Thursday, August 26, 2010

Great Gardens

Sissinghurst Castle
One of my very favorite gardens has to be the great Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, England. It was once the private home of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson in the 1930s and has been in the care of the National Trust since 1967. Sissinghurst found it's name with a first mention in 1180 as the home of Stephen de Saxingherste. It had a long storied history until Sackville-West and Nicolson found it in 1930 in a state of ruin. Over the years they transformed it into one of the foremost gardens in England. I was first privileged to visit it in 2001. I was staying in London and to get there I had to take first the subway, then a train, then a bus and finally had to walk the final mile to the castle. I met a woman on the bus who showed me a short cut through some hop fields to avoid the roads. Unfortunately that year was one of the wettest in England's history (and THAT'S saying something) and to get through the hop fields we had to wade through ankle deep mud at thick that I'm convinced if we hesitated at any point we would have never been able to extricate ourselves from the ooze. Just when I was wondering if this was all worth it, we came out to the entrance of Sissinghurst and saw the looming and famous tower in the distance.

The Tower was the domain of Vita Sackville-West, a renown author and poet of her day,  she immortalized her tower in a sonnet, Absence, written in 1931:
"No lights are burning in the ivory tower
Like a tall lily in the moonlight risen"

The entrance arch to the courtyard is covered with red roses (Allen Chandler) and pink roses (Gloire de Dijon)

No matter where you go in the gardens, the tower is always a looming presence.

To get a feel for the length and breath of the gardens at Sissinghurst, you must climb the tower and see them from above...well worth the climb because the views are breathtaking. To the right you can see the White Garden, this was taken in June, before the canopy of Rosa mulliganii had come into bloom.

This gives you just a glimmer of the lushness of the White Garden...and I loved having this older British lady in the picture, she just fits.

Looking to the south is the view of the Rondel circle, designed and named to reflect the traditional name and shape of Kentish oasthouse floors, where hops would lie in mounds.

The view of the Orchard from the Tower. In spring the Orchard is filled with daffodils, that must be some sight.

Seen here is the Rose Garden. From the beginning the Nicolson's insisted Sissinghurst to be filled with roses. The curved wall to the right is called Powys Wall after it's designer A.R. Powys.

As important as the selection of the roses in the garden are the companion plants, chosen both to complement the roses and to extend the season of the display.

From the Rose Garden you can see the South Cottage.

The South Cottage is picturesque and tiny, and was considered the Nicolsons' private sitting-room. It was at the South Cottage that the gardening day for Vita and Harold, began and ended. The chair Harold Nicolson used to sit in, still remains where it was in his day. 

Outside the South Cottage was a cottage garden, small and intimate and filled with all the plants you'd expect in an English cottage garden.

The Lime Walk: the lime trees were originally planted in 1932 but were replaced in 1974 when the original common limes became too troublesome to maintain. Tilia x euchlora was chosen as a suitable alternative to the common lime because of it's lack of suckers, glossy leaves and a more moderate growth pattern.

Of all the beautiful gardens present at Sissinghurst, this little spot, tucked into a corner of the Cottage Garden is my favorite. This particular area is damp and shady and has been much patched and roughly mortared over the years. The lead tank with it's pattern of Tudor roses, is filled with Fuschsia tryphylla.

Sadly Sissinghurst Castle's success has also been to it's detriment. When I first visited in 2001 there were a moderate amount of people and no congestion whatsoever. On my last visit in 2003 the difference was overwhelming...very congested, lots of people milling about and certainly not as enjoyable because of the crowds. I have heard since that visiting days have now been limited because the crowds have led to damage and the villagers have complained because of all the traffic. I am just thankful that I was able to visit before it became TOO popular.

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