Sarah Raven's Garden at Perch Hill – Battleaxe is not a proper lady.

Earlier in the week Battleaxe went on a Women’s Institute outing to Sarah Raven’s garden at Perch Hill Farm, in Brightling, which is in the depths of the country miles from anywhere between Battle and Robertsbridge.
     Battleaxe organises our WI Gardening Group, and this was one of our scheduled garden visits.
     I’d never really heard of Sarah Raven, but turns out she writes a weekly column for the Daily Telegraph. (Only the Guardian gets across this threshold). She is married to Adam Nicolson, and now, apparently, they live at Sissinghurst. She has published many glossy and expensive books, most of which were on display in the shop at Perch Hill, which is the base for her cookery and flower-arranging school.

The Sarah Raven Lifestyle experience

     Not being a proper lady, Battleaxe does not do flower-arranging, but I was struck by the set-up on our table in the coffee place, one or two blooms in a collection of little mismatched bottles on a big plate. The photo is not very good. I had to crop most of it because I had managed to include a view straight down the front of one of my friend’s dresses over the top of the flowers. I’ll maybe collect some bottles, the only empty one in the kitchen now is a Budweiser World Cup Special Edition bottle – not quite the desired look, I feel.

I could do that

     Anyway, back to the start. Getting a group of women in different cars to the same place at the same time is always slightly hit and miss.  I issued maps, but that didn’t seem to help much. I was driving with four others in the Yeti – we had almost arrived at the garden only to meet another car full of our colleagues belting briskly past us in the wrong direction. There was much shrieking and scrambling for mobiles and numbers, but the only woman whose number we could find had her phone turned off…..
      We all got there eventually, paid our £5 entrance, and a further £5 for coffee and a piece of cake.
      The garden was pretty, but not very big. It is primarily a cutting garden for flower-arranging, so there were beautiful drifts of one type of flower. The vegetables were also excellent.

Sweet peas
Cornflowers – I love them
Astrantia, cornflowers and some white thing….

       There were many Telegraph reading types drifting about – lots of laydees in flowing linen and big hats. Not to say we don’t have stylish laydees in our group, of course. Battleaxe has never been a lady. I’m too sweary, for a start. I don’t make cakes, and I don’t knit or sew.
       In the shop, the packeted seeds were at least £2.50, and everything else seemed a bit expensive.
       I enjoyed the outing, and I hope our gang did too, but I kept on getting Not Value For Money messages flashing across my brain, and I sense that S Raven Enterprises Inc. is a mean money-generating machine.
       Never mind that, what puzzles me in this life is why so much in my garden is either stunted, dried up or eaten by snails, while plants in the gardens we visit are huge, thick, lush and free from nibbling and holes. Sarah R says no pesticides are used, but perhaps the staff are out there with industrial-size vats of chemicals as soon as the public’s back is turned.
       I am out in our garden day after day with the hose, but it is so dry. The snails this year have overwintered, and are as big as golf-balls. I collected a whole flower-pot full the other day, and went to chuck them over the back, but my foot slipped and they ended up back in our garden again.

Our lettuces would never look like this….

      We also have lily beetles, which I pick off whenever I see one, but my canna lily looks like a lace doily. I am trying to make our front garden a bit Great Dixter-ish, so I planted a cardoon this year. It has grown well, but the developing flowers are now home to a colony of aphids, assiduously farmed by a gang of ants. Those ants must burn much energy running up and down the tall stems. Why have I got them, and not Great Dixter?
      Now, here’s a question to finish up with. How do specialist pests, like lily beetles, carrot flies etc. know that you have got the relevant foodstuff? Last year we were visited by a gooseberry saw-fly and one of our new bushes turned into a skeleton overnight. None of the neighbours have gooseberries, so how did the fly know to call on us? We were watching Monty Don, and he said that carrot flies only fly a couple of feet off the ground. So how do they get over high fences into gardens in the first place?


  1. Rosemary Mastnak
    January 4, 2021 / 8:00 pm

    Hello Battleaxe, you have given me a giggle, here in little old Tasmania, far away.
    I have read Adam’s book about Sarah’s garden and noted that one small child said “the ducks eat the snails”. Prhaps a duck or two is called for? Also the white thing to which you refer is flourishing in my garden, it’s Queen Anne’s Lace, I think known as Cow Parsley in good ole Brighty and my friend and I love it, she who has forwarded your amusing story to me. It’s reminded her of visits to local gardens here with her Walking Group.
    I’ve also visited and read much about Sissinghurst. We here in the Colonies admire and aspire to your wonderful burgeoning gardens and extensive mixed borders and seek to emulate them of course, if we were sensible, we’d stick to Australian Natives. I once lived in the bush on several acres and realized after 20 years of battling with the native wild life inhabitants that I was barking up the wrong tree, as the saying goes. I now have a much smaller garden. where I’m able to grow roses etc etc, although possums do abound, but only the smaller and very cute variety., and further up the hill there are wallabies, but my little wrought iron fence is a barrier for them. Another friend with a marvellous garden was astounded to see the new agapantha buds she’d admired had vanished overnight when I was visiting recently. I know what that’s like. Anything white shines in the moonlight!

    • January 12, 2021 / 8:29 am

      Hello, am so glad you enjoyed the post. It seems so long ago that we could go out and about like that… let us hope life improves for the summer.

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