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Hever Castle and Gardens head gardener Neil Miller talks tulips and gardening around the weather

By Neil Miller

It’s only the second week of April but we’ve already had every kind of weather this month: blistering factor 30 sunshine, hailstones big enough to give you a headache, rain and a bit of sleet too!

And before you say it, I know we are ‘supposed’ to have this kind of weather - we are in England - but it can make dressing in the morning a more challenging endeavour.

A quick look out of the window isn’t always enough to inform whether I need my vest or not, or whether it’s a shorts day.

The gardening teams at Hever during Lord Astor's time
The gardening teams at Hever during Lord Astor's time

Gardeners of old didn’t seem to have this problem. I was taking a look at some old photographs the other day at Hever and came across a splendid one of the gardening team in Astor’s day.

The photograph was taken circa 1905 and features a large gardening team - all of the men can be seen wearing sensible footwear, shirts, ties, waistcoats, pocket watches and flat caps.

There’s not a flip flop in sight (nor should there be - I still have nightmares about an editor who sliced through her foot with a fork while gardening in flip flops).

I don’t believe the Edwardian gardening ‘uniform’ changed from one season to the next.

It must have been a devil of a job to get mud out of their waistcoats and white shirts!

We are luckier at Hever today - we have matching fleeces (which tumble dry) to keep out the biting winds in winter and good t-shirts for long hot summer days. We were in shirt-sleeves at the end of March but we’ve been wrapped up again this week against the ‘mizzle’ coming off the Lake.

The tulips were confused by the warmer weather in March and were out and dancing in the mist this morning.

Trial tulip beds
Trial tulip beds

We have a beautiful stretch of pink tulips welcoming visitors at the main gate, and as visitors perambulate down the hill they pass out ‘trial bed’ containing 22 different tulip blooms, planted in colour gradients and in sections divided only by the squirrel deterrent treatment the bulbs received when they were planted in November.

In the autumn we put a call out on social media and asked our gardening friends to suggest the best squirrel deterrents.

Suggestions flooded in and we chose our top 10 which included: bulbs sprayed with quinine water, bulbs washed in soap, an area covered in chicken wire and covered in soil, cotton wool balls soaked in peppermint essential oil, apple cider vinegar, hot chilli pepper flakes, ground black pepper and ground garlic powder.

The garlic powder and chilli flakes were definitely stars of the show in terms of acting as a deterrent but surprisingly the black pepper didn’t have an effect - I think we can safely say that squirrels enjoy bulbs sprinkled in pepper.

Visit Hever Castle to see the tulips
Visit Hever Castle to see the tulips

We are expecting thousands of tulips to continue to bloom this month in a myriad of colours. My favourites include the Orange and Red Princess tulips, Flaming Evitas, Angeliques and Donna Bellas.

If you want to see the tulips, I’d advise following our tulip update page here.

We will still be operating out free daily garden tours during our annual Tulip Celebration, Wednesday, April 24 to Tuesday, April 30, and the Castle will be filled with striking tulip displays but the tulips in the grounds may reach their peak a few days earlier.

Read more: All the latest news on gardens across Kent

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