Sarah Raven, In Their Shoes
Date Updated: 21/11/2022
Sarah Raven’s love of plants stemmed from her childhood, experimenting at 10 years old with a small cutting patch. Here she shares the flowers to plant to give you a beautiful summer bunch every few days. Sarah also gives us her tips on how to get the best from your garden and reveals the places where nature has taken her breath away.
Plus we have a competition with Sarah Raven so read on to find out how to enter!
Where did your love of plants grow from?
My father was my inspiration. He introduced me to plants via wildflowers – and botanising trips from when I was very young. I then started with a small cutting patch with just dahlias and cosmos when I was maybe 10 and just kept experimenting…
How can kids be encouraged more to marvel in the magic of gardening?
Gardening with children can be one of the most rewarding things. When my daughter was 11 I decided to give her a good bit of the garden to grow food. It’s tempting to place your children’s patch in a grotty corner, but it’s important it’s a good-sized patch on good soil so that what they plant grows and they actually want to pick and eat it! Always start with your child’s favourite veg and let them decide.
How has the garden at Perch Hill evolved over the years?
Perch Hill looked very different 25 years ago. After months of house hunting, I stumbled upon the farm. Despite many obstacles along the way, including heavy clay soil, the garden has undergone a huge transformation over the years and is now my pride and joy. I never imagined this all happening, but I love what I do. Perch Hill is my passion and my life’s work.
How would you describe a quintessential Sarah Raven garden?
Intense, saturated colour, lots of perfume at every turn, not too neat and tidy so alive with pollinators and a huge range of insects, plus an area of production for cut flowers and edible crops, to enable you to bring the outside in.
Do you have any steadfast rules that should be applied to gardening, especially for beginners?
- Don’t be overly polite. If everything is too tasteful, the garden will become bland. Remember, there is no such thing as a bad colour, although there can be bad combinations of colour.
- You need a few star turns – those show-stopper plants that will get all the attention. But you also need a bit of rice with your curry – the hedges, paths and terraces that hold the garden together. And if I had my time over again, I would put in more structural planting.
- Sowing seed and propagating from cuttings are two of the best things you can do to improve your mental state. Raising your own plants is tremendously relaxing.
- Harvesting from your garden, whether you are cutting vegetables or a vase of flowers, is a very positive thing to do. Regularly walking through the garden makes you aware of its strengths and weaknesses, and looking closely means you keep on top of what needs to be done.
- Soil is everything. Get to know what you have and put all your energy into improving it as far as you can.
What inspired you to write your first book, The Cutting Garden?
I’ve loved picking flowers all my life, so once I had space when I moved from the city, growing cut flowers – and experimenting with lots of different varieties – was the most natural thing. That knowledge then led me to write my first book.
With a cutting garden in mind, what are some of the first flowers to consider that give a great yield and are great for impact?
From a 3 x 4m cutting patch if you plant well you should be able to pick a bunch of flowers every 2-3 days between early June and late September. Here are my top cutting patch recommendations:
- Calendula officinalis 'Indian Prince' – 20 seedlings
- Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens' – 10 seedlings
- Euphorbia oblongata – 20 seedlings (Please note: This is toxic if eaten. It is a skin and eye irritant.)
- Helianthus annuus 'Claret' F1 – 10 seedlings
- Malope trifida 'Vulcan' – 10 seedlings
- Salvia viridis 'Blue' – 10 seedlings
- Harlequin Sweet Pea Mix – 12 seedlings
You’ve also published a book on Wild Flowers which includes 500 of the UK’s most breath-taking wildflower species. Can you whittle that down to your top 10 favourites? And was there a particular stand out moment for you on that trip across the UK?
I wouldn’t want to list just ten wildflowers, but more like a couple of places that are stand-out exceptional. Walking along the coast path in Cornwall, near Kynance Cove. The combination of the colour of the sea, the incredible biodiversity and true nature there, including the range of wildflowers, excited me - it was one of the great moments of my adult life. I feel the same about the west coast of the Outer Hebrides such as South Harris and The Burren in Southern Ireland.
Can you tell us a few gardens that you most admire, across the UK and Europe?
I love the wild gardens of Crete almost more than any true garden, but Great Dixter and Sissinghurst, both near to me, are stand-out world exceptional and I try to go as often as I can.
What’s next for Sarah Raven?
I have a new book out this spring about making the garden here at Perch Hill, A Year in the Garden.
Photography ©Jonathan Buckley
To celebrate the run up to Summer Solstice, Sarah Raven has teamed up with Salt-Water for a great garden competition!
To give your garden a loving lift and win £100 to spend on Sarah Raven plus a pair of Salt-Water Sandals, simply enter here.
Competition closes at 10:43 pm, Saturday 20th June, Summer Solstice.