Sissinghurst Gardens, iconic destination and one of the best known gardens in the UK. Visiting in Autumn will give you so many inspiring ideas for planning your garden for next year.
The Journey to Sissinghurst
Setting off on a glorious warm and sunny late September morning, the drive through Kent was beautiful. The orchards are laden with apples and pears, the vines heavy with hops and the hedgerows full of jewel-like berries and bird song. It’s hard to believe that in just one hour from Central London, I’m immersed in a landscape so quintessentially English. Kent has long been known as The Garden of England – this is H.E.Bates country…
Sissinghurst Castle and Garden
Now run by The National Trust, Sissinghurst was bought as an estate by Harold Nicholson and Vita Sackville-West in 1932. They moved here from Long Barn (also in Kent), after they fell in love with the estate and so began their journey to create this spectacularly romantic garden.
The Sissinghurst Tower and houses are still partially surrounded by the original moat which dates back to Saxon times. A magnificent courtyard house was built in the late 1500’s and there are several buildings still remaining from the Tudor period. The current house, tower and gardens remain at the heart of the estate which now operates as a working farm. Sheep, cattle and pigs are kept and there are woodland and lake walks, to explore the farm beyond the garden walls. Visiting in late September, the orchards are luscious with apples, crab apples and pears. The hives are buzzing and there is an atmosphere of end of summer lazy days, perfect for a gentle stroll around a garden revealing its hidden secrets.
Sissinghurst’s Garden ‘Rooms’
Flanked by the original stables (long since converted to ‘the library’) the gardens open up slowly and mysteriously. Constructed as a collection of garden rooms, there is a maze like quality to their discovery. The enormous Yew hedges trimmed to right angle perfection, lead you from one ‘room’ to the next. Wrought iron gateways and Tudor timber doorways, entice you through secluded, ancient walled gardens.
There are many perfectly placed vantage points – Lutyens benches, shady pergolas, ancient stone ledges, inviting you to perch and rest and appreciate the profusion and abundant planting. The constant humming of pollinators and singing birds is a reminder of how a garden should sound.
For gardeners and garden designers, Sissinghurst is an inspirational destination and testament to the partnership of Harold and Vita. Harold provided the architectural design and landscaping and Vita the planting, the resulting garden is a delight for the senses.
The Creation Of Sissinghurst Garden
Vita Sackville-West was a writer, poet and renowned member of ‘The Bloomsbury Set’ and it was only after her marriage to Harold Nicholson that she began gardening in earnest, when they began working together on the garden at Long Barn. It was during the creation of the garden at Sissinghurst, that Vita began writing a popular gardening column for The Observer, which she continued to write for many years. Vita had definite rules which she employed in her garden at Sissinghurst –
- If it doesn’t work, change it!
- Plant for colour (her White Garden is a triumph and is probably the best known colour themed garden in the world)
- Plant seasonally (to create interest throughout the year)
- Let informality have its place and celebrate self-seeding.
Armed with these tenets, Sissinghurst Gardens took shape. It sounds easy to achieve but the infinitesimal possibilities are daunting. Vita had an artist’s eye for colour, texture and interesting combinations and through her weekly column, extolled her favourites and latest discoveries to her avid readers.
Harold and Vita had total freedom over their planting and her ‘if it doesn’t work change it’ philosophy, certainly did give her the freedom to experiment with often delightful and sometimes chaotic results. Whilst walking around Sissinghurst today, it’s clear that many visitors are drawn here to discover new possibilities. Small groups huddle over particular plants or plant combinations, capturing their blooms, foliage and nameplates on smartphones for further research and discussion. Architectural design ideas are appreciated and are transposed in their minds-eye to other settings.
The White Garden
One of Vita’s most renowned designs was the creation of The White Garden, referred to by her, as more like her Grey, Green and White Garden. Even at this late stage of the year The White Garden looks beautiful with delicate swathes of misty white blooms swaying in the breeze. Cosmos Purity, white Lavatera and white Antirrhinums are still flowering profusely. The red brick walls are draped with white rambling roses, White Wisteria, Clematis and Evergreen Star Jasmine. Even the butterflies obliged – only Cabbage Whites were fluttering by…
Enclosed, private and secluded, in the farthest corner, a pergola covered in Wisteria Alba next to a Fig tree shelters a wooden dining table with benches and chairs – it’s easy to imagine Vita and Harold with the papers and afternoon tea, surveying and planning these beautiful gardens.
The Orchard and Nuttery
Do visit the orchard and nuttery – follow the moat towards Harold’s writing gazebo, the orchard will open up to you. So many varieties of apples, pears and crab apple trees, a beautiful Campsis with pea shaped pods climbing the walls, intertwined with Wisteria. Beyond are the beech hedges and bee hives, through the lime tree walk, past the enormous fig tree brings you full circle, stroll back through the labyrinth of garden rooms to the main house.
If you are feeling energetic – climb the 78 steps to the top of the 16th century tower, glimpse Vita’s study along the way. At the top, you will be rewarded with panoramic views across the Kent countryside.
At the exit of the gardens, a pleasant café, shop and exhibition space await you – if you can’t bear to leave immediately. The weather was far too lovely for me to linger – off to the Kent country lanes for more exploring…
How To Get There…
For details of opening times visit The National Trust information for Sissinghurst here >>
Sissinghurst Castle and Gardens
Biddenden Road, Cranbrook, Kent TN17 2AB
There are too many books to mention about Sissinghurst… however, you may be interested in Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst: The Creation of a Garden by Sarah Raven, (gardener and wife of Adam Nicholson – Vita and Harold’s grandson). It includes many of Vita’s articles for her Observer column and a wealth of information on the creation of the garden.
Paramount Plants specialises in mature trees, shrubs and plants and many of the plants growing in the Sissinghurst Garden are included in our collection, all our plants are for sale online – view our plants to buy online here >>
Our expert team are here to help – please contact us by email and it does help to send us images, if you need recommendations and advice for your outside space.