Head gardener Q&A - Neil Miller of Hever Castle, Kent

Tell us about your journey into horticulture

After being made redundant from my job as a broker, I started my own gardening business and trained in horticulture.  I saw an advert for a gardener at Hever and have been here for 19 years, 15 as Head Gardener.  Being made redundant was a shock but the best thing that could have happened.

What do you love most about your job?

I’m a sociable person, so I enjoy working with other people.  I’m lucky to have a team of all ages from 20 to 60 and I like passing on my experience to the younger ones, and seeing them get excited by their job.

What do you enjoy most about the gardens at Hever?

The gardens are varied with naturalist areas, but I like things tidy with clipped grass, so the Italian gardens are my favourite.  Being a private garden, I have scope to experiment, especially with annual bedding.  We tried a primula and pink hyacinth combo that was a bit brash but I think it worked. I like to get people talking.

What season do you like most?

I do love spring with snowdrops, then crocuses and scilla.  By April everything is perfect.  The grass is new and fresh, the blossom in the orchard is out, we have thousands of daffodils and tulips.  We’ve planted 4,000 in a dahlia bed that lies fallow in spring.  It’s a kaleidoscope of colour from whites to oranges to purples.

What changes have you seen at Hever?

The Faith garden is a wonderful addition.  It has prairie style planting of mixed perennials such as echinacea, verbena and rudbeckia with grasses like stipa.  I wasn’t sure about the grasses but I’m a convert.

Which are your three favourite plants?

Tulipa  ‘Orca’ is peony tulip with masses of flaming orange petals.  I adore roses and the hybrid tea rose R. ‘Buxom Beauty’ (excuse the unfortunate name - it has pink blooms the size of your hand and is a 15 out of 20 for scent.  Echinacea ‘Hula Dancer’ has petals that slightly droop and goes well with swaying grasses.