Sissinghurst Gardens – an inspirational visit

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…

Yew tree entrance to Sissinghurst Gardens, with Lavender hedging
Yew Tree with low Lavender hedging, at the entrance to Sissinghurst Gardens

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.

Clipped Yew Hedging as green walls at Sissinghurst gardens
16th Century Tower at Sissinghurst Gardens with Yew Hedging


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.

Archway through walled gardens, climbing plants and herbaceous borders at Sissinghurst gardens
Archway in walled gardens, clothed in climbers, lead you through the garden ‘rooms’ at Sissinghurst

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.

Lutyens bench and box hedging parterre at Sissinghurst gardens
Lutyens bench offering a fabulous vantage point to sit and contemplate the garden at Sissinghurst


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.

Flowering perennials and shrubs in September at Sissinghurst Gardens
Flowering perennials and shrubs in September at Sissinghurst Gardens


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 famous White Garden, white flowering perennials at Sissinghurst Gardens
The famous White Garden at Sissinghurst Gardens
The White Garden borders and climbing plants at Sissinghurst Castle
The White Garden borders at Sissinghurst Castle
The pergola and seating areas in The White Garden, Sissinghurst
The pergola and seating areas, shaded by a Fig Tree and Wisteria in The White Garden, Sissinghurst

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.

The orchard, nuttery and bee hives at Sissinghurst Gardens in Kent
The orchard, nuttery and bee hives at Sissinghurst in Kent


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…

Flowers in bloom in September at Sissinghurst Gardens
Flowers in bloom in September at Sissinghurst Gardens


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

Sixteenth century tower at Sissinghurst Gardens
Sixteenth century tower at Sissinghurst Gardens


Further Reading
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.

Gardens With Seating Areas

People create and maintain their gardens for many different reasons but relaxation is surely near the top of the list. As a retreat for relaxation and contemplation, peaceful gardens with seating areas are a ‘must have’ component in our view.
Whether your garden design is on a grand scale or perhaps a tiny courtyard or roof terrace, with a bit of thought, you can create an oasis of calm by using clever planting and screening for privacy.
Here we are showcasing some of our favourite garden seating area designs, some are images we’ve collected ourselves during our travels to inspiring gardens and others have been sent to us by happy customers. There is surely something here to inspire your creativity whilst planning your outside space. Read more Gardens With Seating Areas

Blue Flowering Shrubs

Blue Themed Garden?
Whether you’re tempted to create a blue colour themed garden, or wish to provide continuity of colour through the seasons, choosing plants and shrubs by colour alone is sometimes a necessary requirement.  The coolness of blue flowering shrubs can be a foil, for hot contrasting colours such as yellow or orange, or will create an elegant understated design, when used with white and silver leaved plants and shrubs. Here, we’ve chosen some of our absolute favourite blue flowering shrubs, for their depth of colour and fragrance and it’s therefore no co-incidence that these shrubs will attract many pollinators into your garden. Read more Blue Flowering Shrubs

Inspirational Gardens – Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore, Italy

Inspirational Gardens – Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore, Italy
Inspirational Gardens – Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore, Italy – approach from Stresa

Magically situated, surrounded by the deep blue waters of Lake Maggiore, the gardens on the Island of Isola Bella, Borromeo family residence, is one of Italy’s most inspirational destinations and a fine example of the Italian baroque garden. Impossibly romantic and breathtakingly beautiful, the gardens of Isola Bella (which means Beautiful Island) are an absolute joy. Read more Inspirational Gardens – Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore, Italy