The private home and garden of plant expert and entrepreneur Sarah Raven is a cult destination for amateur and professional gardenistas.
If, like me, you look forward to the arrival of the Sarah Raven catalogue landing on the doormat and can spend many hours revisiting its pages – deliberating on sweet pea mixtures or wondering if it’s time to fully embrace her plot-to-plate philosophy – then a visit to Perch Hill is a must.
Raven shares the old dairy farm in East Sussex with her husband, the writer Adam Nicolson, and their two daughters, Rosie and Molly. It couldn’t be more bucolic, though initially there was no garden when they moved in. Raven started a small annual garden, which was the inspiration for her first book The Cutting Garden.
It was her book The Bold and Brilliant, which put her on the horticultural and botanical map endorsing her love of vibrant Venetian colours – purples, blues, orange and crimson. Since its publication she has written regular columns for broadsheets, designed gardens for RHS Chelsea, appeared frequently on TV and written further books inspired by living at Perch Hill. Brightly coloured dahlias, zinnias, gladioli and cannas are features of the ornamental Oast garden, adjacent to her house.
Raven’s garden fuses colour, elegance and achievability. She is a fan of cosmos, penstemons, alliums and dahlias for va va voom, as well as high performance perennials such as rosemary and euphorbia. She is a great believer in creating “rooms” within a garden, as well as using pots for herbs and planting plenty of annuals.
Raven’s interest in plants began in childhood – her father John, a Cambridge academic, was a respected botanist and her mother, Faith, designed the gardens at Docwra’s Manor in Hertfordshire (the family home) which are open to the public. Raven trained as a doctor before embracing her passion for floristry. She now teaches an eclectic mix of regular courses on growing and styling cut flowers, and seasonal cooking at Perch Hill. Upcoming courses also include guest speakers such as designer Jasper Conran, Tom Stuart Smith, and Emma Bridgewater.
Recently Raven and her family spent eight years living at Sissinghurst Castle, Kent – the home of the late Vita Sackville-West, to whom her husband is related. It is one of the most famous historic gardens in England, now a National Trust property. It was there that Raven worked on her latest book about colour, to be published in 2020.
Need to Know: Sarah Raven’s Garden and Cookery School, Perch Hill Farm, Willingford Lane, Brightling, Robertsbridge, East Sussex, UK: www.sarahraven.com
Photography © Jonathan Buckley
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