I embarked on my first journey to Perch Hill last Saturday rather nervously from Charing Cross Station. Sitting on the train I wondered what the garden would finally be like to see for real as Big Ben disappeared from view and sky scrapers gave way to the open countryside of Sussex.
After what must be ten years or so of reading Sarah’s books and studying the photos of her creation, finally being able to walk within this little piece of Eden upon earth was at first a very unreal and moving experience for me. I rather felt like Alice in Wonderland after falling down the rabbit burrow!
The wood’s that surround Perch Hill have violet carpets at this time of year in the form of English bluebells (so much nicer than the bulkier Spanish ones) and the songs of British song birds filled the air on this fine spring day.
The delphiniums in the cutting garden are beautifully supported with thick, woven bird nest like rings of hazel. Some delphiniums had already begun to send up flower spikes.
What frames (and I later learned protects) the garden from the wind at Perch Hill are the hawthorn hedges that give a sense of the garden being divided into different sections. All gardens if possible should have hedges. They are windbreakers, wildlife corridors and are a structural asset to any space.
Along with the dividing hedges were several arches of sweetly scented clematis – Clematis wilsonii ‘Montana’.
Behind the blackcurrant and soft fruit bushes which are protected by fruit cages strutted Sarah’s small flock of chickens. This very lucky rabble is headed by a pair of sleek and vocal Silver spangled Hamburg cockerels whom live in their own little grassy, green archipelago.
All the combinations of plants seen in Sarah’s catalogues and books are to be discovered about the garden as expected. The tulips took centre stage – Artist, Black Parrot, Flaming Parrot, Dolls Minuet and Ballerina to name but a few. The first of the alliums were just about to break open from their oval buds. The Venetian Tulip Collection could be seen with emerging oriental lilies in the cutting garden borders glistening like rare jewels. This collection was also to be seen in a long metal cattle trough joined here with Sweet Williams next to the newly restored barn.
Later in the day, Sarah held a talk about spring flowers and the recent trip she took with her husband Adam to Holland. Here they have come across many marvellous and uniquely beautiful tulips in the trial fields that thanks to Sarah’s unique eye for colour and floral flare will be available to us all hopefully by next autumn.
I left Perch Hill most surprisingly wanting my own garden, when I finally get to create one that is truly mine to have within it box balls! The Rose Garden at Perch Hill you would be forgiven for not recognising as one at all! Here Roses ‘Tuscany Superb’, ‘Charles de Mills’, ‘Gertrude Jekyll‘ and ‘Graham Thomas’ along with others grow amongst beautifully clipped box balls several of which are grouped together in a wobbly line and cloud pruned like a fabulously fat caterpillar! Single tulips of rich plum and scarlet were scattered throughout. If Perch Hill was Wonderland then this would be the Red Queens garden – the only aspect missing would be pink-plumed flamingos waiting patiently to be used as croquet sticks!
While flowers are of course in abundance and plants are seen partnered together in all their glory, Perch Hill is not a garden where everything is groomed to total perfection to the point that you feel it is ‘unaccomplishable’ or unnatural. It is a working, ever-changing, personal space with a soul that is as free as the song thrush chicks whom decided to fledge from their oak beam nest in the Oast Garden the very day of my visit, I can’t wait for my next one!
For more info on open days and courses at Perch Hill, visit the Sarah Raven website.
Thanks for reading,