You may have noticed that growing cut flowers is a bit of a passion of mine. I first came across the idea that I could turn over a patch of land purely for the purpose of growing flowers to cut when I discovered Sarah Raven’s book The Cutting Garden. Inspired I used a part of my garden to cut flowers and then when I took on my allotment last year I decided to devote 3 beds to producing my own blooms. I love it; the sense of satisfaction is immense and I get huge pleasure from giving away bunches to friends and having the house filled with flowers. So it might have been a long way to go for a day, Wales to East Sussex, but when I was asked to attend a press day at Sarah Raven’s Cutting Garden it was just too good an opportunity to miss.
Sarah Raven’s name is now synonymous with cut flowers and her style of naturalistic, billowing and slightly unkempt arrangements, that are the antithesis to the uniform, stiff and well-behaved bouquets on offer from most florists. It all started 18 years ago when she was working long hours as a doctor in a local hospital. With a young family she was looking for a way of earning money which gave her time to see her children and that idea was cut flowers. She had just moved to a farm in East Sussex and had land at her disposal so she trialled the idea of growing flowers as a business. She realised that maximising the productivity of every square inch of ground would be essential if her idea was to be a success. At the time no one was growing annuals, they had completely fallen out of favour but Sarah saw their potential; the key being the sheer number of flowers they produced over a season. Her business soon grew not just from selling flowers but also to teaching, writing and TV presenting, inspiring people like myself to grow their own cut flowers.
As part of the day I was given a taster of the cut flower course she offers. Even for myself who has read and reread her books many times there was plenty to learn. Her 2 acre garden maybe substantially bigger than most but after nearly 2 decades of trialling which plants are most productive, her knowledge makes it easier for those of us with limited space to maximise its use. For plants to gain a place in her garden they have to meet certain criteria, such as time from planting to harvesting, the length and size of the harvest, the cost of growing and their versatility. The idea she is working on at the moment is what she calls ‘plant lasagne’, the layering of plants in the soil to cram even more into a space. Similar to planting different bulbs in a container at different levels, Sarah is currently growing artichokes, alliums and dahlias in beds producing high quantities of flowers and also an edible crop. I loved the colour contrast of redbor kale and the pinky/apricot coloured Tulip ‘Menton’ that were growing in her vegetable garden and is an idea that may well make its way onto my allotment.
The Cutting Garden at Perch Hill has four seasons which are dictated not by the actual season but by the plants that dominate that period. So season 1 is all about the bulbs with some biennials thrown in and runs from March to mid May, season 2 lasts from mid may to mid July and is the time for hardy annuals, which Sarah sows the bulk of in the autumn. Between mid July and September, season 3, the half-hardy annuals, tender perennials and dahlias take over. The final season can last, in this milder part of Britain, right up until Christmas and is the time for dahlias and chrysanthemums. This different way of looking at the growing season will certainly influence my planning for my own patch.
A tour of the garden and a taster of her vegetable growing course were equally fascinating and informative but the icing on the cake was a demonstration of creating a hand tied bouquet in her inimitable style. Tips included holding a mass of flowers if you only have small hands, the easiest way to tie the bouquet without it falling to pieces and how to create a sieve with the foliage to give the bouquet structure.
I left with masses of notes and a head swirling with ideas. Maybe next year I might have to devote a fourth bed to cut flowers!!
For more information about Sarah Raven, her garden and courses visit her website. Perch Hill is open on selected days throughout the summer.
How fabulous. I had an invite too, but sadly couldn’t make it. It would have been lovely to meet you.
Looking forward to seeing what you do with your new found knowledge!
Hi VP, That’s a shame, it would have been good to see a fellow blogger there and put a face to a name. It is such a lovely place.
Great information. Sounds like a wonderful experience.
Fantastic to have been invited, you must have had a super day! One thing to read about what Sarah Raven does, how much better to have seen for yourself and get hands on experience with your bouquets of flowers!
I would have loved to attent too. I too have her book and would like to grow more flowers to cut, but I have run out of space! Sad but true. Christina
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this – we went last year when she had an open day and totally fell in love with the place. She’s a huge inspiration, so much so that I have allocated two beds in the allotment to cut flowers this year.
I love her books and catalogues – the way she combines colours is fabulous.
Thanks for this enjoyable post.
I like the idea of combing edibles with flowers and I will definitely try that combo next year. Was it the Jerusalem artichoke or the globe?
Hi Sue, It was globe artichoke.
Love those euphorbias.
Ah for more space in the garden…
That sounds like a day out which is right up your street. I can’t wait to see the bits you take from the day and put in to practice.
Donna@Gardens Eye View said:
how fabulous…I have always longed for a cutting garden.
Lucky you! And thanks for sharing some great inspiration and ideas. The way of looking at the different flower seasons is really helpful.
Sounds like you had a wonderful time. The salad looks very appetising – and very colourful!
What a terrific, and worthwhile, day and one which I’m sure that you’ll make good use of in future. xx
Caro (urbanvegpatch) said:
I went a couple of years ago to the Spring Open Day – unfortunately after a hard winter and slow start to the year, there was only bare earth and the structure of the garden to see. It still made for a fascinating day out as I was able to see the structure that underpins everything – and, of course, meeting Sarah who is very generous with her knowledge. How wonderful to get invited to a press day – how did you manage that … or is that your day job? Sorry to be so nosey, I’d love to know!
Hi Caro, Nope not the day job. I really have no idea how. I was, its fair to say, gobsmacked!
What a fabulous day you must have had. I wish I had the space to grow and the patience to sow. Her seeds at least are one of the best guaranteed germinators.
p.s. your blog posts are lke an armful of fresh cut summer blooms
Hi Laura, It is a fabulous and inspiring place and thank you for your lovely compliment.
Vanessa Kimbell said:
It was a lovely day wasn’t it!! I have yet to write up my post!
Great post and really poking forward to the results this year !
Vanessa Kimbell said:
poking??? ! I meant Looking forward ! Stupid auto speller !
David Marsden said:
I went to Perch Hill a few years ago, WW and was very impressed (the dahlia beds in particular) and have liked the idea of a cuttings garden ever since – still to be realised. Though all my friends can remember of that day were the tiny portions of not inexpensive cake! Glad you had a good day. Dave p.s. Oops. I got relegated from your blog-list – hope it wasn’t something I said!?!
Were you? I haven’t done anything, will check it out and put you back on
Sarah Raven (@srkitchengarden) said:
It was so wonderful to have you there! We’re so glad you enjoyed the day, and can’t wait to see the fruits of what you learnt…
Glad to hear that you had such a great day WW. You must have come away positively buzzing. That salad looks like sunshine on a plate but I could not eat such pretty pansies.