Dogs, daughters and the Secret Life of Cows: the gardener, cook, writer and TV presenter digs up a bumper crop of online treats.

Sarah Raven is one of the country’s foremost plantswomen. From Perch Hill, her home and farm in East Sussex, she has spent the last 27 years creating a sublime cutting garden, growing and testing blooms, rigorously testing and ensuring that each and every specimen lasts more than a week in a vase.

For that last, her scientific background – she studied medicine in London – undoubtedly helps. For everything else, sheer joy and delight have been her drivers. An inspirational teacher, she hosts cooking, flower arranging, growing and gardening courses from the farm, a pursuit that she juggles variously with writing for titles, such as The English Garden, Country Living and The Saturday Telegraph. Whilst such a dizzying myriad of activities would be enough for most, she’s also a regular creator of show gardens at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, a garden advisor at RHS Garden Bridgewater and – prolifically – an author.

She first rediscovered her childhood interest in botany on a walking holiday in Crete, where the wildflowers of that island drew her back to the floral abundance of the countryside she had appreciated as a youngster, guided by her botanist father. It was that unearthing of a passion that later lead to her 2011 book Wild Flowers, a collaboration with her photographer and friend, Jonathan Buckley, with whom she exhaustively toured the British Isles to document the beautiful and bountiful wild flora native to these shores. But it wasn’t the duo’s first collaborative foray into publishing. That came with The Bold and Brilliant Garden in 2001, a refreshingly informal guide to creating vibrant, colourful and joyful gardens, full of intense wonderful colour. And it was with that book that her name was, forever, made.

Subsequently, Sarah has turned her hand to updating Vita Sackville-West's Sissinghurst – The Creation of a Garden, as well as penning a series of glorious cookery books: Food for Friends and Family, Complete Christmas and GOOD GOOD FOOD, which explores the correlation between growing food and healthy eating, drawing on her background as a GP.



As a backdrop to all this, she has, of course, also appeared on and presented BBC Gardeners’ World, as well as the BBC’s Big Dreams, Small Spaces series. She is, in short, a powerhouse. We adore her.

My favourite website...

My iPhone weather. I’m obsessed with the weather forecast! Particularly when we have a big garden photo shoot planned, (which is often), I look at it several times a day. I find where I live in East Sussex, the forecast on my phone is accurate almost every time, down to the hour of weather change.

My favourite app...

City Mapper is brilliant for finding me quick and efficient routes when I go up to London to see my children. These visits are usually interspersed with meetings, often in bits of town I don’t know, and now I never get lost and have rediscovered the brilliance of the London bus.

Another is Mysoil. This app came from the British Geological survey and enables you to check the soil in your local area. It’s invaluable for working out which plants will flourish where.

My favourite blog...

I rarely look at blogs, I’m very much inspired by the outdoors.

My Internet hero...

Emma Bridgewater. Her work is classic and I admire the business she has built. She has helped me with advice over the last 20 years with my business – and we’re now firm friends.

My favourite podcast...

BBC Sounds. I’m re-listening to A History Of The World In 100 Objects with Neil MacGregor at the moment and love it for its story-telling, as well as for (much needed) educating myself in general knowledge.

My favourite YouTuber...

Rosamund Young, author of The Secret Life of Cows. I’ve based my farm on some of her principles and love watching her fun and informative clips.

My most recent buy online...

A lamp from Graham & Green, a treat for my daughter in her new London flat.

Last book you downloaded or read...

I’m re-reading the first two Hilary Mantels.

Favourite Instagrammer...

Arthur Parkinson, an up-and-coming gardening inspiration.

Favourite tech gadget...

I adore my MacBook laptop, but am not a techy. I also love my sodastream. That’s as techy as I get.

The most useful gadget on your desk...

I don’t really have gadgets, either in the house or garden.

First thing/app you look at on your mobile when you wake up/in the morning...

My email. I find if I keep on top of my emails, they are much more manageable! Even when I’m on holiday, I tend to do this, otherwise, there is too much of a mountain and I get oppressed by getting behind.



The last thing you binge-watched...

Homeland’s final series, I totally love, adore and miss Carrie.

Brands have you discovered online...

Riverford. Even though we grow much of our own food here, I love to buy and eat organic and often get their organic chicken, milk and cheese.

Social media allowed me to meet...

Instagram introduced me to several people when I was on a winter writing break in Cotignac, Provence. I did some Instas from there and it was lovely when friendly people then appeared.

My screensaver is...

A picture of our cows in our nicest field. That alternates with my dogs and daughters. All very precious things!

My standout online memory...

The start of online film and series watching. I love it because my life has quite little routine, so I often miss programmes when they’re only on TV.

My pet online hate is...

Unsubscribing from company mailings which then reappear.

Do you have any online rules or resolutions?

I try to go to bed early most nights. I’m a very early riser and value the time first thing in the morning as ‘me time’. I go to the gym, take the dogs for a walk or just potter round the garden with a cup of tea.

As someone who runs a business at least in part online, what are your best bits of advice/ most interesting things you’ve learned?

Try to surround yourself with a good team. Nobody can be brilliant at everything, so take advice from experts and then make your own decisions.

Images © Jonathan Buckley

By Nancy Alsop
May 2020

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