“I am really hands on in the business — I like to get my hands dirty!” says Sarah Raven, describing life at her working farm, Perch Hill. Set in the rolling East Sussex countryside, the 90 acres of glorious grounds are something of a mecca for keen gardeners everywhere, providing open days and a wealth of courses presided over by gardening guru Sarah. An on-site shop and extensive online store, meanwhile, provide Sarah’s carefully selected seeds and bulbs.
It’s a busy life, as Sarah explains. “I trial every bulb, seed and perennial and shrub in the garden here before it goes into the catalogue. We select plants on how they perform. For cut flowers, we record how long they flower and how many buckets we are able to pick from them per square metre, so we can directly compare one with the next.
“Also, of course, we only include things that we find very lovely,” she laughs.
When choosing flowers to grow, Sarah also has an eye on the local wildlife. “It’s really important to support Britain’s bee population,” she says. “I would say to anyone planning a garden to try and choose flowers where you can see the reproductive parts of the flower — the filaments, anthers and stigma. If you can see them, the bees almost certainly can, too, and there should be plenty of pollen and nectar for them to forage.”
“My absolute favourite flowers are dahlias — I love them!” she says. “There’s such a huge and ever-increasing range available, too, and they are the lowest-maintenance, highest-producing plant anyone can grow as a cut flower.
“It’s so easy to grow your own, too — they are cut and come again plants, which means that the more you cut them, the more flowers you will get. Once you have picked your flowers, condition them (usually by searing stem ends in boiling water for 15 seconds), rest them in cold, deep water overnight and then arrange. So it’s pick, condition, rest, arrange — that’s my mantra.”