Garden of the month: Riverhill
PUBLISHED: 13:54 30 April 2016 | UPDATED: 13:54 30 April 2016
Enjoy the spring scene at the Riverhill Himalayan Gardens with carpets of bluebells under a canopy of shimmering azaleas and rhododendrons
Often described as Sevenoaks’ hidden gem, the gardens at Riverhill are famed for their historic collection of rhododendrons and azaleas. If you visit early this month you will also catch the carpets of bluebells in the woodland.
Home to the Rogers family since 1840, four generations currently live at the property. The estate is managed by Edward Rogers and his wife Sarah, who are guiding the restoration and adding new ideas that make this such a lovely garden to visit for all ages, especially children (they have four young children of their own and Sarah is also a primary school teacher).
“In 2010 Ed and I took on responsibility for the running of business with the help of Jane (Ed’s mother),” Sarah tells me. “Previously Evelyn (Ed’s grandmother) and Jane had run the gardening opening operation, with Evelyn doing the tickets and Jane running the café.
“Following our participation in Channel 4’s Country House Rescue programme, a team of volunteers now sells the tickets, which enables Evelyn to focus on her horticultural and historic interests, working with Ed and head gardener Guy Chatten to agree new planting schemes.
“Ed works full time in London, so the day-to-day running of the business, particularly the events, falls to me. I am also responsible for the café and managing the teams of volunteers who assist us, as well as the many restoration and maintenance projects.”
Ed and Sarah’s vision is to re-discover the ‘lost’ areas of the garden and they are slowly restoring and adding new elements, such as sculpture, the rose walk and the walled garden with its striking modern water feature.
“It is both a privilege and a challenge to live and work at Riverhill. The huge restoration backlog keeps us on our toes and there is never a dull moment!” laughs Sarah. “However, all the hard work feels worth it when we reflect on the progress we have made over the past six years. I am particularly proud of The Walled Garden, which has been transformed from the sheep-grazed pasture it was five years ago.
“I love spring; it’s fantastic to see the gardens come alive as the rhododendron burst into flower and families explore the twisty paths and soak up the scent of the azaleas.
“The chance to bring the arts into the gardens is a dream and exhibiting contemporary pieces of sculpture against historic planting is another example of breathing life into the gardens.”
Children are especially catered for with the adventure playground, a hornbeam maze, den building and hunting for the illusive yeti in the woods (see page 52).
“Families tell us that they love ‘escaping’ to Riverhill. They love its contrasts, from the twisty, informal paths in the Wood Garden to the gentle formality of the Rose Walk with its historic ‘bendy wall’.
“They enjoy the opportunities for den building and yeti spotting in the chestnut wood, surrounded by a carpet of bluebells and of course the chance to find the centre of the hedge maze. Children also love hunting for the hand-carved wooden keys (another of Ed’s jobs) which, with the aid of a guidebook, tell the stories of the gardens. “Add to this, the huge array of events and workshops we offer (at no additional charge after admission) and we generally find that children are happy and tired when they leave Riverhill,” adds Sarah.
Riverhill’s charm lies both in the beauty of the planting but also the atmosphere of anticipation on children’s face as they begin their adventure.
A packed diary of events and a lovely café add to your visit and with a season ticket you can make your day out a regular experience. w
Find out more
Riverhill Himalayan Gardens, Sevenoaks TN15 0RR
19 Mar-11 Sep, Wed-Sun 10.30am-5pm
Yeti spotting 2pm-4pm weekends and school holidays
Adults £7.75, children (4-16) £5.75, family ticket (2 adults, 3 children or 1 adult 4 children) £24
Adult season ticket £23, children £17
Get the look
• You can create your own mini bluebell wood
• They need sun in winter, then dappled shade, and soil needs to be rich in rotted leaf-mould
• Plant some drifts of native bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, under deciduous shrubs or trees
• They do best under native beech and look wonderful under ornamental cherries, rhododendrons and azaleas
• To give a natural feel, plant some ferns (Dryopteris) with them so they will unfurl at the same time
• They will naturalise to form a dense carpet
• Make a mini path through them
• Never take bluebells from the wild, they are protected by law, many nurseries now stock them, but do check they are labelled Hyacinthoides non-scripta and where they were sourced from
• Plant bulbs in autumn, or ‘in the green’ in spring
• You can also grow from seed, again buy seed from reputable suppliers, such as Farnell Farm in Rolvenden, www.farnellfarm.co.uk,
• If you have a bluebell wood nearby, don’t plant Spanish bluebells in your garden as they may invade the wood
• For more information and to learn how to protect our native woods, visit: www.plantlife.org.uk
Did you know?
• Native bluebells have narrow leaves, deeper blue-violet drooping flowers that are only on one side of the flowering stem, are more delicate to look at and have a unique scent
• Britain has half the world’s population of wild bluebells
• Bluebells were voted the nation’s favourite wild flower in 2002
• Native bluebells are under threat from an aggressive hybrid from the Spanish bluebell