Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sissinghurst Castle, home of Vita Sackville-West


In 1930 Vita Sackville-West, an author, poet and gardener and her husband Harold Nicholson who had retired from England’s diplomatic service, visited  Sissinghurst Castle  and found the dream setting for what was to become one of England’s most famous gardens.  They literally spent the rest of their lives there, creating a gardener’s paradise. Their success confirmed by the number of visitors who tour the garden each year. It is estimated that about 2,000 pairs of feet tread its paths daily. In fact, admission is now restricted to a specified time because the sheer volume of eager feet are threatening to destroy the beauty that drew them in the first place.

On our visit, a high brick wall glowed russet in the hot afternoon sun. Backdrop for the ‘Purple Border’, summer would bring a cascade of vibrant purple-blue clematis spilling from its heights.

Derelict when bought by the Nicholson’s in 1930, this small part of ‘the garden of England’ as Kent is called, came into its own under the knowledgeable and loving hands of these two dedicated gardeners. In fact, it is hard to believe that this densely flowering place was once a lowly cabbage patch.

Designed by two people with vastly different ideas about what constitutes a garden, the result has been a marrying of two entirely disparate styles. Harold Nicholson’s was a formal approach with leanings towards the Italian style. Neatly clipped hedges, statues, large clay pots overflowing with flowers, and an avenue of lime trees bordered by a bulb garden was Harold’s idea of perfection.

Vita’s was exactly the opposite. She found his formal approach severe and said that his Lime Walk “resembled a platform at a railway station”, Surprisingly her romantic style of small garden; high clipped hedges enclosing a tranquil setting where plants are allowed the freedom to creep over the edges of a path, provided the informality that his lacked, and the two blended surprisingly well.

In all, there are ten separate gardens, each an oasis of color, fragrance and beauty, each a broad representation of perennials and annuals.

The orchard was my favourite; a dreamy place of scattered fruit trees completely lacking in the regimental formality of many orchards I have seen. Pears and apples just forming and still to reach their full luscious best, dangled liked Christmas baubles from tree branches. The ground beneath, a meadow where feathery seeded plumes mingled with wild flowers like small colored stars in the grass.

Looking past an abandoned dovecot in the far corner of the orchard, I saw a pristine white gazebo built by the son of Vita and Harold in memory of their father. It was open for visitors and filled with Harold’s books.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Saturday, 30th October, 2010.


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