Sarah Raven’s Gardens

I’ve been desperate to visit Sarah Raven’s gardens at Perch Hill, East Sussex for ages now, particularly since I received a couple of her books as gifts last year, which are helping to inspire the planting in the cut flower beds in our vegetable garden.

Perch Hill welcomes the public on a handful of days throughout the year and happily last weekend’s open day coincided with a blissfully empty diary and a glorious weather forecast.

Set in the rolling hills of the Weald, Perch Hill is the epitome of bucolic bliss. It boasts not only a tile-hung farmhouse, but also an oast house, shepherds hut, and numerous rustic barns and outbuildings. Dotted around these are two acres of beautiful working gardens.

Sarah herself conducts tours of the garden throughout the day, and we joined one of these just as we arrived to see what pearls of wisdom we could glean. I was particularly interested to learn about her ”lasagne” technique, which is designed to maximise space and is put to good use in several areas; by the greenhouse, dahlias and globe artichokes are layered, with the vegetables giving way to late summer display of bright Venetian coloured flowers, and in the cutting garden, daffodils, alliums and dahlias are planted in a similar way to give a succession of flowers to pick throughout the year.

Anyone who saw Sarah’s BBC 2 series ‘Bees, Butterflies & Blooms’ will know that she is also passionate about halting the decline of bees and our other pollinating insects. To that end, many of the plants at Perch Hill are also nectar and pollen-rich. The effectiveness of this was plain to see as we could barely drag our kids away from the bed of Verbena bonariensis as it was covered in butterflies.

We left with many ideas for how to develop our garden over the coming years both in terms of planting combinations (the Cosmos ‘Dazzler’ planted with Stipa gigantea was a particular favourite) and doing our bit for wildlife by choosing insect-friendly species.

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