Sissinghurst, that iconic garden, is only a 90 minute drive from us, but it’s been at least 4 years since the last visit, so on one of those beautifully, bright autumn days last week, we finally made a return visit.
Unlike other famous gardens, Sissinghurst isn’t a conventional house surrounded by land, & despite being called Sissinghurst Castle Garden, there isn’t a castle, but a series of cottages. At it’s heart is a tall tower, dating from the 1560’s. The tower holds the design of the garden together, visible like an elegant orientation beacon, from every part of the garden.
Vita Sackville-West & her husband Harold Nicolson were from privileged, aristocratic families, after much searching they found Sissinghurst, moving there in 1932 & began to make a garden.
Their lives, backgrounds & creativity are what brought this unique garden into existence. Harold’s part in designing the garden is often overlooked, he designed the strong layout that contains the garden rooms, while Vita was the plantswomen, making a perfect combination.
She is well-known for her novels & wrote a gardening column for The Observer newspaper for 15 years, he was a diplomat, M.P. & writer. There’s was an unconventional marriage, they both had same-sex relationships throughout, but were always close, writing to each other every day when apart.
Their creative lifestyle is reflected in the garden, & how they used the buildings. Whilst their children lived in another cottage nearby, Vita & Harold occupied South Cottage, a modest home filled with books. It has a large flower room instead of a kitchen, indicating a life with staff who organise meals elsewhere, which left me wondering about how you’d get a cup of tea in the morning? Vita’s study was in the tower, where apparently, children were discouraged from visiting.
Happily South Cottage is open to the public, the tower is also open, & although you can’t enter the rooms, the climb to the top is essential for wonderful panoramic views of the garden & beyond.
There was a colourful display of michaelmas daisies planted in the lime walk, whole swathes of different shades, though unlabelled. They’ve recently been reclassified, some are still called asters while others are known as Symphiotrichum.
If you’re a keen gardener, Sissinghurst is a great example of how to divide a garden into different spaces, & has many winning plant combinations. Though you would need a small army of gardeners to keep it looking good.
The autumn colours are coming into their own round here, I hope you enjoy the rest of this glorious month.
all photos: Jill Anderson.