Gardening queen Sarah Raven reveals she became a student landlord aged 20

Gardening queen Sarah Raven reveals she became a student landlord aged 20

Sarah Raven knows a thing or two about plants, and it turns out she was an early bloomer herself – buying a property and becoming a landlady by the age of 20.

The former doctor, who previously worked at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, bought a four-bedroom flat in Edinburgh and traded it up to her current home at Perch Hill in Sussex – previously a ramshackle ex-dairy farm which has now been converted into a 90-acre home and garden where she has opened up her own cookery and gardening school.

Sarah is the author of a string of books and has her own mail-order plant nursery and online garden store, with more than 500,000 customers.

Where did you buy your first home?

When I was 20, so a long time ago, in Edinburgh. I was left some money by a relative and I was quite domestic and liked the idea of buying a flat and doing it up.

It did feel quite grown-up and I became a landlady and had other students living with me – a bit middle-aged to be honest.

It was just on edge of the New Town in Edinburgh, with a cobbled street outside. It had big, Georgian-style sash windows, open fireplaces, high ceilings, lots of light and four bedrooms.

Sounds nice for a student pad…

It was very, very cheap to buy. Then there was a big property rise so I made a lot of money on it in four years as a student. I bought it as a home not an investment, though.

How was the buying process for you?

The Scottish system was nail-biting. All closed bids – I had lost a more exciting place three weeks before. You don’t know anything until you get it. The rest of the process wasn’t as much of a nightmare as I thought.

The second place I bought was, as the owner wouldn’t leave even though we’d bought the place – I can’t remember how we got her out in the end.

Do you have any advice for first-time buyers?

Don’t be seduced by it all feeling right straight away. If you are creative a finished place will cost you tens of thousands of pounds – you can save the money by doing it yourself.

Go slowly and accept for a year or so it won’t be right. You definitely need some outside space too, even if it is a balcony. I wouldn’t consider anything without outside space.

How did you do the Edinburgh place up?

I knocked walls down and put in another bathroom. I knocked two tiny boxrooms into another room. I painted the floor grey gloss before it was trendy. I’m not a minimalist so I like cosy, friendly and warm and full of flowers, with paintings on the walls. I’m a great junk shops fan and I love charity shops.

The place was maximalist, it was bohemian. I brought rugs back from Turkey – I was always backpacking. I’ve always loved flowers, food and objects… I’m a consumer, basically. I love stuff.

How did buying change your life?

It was a pain being a landlady but it was nice having roots. There is the Edinburgh Festival so I would rent it out for a lot of money and go travelling, so I had great freedom because I knew I had an income.

What tips do you have for doing up a first home?

Go on Instagram, it’s brilliant for ideas. Filter through what you like and don’t like and create a Pinterest or gallery on your phone. There are loads of good vintage shops online with regular sales, you can get a really lovely weathered bohemian look very cheaply.

I absolutely believe any room is transformed by one flower, so the first thing I tried to do if I have time is pick flowers and produce and put them in bowls. I always have something by my bed and bath, some sort of flowers.

I think if you are like me, a maximalist, it’s worth knowing when to stop, and not having conflicting looks in one room. Sometimes I start on a track, like green, then change it and think, “Oh dear, it has become coral.” Work out a plan and stick to it.

And where do you live these days?

Perch Hill in Sussex with my husband, Adam Nicolson, on a 90-acre farm. We bought in the recession 26 years ago. It was really quite run down, it was a mad mix of different sheds and outhouses.

We lived in the house in a basic state for 15 years and then eventually, six years ago, did it up and are living there.

Check out Sarah’s range of plants, bulbs and homeware at

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