Sissinghurst – a Romantic Confection

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As I was staying in Sissinghurst village for my visit to Great Dixter at the lovely Milk House, which I would thoroughly recommend to anyone visiting that area, it would have been madness for me not to visit Sissinghurst garden.IMG_0447

I have to admit to having mixed feelings about this garden visit.  Sissinghurst is one of those gardens that, as a gardener, you feel you should have visited and be able to reference. Interestingly during conversations on the study day at Great Dixter quite a few people were, shall we say, a bit sniffy about Sissinghurst, saying such things as ‘well I have visited but I don’t feel a need to go back’, which was intriguing. I need to say now that my mindset on arrival was somewhat distracted as I was having car issues and I was worrying whether the car would get me the 4.5 hours home (in fact the car was OK which was a huge relief). So I didn’t have the relaxing contented visit I had hoped for.

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I had the benefit of being one of the first through the door and instead of exploring the tower I set out to see as much of the garden as I could before it become crowded.  More by luck than design I found myself firstly in the renowned White Garden. Now I am not a fan of White Gardens I find them sort of static, I much prefer contrasting colours or even harmonious colours and the way the colours work with each other.  However, I have to admit that this part of the garden had a nice calming atmosphere, particularly given my frame of mind.

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Again in the Cottage Garden, which is planted up in hot vibrant colours, I wasn’t thrilled with this combination – the yellows are all the same and I would have liked to see some possibly lighter shades of yellow or an orange verbascum such as Clementine to jazz it up.  However to be far this was just one small planting in the Cottage Garden, the rest was a mixture of strong yellows, red and oranges and lots of textures.

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One of the things I really liked at Sissinghurst were the vistas through the various walls or hedges leading the eye to the next garden or an area you wanted to find your way to.  I have quite a few photographs of vignettes such as the one above and also of large planted pots planted with a single type of plants – an interesting contrast to the mass groupings of pots at Great Dixter.

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Like the White Garden I find the Nuttery with its shady woodland planting relaxing.  I have a weakness for ferns and I was bewitched with the way the sunlight was bouncing off the fronds in this mass planting and showcasing the statue.  I would like to try to do something similar but I don’t know if I have the space.

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The area of the garden that I really enjoyed was the Rose Garden which was somewhat surprising.  I am liking roses more and more and I particularly liked seeing them planted with other perennials.  As you can see the alliums in the photograph above and at the top of the post provide a wonderful froth through the borders.  The scent in this garden, especially as the sun was shining, was quite divine.  I liked this colour palette which provided a really romantic atmosphere (if you ignored all the other visitors which I studiously managed to exclude from my photos).  IMG_0518On arrival at the garden there was an exhibition about Vita Sackville West and Harold Nicholson’s marriage, with copies of their letters etc.  On the walls of the barn that the exhibition was housed in were painted quotes from these letters which showed the strength of their feelings for each other and I think the Rose Garden really epitomises their love for each other.

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So what is my overall impression of Sissinghurst? Firstly, I think I was spoilt by my visit to Great Dixter the day before which really speaks to me.  However, Sissinghurst is a beautiful garden and is the first National Trust garden I have visited which has an atmosphere which, in my opinion, is so hard to come by when the garden is not managed by its creator/owner. I know that Troy Scott-Smith, who took on the role of Head Gardener in 2013, is working to move the garden away from  pristine horticultural excellence back to a garden, which although demonstrating good horticulture, also has a more artistic feel such as it had in Vita’s time.  You can really see that there are areas where this has been achieved and other areas where it hasn’t quite got there.  Hardly surprising given Troy has only been post for two years.  I think I would like to visit again in say 2 or 3 years to see if Troy has been allowed to have his way and how the garden has developed.

 

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12 Comments Add yours

  1. Brian Skeys says:

    Tongue firmly in cheek Helen, will it take the first male gardener since Vita to give it that artistic feel of the time? I think Sarah Raven, when she and her husband Adam Nicholson, was living there tried to encourage a more relaxed feel about the planting with out much success I think.

    1. Brian Skeys says:

      I read today Helen they have employed Dan Pearson to advise Troy on trying to Re-Vita the garden.

    2. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Brian
      That sounds an exciting innovation, he would definitely bring a more relaxed feel to the garden

  2. Diana Studer says:

    Sissinghurst has a blog, which I follow with interest. I can’t visit, but I can enjoy ‘gardening’ with them and appreciate the conversation in their comments.

  3. Yvone Ryan says:

    My favourite photo the photo the lovely frothy roses! Too early for roses when I was there but the bonus was that I saw the bluebells out in the countryside, and rape was flowering so very pretty even tho’ a bit smelly – also as I said before montana rubens clematis entwined with wisterieas. Every season has its treasures! Look up the south Island photos of snowy landscapes and hore frost laden tress – breathtakingly beautiful and have had minus 20 dedgee days! We are a balmy 12 which is cold but clear and sunny Auckland!

  4. I loved the photo album and this is a garden I would put on my “must spend the day and see” list…You did a wonderful job of walking me through.

  5. Chloris says:

    It is still one of my favourite gardens. The rose garden in June is pure heaven. Lovely photos.

  6. homeslip says:

    I’m so pleased you enjoyed Sissinghurst Helen, and took away some ideas for your own garden. And good you arrived early. Often the time of year and circumstances determine our response to a garden, so I should probably give Dixter another go, but when we were passing within a mile or two earlier this year my husband refused to get any closer and we carried on to Sissinghurst. Not that tea and cake and the chance to stretch our legs walking around the lakes and wood pasture had any bearing on this decision you understand! I’ll be visiting again on 6 July and already I’m looking forward to seeing the roses. (I bought R. Lavender Lassie yesterday, such is the effect of blogging!) Even Adam Nicolson, her grandson, said a few years ago in his book “Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History” that Vita would barely recognise the “exquisite” gardens today so I’m pleased to see that they are in the process of moving away from “horticultural excellence” (leave that to the RHS) to a more romantic and naturalistic feel. One final point, for me garden visiting is about the story, the narrative, something you get in bucket loads when visiting most private gardens and this is something I am pleased to see being introduced at many NT places. Polesden Lacey, my local, is a very good example of this story-telling but maybe more on this another time.

  7. I think frame of mind matters more in response to a garden than a house in these cases. I’m glad the White Garden detached you a bit from your car troubles!

  8. Anna says:

    I was wondering how you fared at Sissinghurst Helen. I’m sorry to hear that the day did not get off to the best of starts with car worries. I’m with you on that patch of yellow planting – it needs some softer shades included. The rose garden looks stunning and must have smelt divine. I wonder what they are feeding those alliums on!

  9. Jean says:

    This post got me looking at my own photos of Sissinghurst, taken during a visit almost 20 years ago. I, too, took many photos of the passages from one room to the next and of the rose garden. Being head gardener at Sissinghurst must be quite a challenge, trying to negotiate among the pressures to maintain the garden as “Vita and Harold museum,” as an exemplar of “horticultural excellence,” and as a living, breathing garden. Your post made me want to visit again.

  10. Thank you Helen! I was curious to see how this garden looks in June. I visited it in May 2014, and some gardens weren’t in their prime yet, especially white and rose gardens.
    It’s interesting how our mind compares different gardens (even if we are not intended to do that). I visited Hidcote Manor garden in May 2015 and couldn’t stop noticing: I saw this in Sissinghurst…. this is familiar… it looks like such and such place in Sissingurst, etc. I should admit that I was impressed with Sissinghurst more than with Hidcote – I believe because Sissinghurst was the first I saw and I had nothing to compare it with.Both gardens are beautiful, and I loved them both, but, for me, in Sissinghurst, it was that element of surprise, discovery and unpreparedness.
    I would like to return to both gardens, but only after visiting all the others, including Great Dixter.
    Thanks again!

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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