Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Garden Memories

Now that March is almost here, I am getting excited for the arrival of Spring and spending some inspiring and peaceful time in the garden.  Many garden tours will be happening all over the country in the months to come and one of the most anticipated is the Robinson Gardens Tour here in Los Angeles. But right now I am obsessed with the gardens of England that I saw on a recent Garden Tour of the English countryside.  I was enchanted by the gorgeous English gardens that I visited, especially the one at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent and looking at these images takes me there again and fills me with the promise of Spring.  Come with me as I visit one of the most amazing gardens in England created by the legendary writer and gardener Vita Sackville-West.

In the distance, the Tower at Sissinghurst Castle where Vita wrote every morning and evening after gardening all day

How romantic --  the idea of discovering an abandoned castle that dates from the mid-sixteenth century, falling in love with it and spending years restoring it.  This is what English writer Vita Sackville-West decided to do when she found Sissisnghurst Castle in the county of Kent on April 3, 1930.  She lost her heart to this romantic ruin and purchased it.

Sissinghurst Castle

Vita had never recovered from that fact that due to being a woman she had been unable to inherit her ancestral home Knole, where she had spent her childhood.  Vita had grown up at Knole, a huge fifteenth-century palace spread over seven and a half acres and located in beautiful Kent.   It was called the "calendar house" because it included 4 square towers, 100 fireplaces, 52 staircases, and 365 rooms.  It was in the Knole chapel that she married her husband Harold Nicolson in 1913. This ancient estate had been in the family for hundreds of years.   Knole was Vita's passion and she was devastated when she lost it.  Instead of going to Vita, the only child of Lord Sackville, Knole went to Vita's male cousin -- sound familiar?  This ancestral home that she lost was Vita's "Downton Abbey."

And so she filled the void with the purchase and restoration of Sissinghurst Castle.  When the project was complete, she and her husband Harold Nicolson set about creating the magnificent gardens on the grounds of this estate. Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of Sissinghurst are the "Garden Rooms," enclosures of different themed plantings that allow an intimacy and formality as you wander from one garden room to another.  If you are ever in this part of England, especially in the month of June, do not miss this very special place, one of the most gorgeous you will ever see.  

A view of the gardens from the Tower
The "garden rooms" can be clearly seen from this aerial view

And from another angle

 The White Garden

 More garden beauty at Sissinghurst...

Vita was a well-respected writer and wrote many excellent books, including "All Passion Spent" which I wrote about here.  Her book "The Edwardians" was a celebration of her nostalgia for Knole and a bestseller.  The money she made from it allowed her to buy Sissinghurst.   But she is probably most famous for the gardens she created at Sissinghurst. She was considered a renowned authority on gardens and wrote gardening articles for the London "Observer" for fifteen years.  It seems that nothing brought her greater joy than the paradise she created at Sissinghurst.   Perhaps it is her greatest legacy.

Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West at Sissinghurst in 1960
Photo via here

If  you visit be sure to allow enough time to walk all around this glorious property.  You may even be able to imagine Vita striding about the grounds in her riding pants tucked into high boots, often with a long string of pearls dangling from her neck.  She would be surveying the gardens and evaluating what needed to be done next.  Her ancestral love of land found its full expression at Sissinghurst Castle and she was determined to protect it from "any builder-aggressor" and save it for future generations.   


  1. You've seen such beautiful things!!!

  2. Love your posting today - even saved it to my garden file. I've never been to Sissinghurst, have several friends who have, and I long to go. Your images were so lovely. While not a substitute for being there, they did allay my longing - a bit. Thanks so much.

  3. What lovely photos! I've been reading lots and lots of gardening books lately and, no surprise, Sissinghurst is mentioned in almost all of them. I'm now more eager than ever to visit it!

  4. Great castle! I love your blog, Sunday—not to mention your introductory photo! I’ve added Ciao Domenica to my list of favorite blogs, and have also tagged you—see http://writingwithlight-bonnard3.blogspot.com/2012/02/ive-been-tagged.html for details if you choose to participate; otherwise I hope you won’t mind my having directed a few more visitors your way! And please feel free to visit/follow/comment on Writing with Light if you feel so inclined. I, too, try to share the joys of life with others, in words and images. Best,

  5. Can you believe I've never read any Vita Sackville-West? I just checked our library website and they have neither All Passion Spent nor The Edwardians. Horrors! I guess I'll have to place an interlibrary loan request.

    Sissinghurst looks magnificent. It's going on my to-visit list. I don't know if we'll make it to Kent this year, but hopefully we will sometime in the near future!

  6. Sunday, we could have been there at the same time, our photos look identical! Such a spectacular place...I missed getting inside Sissinghurst Caste and hope to do it on my return trip this Spring. Can't wait! Charleston after that...I am counting the days till the houses open again. :) xx

  7. Gorgeous and inspiring! I need a castle in which to create!

  8. So beautiful. Looking forward to my 3 generation Robinson Garden Tour this year again this year. The perfect Mother's Day gift for my mom!

  9. Many thanks for this wonderful post on Vita Sackville-West and her legacy as it lives on in Sissinghurst!

    I've also been wanting to thank you for the lovely comment you left on my London post a couple of weeks ago. I was so touched to learn that you own a copy of Close and Affectionate Friends! Todd was still in graduate school when he wrote it and curated the exhibition, and the experience helped establish for him a life of studying British Modernism, in general, and the Bloomsbury Group, in particular. We are always excited to meet other folks who share our passion for that brilliant group of friends.

    Your blog is beautiful. What a pleasure to visit you here!

    x Gigi

  10. Oh - just lovely! Love english gardens. So longing for spring here in Stockholm

  11. Beautiful pictures reminding us that spring is truly in the air. I like the fact that Vita wasn't above kneeling down and doing the weeding herself!

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