The gardens surrounding Sissinghurst Castle are some of the most famous in the world. They are the creation of Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson, who called Sissinghurst their home from 1930 into the 1960s. Harold was the brains behind the basic layout of the garden. I’ve read that he used their sons as stand-ins for the larger trees and shrubs, having him stand in various places to try and envision the final result. I’ve used that technique myself and it works quite well.
The bones of the garden are so mature by now, it is hard to imagine the downtrodden condition the property was in when Vita and Harold first moved in. That’s probably one of the reasons Vita and the plantings she designed to flesh out Harold’s structure, get so much of the buzz. To be fair, they are scrumptious, although I’m told they weren’t quite so exquisite during Vita’s tenure. Former head gardeners Pam Schwerdt and Sibylle Kreutzberger are credited with spiffing things up considerably.
Sissinghurst isn’t just a pretty garden. It’s a pretty influential garden. The distinct garden “rooms”1, the herbal seat2, and the often imitated white garden3 have inspired gardeners who have never even seen Sissinghurst first hand. It’s not hard to see why. But within the gardens are dozens of more subtle charms.
My yard is not large enough for a clipped hedge maze, but a bowl of succulents4 played into my recent fascination with these plants. My version5 is not on a pedestal, but it delights me just the same on my back porch. You just never know what will catch your fancy on a garden visit. I toured a castle and took away small bowl full of memories.
Visit the National Trust’s Sissinghurst Site