In The Hothouse with Sarah Raven
As summer approaches and bulbs bloom, gardener, cook and writer Sarah Raven joins us to discuss her wonderful life spent in her garden surrounded by her most favourite flowers.
Sarah talks about the key role flowers play in her life and shares her top tips for beginner gardeners this summer.
Photography by Jonathan Buckley, Julian Ward & Shaun James Cox
Do you have a favourite flower and why?
Dahlias are my favourites. I love the huge range from the curvy and voluptuous such as ‘Labyrinth’ to the simple singles like ‘Lou Farman’. With ‘Molly Raven’ and ‘Perch Hill’we’ve also selected varieties which have much-improved vase lives. They are hugely generous and I’d much rather live-head and pick them for the vase rather than spend time dead-heading.
What do flowers mean to you?
Everything. A garden with no flowers and colour might be stylish, minimalist and architectural but it is missing more than half the story. And it’s the same inside. Walk into a room or house with no flowers and it feels only half alive to me.
“A garden with no flowers and colour might be stylish, minimalist and architectural but it is missing more than half the story.”
How do you like to display flowers around the home? Do you have a favourite vase or place for them?
I love simple single species vases almost more than mixed, so right now we have an incredible vase of the arching stems of Solomon’s seal just on its own, huge and glamorous and elegant. I also love single stems arranged in a group of vases down the table. And then a dark green amphora vase with say Iceland poppies – no fuss and bother, just great presence and beauty.
What flowers do you like to send as a gift?
Scented flowers. I have always loved good old-fashioned freesias for the winter, and great crinkly peonies which will open from their green bullet buds to scented pompoms the size of pudding plates. Seasonal all the way.
What kind of flowers do you like to receive?
Anything just picked from someone’s garden, them selecting what they think I’d like. This often gets me to look at things I may not have noticed before and I love that.
How did your relationship with flowers and gardening begin?
My father was a botanist and from the age of 5 or 6 I spent huge amounts of time with him looking for tiny or huge, glamorous or ordinary-looking wild flowers, anywhere from our back garden to The Outer Hebrides in Scotland. From ferns under a bridge to the limestone pavements in The Burren in Ireland.
You’re a great advocate for growing your own cut flowers. What are your favourite varieties this year?
We are doing a big mint trial this year – to give us fragrant foliage for bunches and vases and I adore scented leaf pelargoniums (Attar of Roses is my favourite) for the same reason.
Do you have a favourite garden plant at this time of year? Why is it special to you?
Guelder Rose (Viburnum oculus ’Sterile’). I love it’s Golden Delicious green pompoms, wonderful arranged in a large vase on its own or with arching stems of Solomon seal and a cloud of cow parsley. It’s key to sear the stem ends in boiling water for 20 seconds before cooling in cold and removing almost all the branches foliage.
With the Chelsea Flower Show coming up in May, what are you most looking forward to seeing?
I am really looking forward to a careful quiet walk through the marquee to see new varieties, and stalwart older varieties, plus I love walking up and down Main Avenue three or four times to see the large show gardens. You see different things from each of the views and knowing what goes into these gardens, they are worth looking at again and again.
What exciting things do you have in the pipeline that you can share with us?
We have just brought a plant nursery in Lincolnshire – a family business we’ve worked with for nearly 15 years. That’s exciting and we are moving everything ever-more sustainable. That’s key to us as it is to many.
I have a new book out on growing veg, not flowers, next spring.
Neutral or colourful flowers?
Neat or wild arrangements?
Pretty, dainty flowers or big, showy blooms?
Big and showy
Top Sarah Raven product recommendation right now?
Green Amphora Vase – love it full of natural flowers, sparsely and simply arranged.
Favourite design from the Paul Thomas Timeless Collection (inspired by English Country gardens)?
The Hidcote – So cheery and gorgeous. I’m a colour addict.