Year Round Veg

A day off work and a long drive east across the changing countryside took me to Perch Hill in East Sussex last week, for Sarah Raven’s Year Round Veg course.

Sarah Raven's Kitchen, Garden & Shop at Perch Hill

It was my first visit to this part of the country and to the hub of Sarah Raven’s Kitchen and Garden. The course was held in a room adjacent to the smart shop and spacious greenhouse, which is divided into a productive part, still home to the last tomatoes of the season, and an area to serve refreshments, including a long table that was beautifully dressed for lunch.

Table set for lunch in Sarah Raven's greenhouse at Perch Hill

There were more than a dozen attendees, all with different backgrounds and gardening challenges, whether at home or on the allotment. I couldn’t help but agree as one lady confided in me, over a cup of tea and slice of delicious home-baked brownie, that it was a pleasant surprise to find that everyone had some gardening experience. She had half-anticipated a day surrounded by bored housewives looking for a new hobby, but this was thankfully far from the case as we shared stories from our plots.

In the greenhouse at Perch Hill

The course itself was enthusiastically delivered by Sarah, who began by discussing her methods and criteria for assessing different vegetables as to their garden-worthiness. We nibbled at a range of different salad leaves and herbs, and discussed their merits along with other crops. The sessions were all interactive and informal, accompanied by a comprehensive set of notes to complement anything we chose to scribble ourselves, and often illustrated by vivid slides; many recognisable as the work of Jonathan Buckley, Sarah’s frequent collaborator.

Collection of pot plants in Sarah Raven's greenhouse

Lunch was a two-course feast of delicious freshly prepared produce from the garden: a flavoursome chickpea and kale curry, accompanied by a quinoa and bulgur wheat salad which glistened with pomegranate seeds, a cucumber raita and fresh mixed salad leaves. There were jugs of homemade quince or elderflower cordial to savour, followed by a dessert of baked apple slices and blackberries topped with cointreau-laced cream. A veritable feast, indeed.

Suitably sated after lunch, we continued to debate the virtue of different vegetables, and Sarah shared with us the result of years of trials and hard work by her and the team. This included recommendations, growing and harvesting tips, and interesting serving suggestions and recipes.

Still life of squashes and cyclamen in Sarah Raven's greenhouse

Heavy rain had sadly set in mid-morning and kept us all indoors through the day, but finally towards the end of the afternoon it petered out to a damp whisper, and Sarah took us outside for a brisk walk around the productive gardens. Young cabbages were being transplanted into neat grids; giant dahlias blazed in a range of bright colours from the beds and winter crops were standing up well to the dismal weather. On a better day it would have been interesting to linger.

Glimpses of autumn gardens at Perch Hill

Unable to resist a few more bulbs and seeds from the shop, I left Perch Hill brimming with ideas and enthusiasm. Who says this is the end of the growing season? It was a very enjoyable and informative day, we were well looked after by the whole team, and this weekend you may well find me sowing a few late crops in gutters in the greenhouse.

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26 thoughts on “Year Round Veg

  1. Sounds like you had a fabulous day, the food especially sounded mouthwatering. Hope you share some more of Sarah’s tips and how you will implement them. there’s always something new to learn isn’t there?

  2. From the sound of the title, the day’s theme should have been how to keep your veg plot producing all year. I’d be interested to hear what Sarah recommends for filling the “Hungry Gap” in Feb / Mar.

    • That was certainly one of my main interests in attending, as we don’t make the best use of our ground in winter. That hungry gap can be considerably reduced by pushing some crops late or early, particularly under glass, mainly leafy greens, salad or herbs.. And perennial veg are useful here, such as sea kale.

    • It was really useful – I picked up more new ideas than I expected. All year growing is hard, both in terms of what to grow when, and keeping up those successional sowings, but ‘little and often’ definitely pays off long-term.

    • Lovely place. I have mass greenhouse envy now!
      Surprising how much the countryside changes in just a few hundred miles. After a day or two of swivelling my head out of the car window at all the different architecture – oast houses and tile-hanging and cladding – and an unfamiliar countryside, my head felt almost over-saturated with new images to process!

    • It was interesting and fun – I should have taken pictures of the food, which was as beautiful as it was tasty, but I was too busy enjoying it ;).

  3. Now that meal sounds tempting enough never mind the course 🙂 A long way from here but maybe we could could combine it with a camper van holiday one of these days. Have pondered over the details of these courses in Sarah Raven’s catalogue Sara. Would you say it was value for money?

    • I would say this course was certainly value for money, though it would obviously depend a bit on how much you already know and what you take away from the experience. The whole day was a pleasure, lots of lovely fresh food, biscuits and cake, Sarah Raven’s undivided attention for much of the day with the opportunity to ask her anything at all in an informal setting…

      • Thanks Sara. Have also noted that Perch Hill is very near to Sissinghurst, which I’ve never visited and to Great Dixter which I would like to return to. Will study courses on offer next year and maybe also work on my powers of persuasion.

        • Yes I spotted that too, and managed a whistlestop tour round one of those, which I have yet to blog… Definitely hope to return that way next year just to explore the rich variety of gardens further – Sussex Prairies is not too far either.

  4. How fascinating. I have many questions as I have looked at those courses and the ones at Gt Dixter but been put off my the distance and I imagine its a similar distance for you. Did you stay overnight somewhere – any advice. Would you recommend the Perch Hill courses.

    • A long way away indeed, though I’m lucky to have family half-way so a combined visit gave a handy base for shuttling a bit further east, and broke the journey up. I certainly couldn’t have made it there and back and attended the course in a single day, so staying locally would definitely make sense. If you make a weekend of it and combine with visiting all the other great gardens and attractions in the area it would be a great trip.

      I certainly recommend this course – if you want more ideas for veg growing. If a different course captures your imagination then I imagine it would be just as much of a treat.

  5. It is a lovely place to visit though I haven’t done a course there. Funny to think that you find ‘our’ landscape so foreign! And I’m sorry we didn’t provide better weather for you. How rude! D

    • I hadn’t expected to find your countryscape so different. I suspect the long drives and excitement probably contibuted to my sense of visual over-stimulation, as well as being mesmerised by the autumn colour blazing everywhere as you seem to be a few weeks ahead of us, and the different building finishes were striking. Pesky rain, though, most inconsiderate of you 😉

  6. What an interesting day for you, and good to have a participant’s view of a course like this – was it a special treat that you had allowed yourself?

  7. what a lovely treat for yourselves Sara, I smile at your pleasure in the changing countryside as it sounds like when I first did the reverse trip, I grew up in the south east and was nearly 20 the first time I went to the west country, it seemed so different to me all those little white cottages and rolling landscapes, an aunt and uncle of mine once lived in a converted oast house, good luck with your all year vegbeds, Frances

    • It’s funny how I’d never really seen much of the countryside of the south-east, despite many trips to Dover for a ferry – but the view from the motorway is not representative at all!
      Yes, hoping to use our space a bit more productively and consistently. Until life gets in the way 😉

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