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Gardens to Visit: Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent

I fell in love with the gardens of Sissinghurst half a lifetime ago. I was captivated by the borders, bowled over by the profusion of colour and form, enraptured by the romance of the place. Surrounding a hotchpotch of ancient buildings that struggle to conform to our understanding of the words “house” or “home”, these gardens are the work of Vita Sackville West and her husband Harold Nicolson, Highly individualistic in life and art, Vita moved among the Bloomsbury Group of artists and thinkers, Harold was a politician and diarist. Both with rich and colourful, not to say scandalous private lives, they came together in the creation of this wonderful garden.

Wherein lies its charm

Visiting as I did for the first time on a warm summer’s day, what struck me was the voluptuousness of the planting, and the clever use of colour, sometimes brash, other times subtle. The white garden, set against the rich auburn bricks of The Priest’s House is a haven of calm; the arbour drips with a profusion of Rosa Mulliganii blooms, white lilies and delphiniums peep out from among the more permanent planting of shrubby potentilla and artemisia. Meanwhile, the south garden is a riot of reds and oranges, reflecting the sunset colours of the Kentish sky.

Sissinghurst Castle Garden

It all looks so effortless and yet Vita and Harold were essentially amateurs, learning the craft of garden creation as they went along. Harold was the one who created the structure, the bones of the garden onto which Vita created her planting schemes and colour palettes. Her gardens were well tended but she was ruthless – if something was in the wrong place or was not doing well, she would yank it out and try again. In contrast, a self sown plants would be allowed to remain – the right plant in the right place.

Sissinghurst Castle Garden

In winter it is Harold’s contribution that shines: the grass circles and classical squares, the paths that draw the eye, the structures that draw the eye upwards, the arcade and the pergola.

Sissinghurst is now managed by the National Trust.

Sissinghurst Castle Garden


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