Here at the Toad Hall Company I have created a collection of greetings cards that are all inspired by country houses like Toad Hall. I wanted to give our independent and more unique stately homes some recognition by illustrating a glimpse of daily life at these special places. I found inspiration for the next card in this lovely collection at Riverhill House near Sevenoaks in Kent with its evocative Himalayan gardens.
Although we have had a terribly cold spring here at the Hall I was lucky enough to find when I did venture out to the motor on this occasion it was a surprisingly pleasant day. Once at Riverhill I even had the opportunity to lean over the gate looking out of the walled garden and linger with the sun on my back, and feel almost quite warm.
Clearly the wild inhabitants of the outer garden shared my appreciation for that particular spot too; I watched as a rabbit hopped out from the nettles to nibble at the grass, a loud buzzing of a bumblebee was not far away, and even a peacock butterfly flitted about in that place.
It was a most peaceful place, however I could imagine that once upon a time it would have in fact been a hive of activity. For here were the architectural and mechanical remnants of a fully functioning walled garden. From old potting and propagating sheds, alpine houses, beautiful tiled mosaic floors just visible through the soil to the arched brick boiler house that would have heated the hot house and glasshouses. There was an untouched collection of horticultural relics which would have once been a center of utmost importance.
For Riverhill has a vast and rich history associated with collecting and growing plants. In 1840 the property was bought by John Rogers who as a keen botanist, horticulturalist and fellow member of the Royal Horticultural Society set about developing an extensive new garden at Riverhill. He was a supporter of several well know plant hunters who sent seeds and specimens back from Asia, (hence the Himalayan connection), for John to plant at Riverhill. This interest continued through the generations of the Rogers family who by 1920 had created a completely self-sufficient, working garden managed by a team of eight gardeners.
There were many varieties of vegetables and soft fruit grown in and around the walled garden including wonderful specimens of exotics such as melons, bananas and pineapples housed in the hot house.
Sadly the Second World War meant a shortage of gardeners and resources at Riverhill and like many parts of large gardens the walled garden fell into a state of dilapidation, which is how it remained until the main area within the walls was brought back to life in 2011.
The Rogers family of the present day Sarah and Ed, have retained the wonderful usability of the walled garden, but not for producing fruit and veg, instead for producing art; music and theater. The addition of lawned plateaus, which echo Himalayan cultivation terraces form an amphitheater, ideal for guests to enjoy performances in front of a wonderful new water feature.
One feature that certainly wouldn't have been found in the walled garden of old are the hens, that happily reside to one end of the garden. Along with the rabbits I mentioned earlier I was keen to include the hens in my illustration for the new greetings card. The gardeners among you can probably imagined the fun that could be had and the chaos that could be brought to the garden if the hens where to let the rabbits and their friends in through those beautiful ornate gates that we are reminded to keep shut!
I also felt it would be nice to feature another historic feature of the Riverhill Garden on a card for this series; The large old Rockery south of the woodland garden. This was constructed from sandstone, quarried locally in Penshurst. The Rockery would have once included a cascade that flowed into a large pool surrounded by ferns and other woodland plants such as bluebells and wild Garlic, all prolific plant species well loved by the visitors of Riverhill.
Here the rabbits graze freely and the woodland birds like the song thrush, jay and wrens live happily picnicking on the rocks when the visitors have gone home and creating wonderful inspiration for an illustration.
If you would like to buy either of the Riverhill Illustrated Greetings Cards you can purchase them from the website www.toadhallcompany.co.uk or why not pick one up from Riverhill gardens itself. For more information about visiting Riverhill Gardens go to www.riverhillgardens.co.uk
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