Return to Perch Hill

It has been some months, possibly a year since I last treated myself to supercharged intoxicating colour blast of what is Perch Hill, near Robertsbridge, Sussex www.sarahraven.com. I decided after many months of routine,  and the hot English summer, it was time for a day of inspiration.

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Gardening has had a mixed place in our family, father was an obsessive gardener, who did everything by the book and exhibited prize growing delphiniums. Some forty years ago, they stood 7-8 foot high, together with the too hungry roses, on our chalky north facing sloped garden. Not an easy task. We were somewhat bullied into helping, which might put many a child off and it part it did. But in spite of all that, I did learn. I recall various tasks and the pleasure of having home grown fruit and vegetables, and the wonder and beauty of the flowers we could pick, although as a child, I was madly curious to know what a tinned potato tasted like!

My mother would recall the problem of our reaction ‘oh no Mummy, not raspberries again’ after the endless glut came from our garden, gooseberries, redcurrants, beans, peas, sweetcorn, and some hilarious mistakes, flowers were planted and came up as aubergines! We fed neighbours with pounds of produce. But really it was the flowers I liked, tall Delphs: blue and purple spires, ‘Mighty Atom’, ‘Daily Express’, ‘Strawberry Fair’, ‘Blue Nile’, were ordered from Blackmore and Langdon. Daddy would take cuttings as well. No organic ‘nonsense’, pellets everywhere, no amount of grit or eggshells would keep the army of slugs away, we did after all have zillions of them, still do. But however we got there, it was beautiful. Later in life, the garden became too much to maintain. Once theses years faded, although the flowers died off and were replaced, the soil mostly kept it’s rich fed structure, which has helped garden maintenance now.

All this, taught me several things, just create your passion and it will catch on, and don’t take on more than you alone can cope with. So with all that in mind, the garden is now down to just me. Over the last ten years it has slimmed to largely old roses, (Rugosas are marvellous), that don’t need feeding much, climbing ramblers, space for annuals for fun every year and vigorous shrubs, with some pots round the back of the house. A large wood takes up about a third of the nearly half acre plot.

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With all that in mind, I still need inspiration, I miss having my ‘Charles de Mills’ rose, the deep colour, so that’s coming back. And Annuals, or bi-annuals perhaps, although not a regular part of our life then. But now, I can see both sides. But by golly Perch Hill does it with stupendous drama and design. There’s nothing quite like actually going to the garden, rather than just looking at the books or website. Of course I discovered it via the great Sissinghurst garden, and having read everything about that and the family history, with Bloomsbury built in, Perch Hill was the modern independent living link.

You arrive after a journey, down various windy lanes, (how they cope in snow I shudder to think), and park in a nice field. And the first thing you are greeted with is the famous cutting garden. This is the magic for me. This is what you need, the blast in your face, of colour and picking, when you need a bit of a boost.

Depending on the time of year, you might be walking through a waft of Amus Maji, and mini Alliums, with this gorgeous meadowy effect. But in August, which is a testing time in late summer, you were confronted with the Dahlias, the cosmos and the larger leaf plants which fill some gaps, which I’m afraid I didn’t note down. But WOW what an affect! The dahlias loom at you like moon balls, large deep reds of various sorts. But not as many as I would like were labelled that I could see, but some I noted down, ‘Downham Royal’, ‘Joy Mariella’, but the best were not labelled I think, but they are bound to be in the catalogue.

2014-08-23 11.11.14I learned more about the unusual cosmos, ‘Click Cranberries‘, a double deep magenta, and the double white, ‘Psyche White‘. A definite for next year, and not available locally in the Raven selection in my nearest garden centre. Dahlia ‘Happy Halloween‘ was a show stopper, although I’m not sure I can take such large orange balls in our smaller garden, but what a flower! If you patted your hand round the pom pom varieties, they felt soft but also firm, like sponge balls.  But the clever part was really the design, in spite of the fact that a cutting garden is really just a series of squares with the plants in to make it convenient for cutting for the house and nothing more. but even so, it was artful. Putting the ‘Halloween’ next the beans worked very well.

In a corner I spotted a fruit cage, immaculately created, and oh that brought back memories! not a weed in sight anywhere, the labour involved! I hope they enjoy it. But bypassing that….the flowers were just sublime, and it brought such power to the senses, you returned home with the thought of ‘I must try this type of thing next year’. Certainly the annual seeds are an easy starting point. Zinnia’s were used like a painter effect, which danced on the top of the eye-line, clever, they had double varieties which I didn’t know existed, ‘Giant Dahlia Mixed‘ stood out. Scabious was mixed beautifully and is something I shall certainly turn to next year, as I didn’t really get to them this year properly. I think the dark Black ink sort would be good. I feel braver about oranges, it links artistically between the dark reds and the whites, and ‘Tithonia’ range was new to me.

The low growing Calendulas struck me, again orange, but very much a spirit of  ‘I’m bright and orange and just splash it about’. As a painter you do sometimes get tired of always muting colours, and perhaps like the impressionists did, never use black, always the bright palette. It is the brightness that is so cheering. And if it cheers, then it has to be good for the soul, particularly on a rainy Monday morning!

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Wow betide if after all this lot you venture into the shop! But the calendar and the catalogues and the seeds will last me through the winter I hope. That didn’t prevent me from drooling over the coloured glass, but with a trip to Venice soon, I shall compare designs. Or the linen napkin range…but some plant labels were imaginatively designed, a coloured set, wooden, makes writing easy. I’d like to have seen more calendar designs perhaps, with endless photography opportunities you could makes at least six varying wall designs with the amount of photographs used in her books. A nice touch is that when you sit and have tea or lunch, everyone shares a round table, so you get chatting a bit sometimes, a nice way of pulling people’s common interest together, and we English need that encouragement.

Nevertheless, Perch Hill is an awe inspiring place, full of personal energy that is the Raven vision. Well worth a visit.