A Year Full of Flowers…with Sarah Raven.

Here is an exceptionally good book, full or relevant information, practical advice and suggestions to enliven your gardening life. It is an absolutely superb handbook for the enthusiastic gardener.

That should be “enough said”; you could stop reading here and go and order it immediately but paper never refused ink nor my keyboard the tapping of my fingers, so I’ll tell you more.

Sarah Raven might not like my saying it but she is a lady with dirt under her fingernails, garden compost engrained in the lines of her hands, rose scratches along her arms, tangles in her hair and more plant growing experience in her life than a collection of television gurus. And, because this same lady also had an organised and diligent mind, a habit of keeping accurate records of how plants have grown and performed for her, and the ability to write with clarity and fluency, we have a gardening book of exceptional quality with relevance to beginner and experienced gardeners alike.

The gardens at Perch Hill Farm

Now, we have all, all gardeners, longed for colour in our gardens right through the year, in all seasons, but very few of us seriously undertake the planning and work that makes this possible. It takes more that wishful thinking, more than the many hours we all spend at winter armchair gardening, more than many seasons of television gardening programmes, to achieve this dreamed of result and very few of us move on from the dreams. Thankfully, we have an occasional rare person who determinedly pursues the goal and does it – and that’s Sarah Raven and following the advice in her book will bring us all a lot closer to achieving a year full of flowers in our own garden.

The book has a month-by-month layout with January/February and November/December taken together, a ten “month” year so to speak. Each month has a substantial description, with beautiful photographs, of Sarah Raven’s Perch Hill garden with comments on what plants are looking their best and what work is being done. A seasonal plant or two will then be featured with accounts of how they have performed in the garden and, as these accounts are based on years of plant trialling and recording, it is fair to say they are very informative and reliable. These are then followed by a “best of…” section which lists recommended cultivars, each precisely described and beautifully illustrated. These are no rarities, no tricky-to-grow challenging plants, but easy life-enhancing colour and flower performers, all outstanding garden plants. The July recommendations for roses are especially good as are the tulips listed in April while, as might be expected given Sarah Raven’s love of them, those for dahlias and chrysanthemums also excellent. Throughout, there are recommendations for bulbs, annuals, biennials and perennials which are guaranteed to grow well and bring delight to the gardener. Each month’s entry is completed with a “Practical” section, a sort of “to do” list of what the gardener should be doing that month to ensure the dream of a year full of flowers is achieved. Wonderfully practical advice on how to condition cut flowers also runs through the text which is not surprise as it is one of the major activities at Perch Hill Farm.

An example of one of the “Best of” sections; this one on roses, just one of several pages of rose recommendations.
And another showing a selection of dahlias – one of several pages on dahlias, by the way.

This is the most practical book of sound gardening advice that I have come on in years. To even follow a small portion of the recommendations given here will certainly lead to a more beautiful garden and to follow them more diligently will bring that beautiful garden you have dreamed of for so long!

[A Year Full of Flowers, Gardening for all seasons, Sarah Raven, with photographs by Jonathan Buckley, Bloomsbury, London, 2021, Hardback, 283 pages, £25, ISBN: 978-1-5266-2611-0]

Just for the sake of that fabulous dahlia! The photograph introduces one of the monthly “Practical” sections.

Post scriptum: This has been what I think of as a “contested” book in this house – one that my wife wishes to read at the same time as I do so that it becomes a book with two bookmarks. There may be some nuisance when this happens but it also leads to good gardening chats and it shows how much we both enjoyed reading it.