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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.