Too Much of a good thing!
I went to Sissinghurst Castle, situated in the romantically named Weald of Kent, with my boyfriend, the day after visiting Great Dixter. A lovely sunny day in late August 2017, in hindsight, I am not too sure that was the best idea; it may have been a little bit too much of a good thing! Grumper’s definitely thought so, moaning about garden overload, mmph. Despite garden burn-out, I still managed to take dozens of pictures, for you to enjoy.
Arts & Crafts Garden
Although very different gardens Great Dixter and Sissinghurst definitely have some similarities; they were created in similar periods and both have an Arts & Crafts aesthetic, influenced by the work of Lutyens and Jekyll; with they’re brick pathways, brick walls and yew hedging, creating garden rooms and incorporating ancient rural buildings.
Formerly a medieval manor-farm which was extended in the Elizabethan period before becoming; at one time a prisoner of war camp and then a poor house. It had fallen into disrepair until 1930, when the buildings were taken over by Vita Sackville West and Harold Nicolson, who made Sissinghurst Castle their rural idol. At that time there were a few large rooms and the tower remaining from the Elizabethan era however I was surprised to find out that Vita and Harold actually lived most of their lives in South Cottage on the estate and only used the grander spaces on special occasions. Maybe they were haunted by the ghosts of all those french sailors and paupers? The buildings and garden are now owned by the National Trust, the house and grounds were bequeathed by Harold after Vita’s death.
You enter the gardens through an archway in Elizabethan building, which was used as a library and reception space by the couple. Through which you come into a large courtyard garden surrounded by a high wall and the Elizabethan tower at the far end. This courtyard is surrounded by beautifully tended borders of purple and mauve planting.
THe White Garden
Exiting to the left, you entered another room which is the famous White Garden. Full of white gladioli, white iris, and the white Japanese anemones. Many think it the triumph of Sissinghurst and it’s what Vita, the gardener was famous for. However it didn’t really grab me perhaps because it was late in the season. So I won’t write it off, until I’ve seen it in all its early summer lusciousness…
We had a tour of their cottage (no photography allowed) which as exactly that, charming but definitely a rustic dwelling and other than some artifacts lying around gave no hint at the aristocratic linage of the previous residents. It was exactly how you’d image a gamekeeper’s house to look and not the home of the upper middle-classes. I rather liked them for this modest attitude to their home, my ghost theory not withstanding.
Sissinghurst’s Garden Rooms
Vita was also a writer connected to the Bloomsbury Group and the idea of themed room like stanzas, within the garden, as her ultimate poet appeals to my fanciful nature. Although Harold can’t be overlooked in the gardens development as he was instrumental in creating much of the layout.
I do wonder if the spaces they inherited within the walled courtyard, underpinned the rest of the room themed layout. It really struck me, as I edited these pictures, how much it was structured like a home; with hallways and doors leading to enclosed ‘room’ spaces. Most of the layout is very regimented with box borders, yew hedging and pleached limes, these spaces felt a bit to uptight to me and the planting wasn’t relaxed enough to give the counterpoint which was achieved so exuberantly at Dixter.
However the South Cottage Garden was at its peak when we visited; full of hot colours, oranges, yellow and reds and with a more relaxed planting, which I much preferred.
Vita wrote of Sissinghurst: ‘The heavy golden sunshine enriched the old brick with a kind of patina, and made the tower cast a long shadow across the grass, like the finger of a gigantic sundial veering slowly with the sun. Everything was hushed and drowsy and silent but for the coo of the white pigeons.’
She must have written it on a day, just like our visit as the garden’s authoress describes the afternoon light so well, so best I quote than try to paraphrase.
The gardens are in a lovely rural setting and the tearooms overlook a field, which had sheep grazing in it when we were there. What more does one want than a lazy sunny afternoon in a bucolic idol, with scones?