Thursday, 22 August 2013

Sarah Raven’s gardens at Perch Hill

After several calendar clashes, I went to the Perch Hill open day at the end of July. I’ve been dreaming about seeing Sarah Raven’s dedicated cutting garden since I read her book The Cutting Garden when I first got into floristry a few years ago.  She got me into gardening the same way that Jane Packer got me into floristry. The book, which I’ve talked about before, is a delight to read or to flick through as you please. There are arrangements for every season, from a big, bright summer urn of eremurus, agapanthus, delphiniums and marigolds to a winter collection of glass bottles with aconites, witch hazel and crocuses. There is a mini encyclopaedia of cutting flowers and foliage, organised by season and colour, with suggestions for particular cultivars for colour or scent. There are also plans for cutting gardens with recommendations for what goes where – this inspired me to make three pyramids in huge pots to grow sweet peas. And although they didn’t do well this year because of the cold and my late planting of them, last year all three pyramids did magnificently and gave me sweet peas all summer long.

So, Perch Hill. You can’t see much from outside, because of hedges that have been planted to break the wind and create some shade. But when you go through an opening in the hedge, all of a sudden there are gardens all ahead of you, either side, and sweet peas growing up a beautiful arch (with seats in the middle). There are different-themed gardens, including a vegetable garden with cosmos scattered around it, a dedicated cutting garden stuffed with dahlias and nicotiana, and a Venetian-inspired garden full of jewel-like colours. There are zinnias (including the stunning lime-green and appropriately-named ‘Envy’), alliums, bright blue 'Black Knight' delphiniums, three varieties of tall and stately artichokes, lots of dill, and sweet peas aplenty, as well as dainty heartsease and borage.

The glasshouse is on top of a slope; the shop, café and a greenhouse full of vegetables are all inside. There is clever planting all down the slope, so that plants such as lavender and rosemary, which don’t like to sit in soggy soil, can enjoy the rain but the water will run off.

Sarah gave a guided tour of Perch Hill, which was such a treat! I was especially interested in hearing about how they get their seeds to germinate and how they deal with rain, as their soil there is heavy and clay, as is ours, so I was keen to hear tactics for this problematic soil. When it was still cold and it was pouring with rain for days on end in the late spring, our garden was like a swimming pool, direct-grown seeds didn’t germinate and several shrubs died. The visit to Sarah Raven’s gardens gave me hope that next year will be a better one for me, flower-wise.

I took all of the photos in this post on the open day in July, from the cut flowers in glass bottles to the hanging poppy seed heads to the exciting label for trial dahlias.The next open day is this Saturday, so if you want to go somewhere flower-filled and inspiring this bank holiday weekend, this is it!


  1. Thank you - and thanks for the flower inspiration. I had too many photos to choose from!