The Riverhill Effect


The Riverhill Effect

This morning I could count the flowers in my garden:
two yellow roses, three purple irises, seventeen weedy daisies;
tiny tokens from Mother Nature.
Cracker prizes for getting this far.

Riverhill has won more.
Thousands of wedding dresses
drift above the paths with joy and light;
hundreds of silky Gothic bodices
flirt in curtained corners;
and tens of tall, trousered pines
proclaim that they shall not be moved.
Life. Living. Lived.

Because at the end of the day
those tattered, tired flower-frocks are allowed to drop
to the creeping, spidery floor, where they are welcomed
by the stink of compassionate rotting and living decay.
Until, with deadly magic, rips are mended,
hems re-sewn, buttons replaced,
mud washed away, so that
the garden will wear new clothes next year,
harder-wearing, more beautiful, more abundant.

Lying on the grass, nose close to the earth,
eyes blind with pain and fear,
I can just smell the same rich rot in my own soil.
Here too is space for repair; for mending.
Simply let the flowers drop, let the compost work,
and we will both have new clothes next year.

Sara Carroll

Waterloo Cedar

In memory of Henry Buckley of the 15th Hussars

It’s a Sunday afternoon, 18th June 1815. Lunchtime.
The battle of Waterloo. Nobody is quite sure
when it started, watches then were set by the sun.
A shot, a charge. Wellington. Napoleon. Armies
of tens of thousands, delayed by weather, thick mud.

Henry. A brave young man at 18. Had some lover’s
hands once undone the toggles of his tunic, gold braid,
felt his chest before the sword? A hedge of bayonets.
Troop colours: blue, yellow, red and blue. Battle honours,
and yet he died, one of many. Others injured, or missing.

It was to be the end of Napoleon’s one hundred
days in exile – this tree now over one hundred feet high.
Afterwards they built the Lion’s Mound to mark the spot
where the English beat the French, with a little help.
Henry. Futile fields. Was it for this the clay grew tall?

Light cavalry, horses in battle, the conclusion: ‘a close thing…’
In bookshops now, row upon row of military history
every decision recorded, catalogued, codified. Today this
cedar, grown so tall, in spite of further war the world over.
Here now, give thanks for Henry and all who’ve gone before.

Steve Walter


after John O’Connor

Bolt your feet to the ground,
centre yourself in the cavity
of your chest.

Breathe out.
Extend your arms
so they’re rigid as planks.

Right-angle your hands, stretch

fingers like claws, so palms
push imaginary walls.

Turn your back on the vast valley

of sky, the earth below

too deep, too wide.

Look down, let shoulders
take the strain, neck buckle
with the weight of clouds.

Breathe in, limbs quartering

the light. Close your eyes,

let darkness swim.

Karen Dennison


Day Out

The garden of Kent rolls from my feet,
a shift of soil thin as a pauper’s shroud
across shoulders of chalk.

Traffic slurs the space between bird song
and in the distance green shifts to blue.
Azaleas punch fists of glamour at the June sky
and rhododendrons choir open throated song.

Two dreamers on the lawn
shut their lids to the view.
Shadows sculpt hidden eyes
that watch the spark and pulse
of tangerine clouds rimmed with lime.

Legs astride, arms wide as a tent
the statue on the hill
pushes open an invisible space,
commands me – Be here now!

Sheena Clover




Hungover with rhododendrons



A June Day at Riverhill

The wind shifts time across the walled garden,
whispers memories of a lime-free hillside

before the Waterloo Cedar, the Dawn Redwood
and the Turkey Oak dropped anchor;

before the Japanese maple and Himalayan azaleas
tiptoed in from the deep pockets of plant hunters.

On this June day the garden is dizzy – hungover
with rhododendrons. And along the edges

of steep woodland walks an intoxicating smell
of wild garlic pushes tired legs to the summit –

listen to yesterday’s music in the unfolding landscape,
like children catching a rainbow for the first time.


Valerie Morton



Who thought to call me that?
As though a vixen needs a home for hands ─
if she did, would they be lacy, white and tight?
Elegant evening gloves on speed reaching
from paw to elbow crook.

Or if they’re for her mate, Monsieur Reynard,
would they be thick and rough and hard?
Encrusted gardening gloves for pawing up
the mud and ringing Jack Rabbit’s neck,
when he is unearthed?

Or would they be striped and woolly mitts,
knitted for their kits? Tiny bright paw-shapes
strung on stretchy long elastic through
orange, mangy coats.

Digitalis Purpurea is my better, formal name.
My colour purple, I’m wild, multiplying free,
tall and spikey, inedible, toxic. Don’t you dare
mess with me – the gloves are off.

Jill Munro

poems in wind


The softest whisper
sighs this volcano of trees.
Peace of ancestry.

Luigi Marchini


There’s no river at Riverhill…


Riverhill, June 2015

Riverhill (I)

There is no river
at Riverhill, the name comes
from Saxon: ‘rither’.

Riverhill (II)

Listen to jackdaws
chip at the edge of the breeze
staccato laughter.

Riverhill (III)

I am no gardener
and yet I love a garden
which rises and loves.

Steve Walter

shut the gate

Please Shut the Gate

Open your mind and let the words flow, like water, like breeze, like bees from flower to flower.

Stop once in a while to taste nectar and drink in fragrant morning scent.

Break down walls of daily life to find those private thoughts of yours and mine to listen to the garden as you keep to the gravel paths. Longing to break free from rules, delight in rabbits who cannot read but leave their calling cards written in a code of Hansel and Gretel droppings across worn banks.

Ladies called Rose walk into a secret world of dens amidst Himalayan Rhododendrons back into a childhood before flowers became spelling tests.

Sit on twisted trunks gaze upwards whilst climbing trees with adult shoes to balance words.

Old tiles stacked near the Car Park are nature’s bookcase etched with lichen script.

Gardens filled with nodding Alliums, a remedy to soothe the soul with purple heads of full stops in proliferation. Listen to nature’s placebo for modern life with its soundtrack of summer mistletoe accompanied by kissing bees.

Caroline Auckland


All photos copyright of Caroline Auckland

Glasshouse Occupants
(Remembering the Victorian gardeners)

I arrive as sun stakes her claim
on the top panes − light hangs low −
a pearly thread woven through cloud.

Imagine the frame’s wooden bones creak
with old age, prop themselves up
like shoulder blades loosed from skin,

each beam rasps for the memory
of gardeners long gone.
I hear earth split, spread rumours

about pollen, spit seeds from clumps
of mud unlacing palm leaves
with a single flick of its tongue.

Abegail Morley


Who said more Rossetti than yeti?

Oliver Porritt used this as a headline in the Sevenoaks Chronicle…. do judge for yourselves…

If you were there on the day and have a poetry offering, send it along: thepoetryshed@hotmail.com


In hopes of unexpected monkeys
Riverhill Himalayan Gardens, June 2015

But we know there’s no monkey here,
no Himalayan wasps. For now, the Yeti’s burrow
is reticent with its namesake. A fleet of clouds
lays becalmed across the weald – only the black pine
intrudes onto its watercolour. This far from the trees,
here on the Viewpoint green, the birds are less
insistent. Their clear and perfectly-pitched notes,
their rondos and ariettas, have become lontano,
sordamente – but for a lone black-hooded crow
searching for company –
still, the constant traffic hum,
somewhere between a dejected roar and a vibrant purr
flattened by uncertainty to one long monotone,
pricks us out; our misalignment, our uneasy truce
with the mother who took such pains to raise us
amongst these gifts – beauty, quietude, the lay
of miracles in line and rank across a county –
its whole unravellable world of secrets – spread
in wide-angled radius from our toes to the farthest extents
of vision; to horizon, to South, to West and East.

But as the mind witters, so the white fleet
stirs in the quickening breeze, sails away
with its sorry grey-filled cargo –
and the long white gloves
declaiming in the wind, proclaiming their promise to the weald,
cease their bemoaning fitfulness, only to stretch to the sky,
to wave madly for the sheer joy of knowing beauty,
the privilege of good company, the peace
that comes with winding down.

The unexpected monkeys chatter happily.
Somewhere over there. Somewhere between
my toes and a far Eastern horizon.

Anne Stewart



A crow flies Weald-left to Weald-right,
high above cedar, pine and oak,
and all the green boroughs of the county;
the vastness of the view makes it seem
an epic journey from edge to edge of the world,
like those the flower-hunters made
who brought the seeds to Riverhill.


It’s aural smog
dirtying our senses;
it’s a harrying dog
nipping at our attention;
it’s an insistent tug
at the hem of our consciousness
until something more powerful
grabs us by our noses,
the intoxicating drug
of mock orange, rhododendron and full-scented roses.

Derek Sellen

Poem on poleAll photos copyright of Caroline Auckland


Poem hunters – planting seeds at Riverhill Himalayan Gardens

chalk board

What a great day we had a Riverhill on Saturday. 40 writers attended the event and were so inspired by the gardens we ended the day with 22 poets reading their work. Over the next few days I’d like to post up a selection of the poems as well as these amazing photographs courtesy of Caroline Auckland. What a stroke of luck she came to words@riverhill!


Riverhill Himalayan Gardens at the End of the World (after Yeats)

I’m up and off and on my way to River-hill,
and I could stay there, when the world burns,
in a small bunker, like a badger’s set,
hidden by foxgloves, forget-me-nots and ferns.

It is dhyana, said the Himalayan trees,
the sanskrit word for peace echoes as the world ends,
while I hide in rhododendrons, covered by bees
and play with imaginary friends.

I’m going to go now at noon and dusk
to prepare my hut for the apocalypse,
and I will listen to the planes and cars
that will fall silent at my final trip.

Jess Mookerjee


Hunting for the Giants

These were gunless hunters
who sought not to kill
but to create

it was not a victimless crime
as they themselves
were often the victims

their quarry wasn’t dangerous
but the habitat was −
long hours trekking

high into the humid hills
everything an unknown enemy
thriving on adrenalin

and thoughts of bringing
home a giant hidden
in a tiny seed.

Mary Anne Smith


walled garden


Your Sun at Riverhill

Somehow you turn away from me
put yourself the other side
of this thought gate, fastened tight
with your wooden refusal.

I wander in the rhododendron waves
mood magnified by sun’s absence
as it breaks through I squint to see
someone come near when today is all
shadows, dark images you threw,
discards from your pure, white self
that show, somehow, I have come
between you and your sun.

I didn’t mean to.

Jacquie Wyatt

 tying poems


Suzanna Fitzpatrick on the poetry of place

It’s hard to write about a garden. From a Western standpoint, there’s no escaping the long shadow of Eden and original sin. Even outside the Judeo-Christian tradition, the major world religions all have the trope of the garden as paradise: a place of escape and revelation. This persists in a post-Industrial Revolution culture which fetishes the pastoral.


If the garden bears the weight of our expectations, the writer has to negotiate this burden. Poetry of place needs to be about more than description, however accomplished; it is also about people in relation to the place. When I arrived at Riverhill, I read Abegail’s poem, ‘How to Walk in the Garden’. Her approach is to adopt a beguilingly didactic tone, assuming the role of guide. The first line of the poem pulls us in: “Here’s the key to the garden”, and the imperatives continue, both inviting and commanding us to “Squander your touch”, “Trace paths”, “Brush lichen”, as we are led through a sensory evocation. This is garden as meditation and poet as guru, and by the end the reader identifies wholly with the garden as both await enlightenment: “as if you’re/the only garden in the world waiting to be born”.

How to walk in the garden

Here’s the key to the garden; stiff-locked gate eases
with a gentle shove, sun-bleached frame hangs −
a distraught lower lip. Dip your head to pass.

Squander your touch on swags of ivy, be the wind
sift sky for its clutter of starlings, hurtle sycamore
seeds like spinning-tops. Trace paths that creep

through sunlight, slackening fruit − let the cool drag
of summer clutch your heels – catch the red flash of vixen
as she sneaks home. Read leaves like they’re faint

black ink on skin-thin letters, cobwebs cornered
in glass, listen to plants germinate in many languages.
Brush lichen with your shoulder as if it’s your first

ever touch, as if today sun rattles in its own heat,
snags air, a distant fire growing older, as if you’re
the only garden in the world waiting to be born.

Visiting with my 3-year-old, my experience was less meditative. He didn’t want to wander and think; he wanted to run about and explore, which is an equally valid way of engaging with a garden. We spent a lot of time in the woods looking for the elusive yeti (there is another poem to be written about the poor soul who roams the woods in a furry costume). We were too early to see the bluebells, and it occurred to me that here was a metaphor for parenthood. You think you’re training your child to be patient, but your own patience is being trained. You learn to compromise: you can’t have the experience you’d ideally like, but you can enjoy what you’ve got. The woodland way is harder than the formal path, but the budding bluebells promise a wilder epiphany. And, much to my son’s delight, we did see the yeti.

In Bud

I go into the garden. There’s parterre
spicy with boxwood, cool fountains,
paths to follow. But I leave

walled surety, strike up the steep hill,
woodwards. There may be views,
strange creatures. The trees

keep their secrets tight-furled
in leaf buds, summer’s tongues
poised to blurt truth. I ask

the first willo-wisps of bluebells.
Not yet, they promise.
Stop. Wait. Open your eyes,
and we will ours.

Suzanna Fitzpatrick

suzanna fitzpatrick photoSuzanna Fitzpatrick has been widely published in magazines and anthologies, including Furies (For Books’ Sake), and forthcoming in Birdbook III (Sidekick Books) and The Emma Press Anthology of Slow Things. She has been commended in a number of competitions, won second prize in the 2010 Buxton Competition, and won the 2014 Hamish Canham Prize. Her pamphlet, Fledglings, will be published by Red Squirrel Press in 2016. She lives in Kent with her husband and young son.

To join in Words@riverhill on June 6th, book a place with: jennifer@riverhillgardens.co.uk