We just got back from a wonderful trip to England. We went to London and Chippingham, Wiltshire, which is just outside of Bath. Because there's so much to share about the trip, I thought I would write three blog posts. One on English gardens, one on London highlights, and one on London bookstores. So here goes, number one -- Gardens!
There's nothing like going to England in June if you like gardens. Everything is in bloom and the roses are prolific. English gardens are filled with a poetry that is created by so many iconic features. Sweet peas growing on a trellis, hedged enclosures, old garden gates, weathered benches, burbling fountains, and ancient stone walls. These are storybook gardens. For me there is no more quintessential feature in an English garden than roses climbing on a brick wall. It doesn't hurt if that wall has the patina of age which you can pretty much count on in England. Some of these walls even date from the Elizabethan era! Here are the glorious gardens we saw on our trip.
1. Sissinghurst Castle Garden
Sissinghurst Castle Garden is the creation of the English writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband the diplomat Harold Nicolson. In 1930 they bought a dilapidated Elizabethan castle in Kent and set about restoring it. Everyone thought they were crazy but Vita was enchanted by the idea of restoring a castle. They decided to create a garden on the property and it has become one of England's most famous gardens. This was my second visit to Sissinghurst and once again I was struck by its romantic quality. I understood why Vita was so smitten with the old brick structures, fell in love with their romance and history, and dreamt of having a garden there. As they restored the castle they also began to design the garden. She and Harold envisioned a series of garden "rooms" separated by hedging and stone walls. And within this structure they planted a riotous jumble of plants. It was an English country garden in an organized system. The contrast of formality and looseness makes this garden very special. And the roses! By 1953 there were at least 194 different roses growing at Sissinghurst. Vita especially loved the old roses. Their history, their colors, and their evocative names appealed to her imagination. The first rose she and Harold planted was Madame Alfred Carriere and it still survives today. If there is one highlight at Sissinghurst -- the thing that everyone wants to see and searches for -- it is the White Garden which is beautiful and slightly ethereal. This place is a dreamscape!
It's a steep climb to the top of the tower on a very narrow staircase but well worth it to see the glorious views at the top. You will see Vita's writing room on the second floor. I was touched by the photo of Virginia Woolf on her desk. The room is very cozy with a fireplace and books spilling out of bookshelves. A Persian carpet covers the floor. The spirit of Vita lives on in that room.
By the way, Sissinghurst was relatively uncrowded on a Thursday afternoon in early June.
2. Lucknam Park
We decided to go to Bath for a couple of days in the middle of our trip and stay at Lucknam Park, a beautiful hotel six miles from Bath in Chippingham, Wiltshire. I was celebrating one of those big birthdays and this seemed like a very special place for a celebration. An18th-century manor house set amid many acres of parkland, this place has it all -- gardens, a spa, cooking classes, tennis courts, an equestrian center, and a great restaurant. Since we were there for just two days, we mostly hung out -- walked, relaxed, read, had afternoon tea, and soaked up the beauty of the place!
It was a great decision as this place is amazing! Over half the house is open to the public with the Shelburne family living in the remainder. It was built in the 18th-century and Capability Brown landscaped the extensive grounds.
Which include a lake, two streams, and a forest of trees. Close to the house are the famous flower-filled terraces and majestic boxwood yews.
Next up, London Highlights!