you didn’t have time in October to cut back your lavender then don’t fret -you aren’t an untidy gardener, you are a bird-lover!

Uncut grass in Faith's Garden, Hever Castle
Uncut grass in Faith's Garden, Hever Castle

If you want to feed the birds but don’t have a perennial border then fear not, birds also enjoy your herbaceous plants. Blackbirds will enjoy feasting on the berries of the holly, while thrushes and

waxwings enjoy the berries of the cotoneaster and pyracantha.The wonderful winter flowering honeysuckle will provide food for all the birds and Ivy also attracts and hides the insects which

birds such as the robin enjoy feasting on.

Wildlife in the grounds of Hever Castle
Wildlife in the grounds of Hever Castle

For larger ground feeding birds such as starlings and sparrows we do leave a couple of apples in the borders in the Winter Garden.

If you haven’t got a perennial border or berry-producing herbaceous plants you can always set up a feeding station for the birds and provide them with scraps of food.If you’ve got some left over

mince pies from Christmas these are actually really nutritious for birds - they love the raisins and sultanas! If you’ve got any coconut shells left over from your Christmas pina colada cocktails, then you can turn them into a pair of tropical-inspired bird feeders by filling the shells with bird cake and hanging them from your bird table or from your pergola or tree branch.

Hever Castle and Gardens re-opens on Saturday, February 8 for Snowdrop Walks and a talk by garden-writer Val Bourne, visit www.hevercastle.co.uk for further information.

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