Sissinghurst Part Two


This is the second half of the story about our visit to Sissinghurst Castle Gardens during a recent trip to England with co-innocent broad abroad, Gail. Our tour guide and hostess is the delightful Victoria. Need to catch up? Go back to the beginning of the Sissinghurst photo essay by clicking here-Sissinghurst Part One. Continuing where we left off with the Pulsatilla vulgaris, we still wish to grow this plant at home.


Black parrot tulips rise amidst what looks to be Aquilegia of some sort. Tulips were well represented in all of the English gardens we visited. Parrots are a type never tried before here, but these would look splendid in the black garden, the Aquilegias are already in place. Maybe they will be given a chance this fall. Note to self: Self, make sure to place them with nice backlighting.


Opening after opening repeats the theme mentioned in part one about how this garden is designed to reveal surprises at each entrance and turn. There is an axis, very precise to line everything up properly, very geometric.


One cannot fathom the amount of pruning and trimming needed to keep this garden looking ship shape. The handbook mentioned a weekly combing by staff, removing any spent blooms or errant twigs. The results speak to that high maintenance. The espaliered apple tree, or is it pear? runs parallel to the hedge tops. How do they keep it so level, she wonders with camera slightly askew? (Celebrity sighting: the lady in the brown duster is Scottish actress Phyllida Law, mother of actress Emma Thompson.)


The Lime Walk, also known as The Spring Garden was a recognizable discovery. This view is featured in many garden books and magazine articles that have been collected and studied over the years. Seeing it in reality caused yet again the need for an arm pinch to make sure it wasn’t a dream.


The Lime Walk is improved with the addition of Victoria and Gail.


Next we step through the hedges to go inside the Cottage Garden.

“Don’t be misled by the name”, says the purchased Sissinghurst handbook. “As the garden writer Tony Lord has said, ‘This is as much a cottage garden as Marie-Antoinette was a milkmaid’.”

The ‘sunset’ theme of hot colors and jam packed plantings is maintained as the tulips, wallflowers, aquilegias and arctotis of spring are switched out to the verbascums, red hot pokers, cannas, crocosmias and dahlias of summer.

I want this.


The Cottage Garden improved…


Times two. The climbing rose on the cottage is R. Mme Alfred Carriere’ (known to Harold as ‘Mrs. Alfonso’s Career’). It was the first thing they planted at Sissinghurst, on May 6, 1930, the day their offer to buy was accepted.


The Green Man guards the doorway of the South Cottage, which is in fact a fragment of the Elizabethan manor house that had fallen into ruin for over three hundred years when Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson purchased it in the 1930s. The gardens were rebuilt according to the grand plan of Harold to create classical elegance, mixed with the romantic profusion of Vita’s creative spirit. That double principle exists still.


Seen at the Malvern Floral arcade and several other gardens we visited, this Carex elata ‘Aurea’, also known as Bowle’s Golden Sedge was added to the must have list. It was found at our local nursery Mouse Creek and is now growing here at the Fairegarden, we are quite pleased to say. Will it ever look like this? Who knows, but it is the vision. Forever the optimist.


Veratrum album en masse was seen and noted. This plant was highlighted in a recently perused issue of Gardens Illustrated. Seeing the new to us plant and recognizing it from the magazine added to the enjoyment of the Sissinghurst experience. The leaves are like a hosta that was left in an overstuffed clothes dryer too long after the final buzzer sounded.


In the Herb Garden we find this bench, made by Jack Copper, the chauffeur, after World War II from old fragments of the Elizabethan manor house. The middle sign reads: Please do not sit here. The corner sign identifies the planting as Chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile.


The central marble bowl had been brought back from Constantinople where the Nicolsons lived when first married. Harold was a junior diplomat in the embassy, and it was there that Vita had cultivated her first garden. We found the paving around the bowl set on edge to be incredibly beautiful. Flowers, were there flowers there? We didn’t notice, too busy looking at the hardscape. (Added: When we saw the paving on edge, we thought immediately of Pam at Digging’s sunburst path around her stock tank in Austin, Texas.)


The Moat Walk, edged on one side by a bank of deciduous yellow azaleas, be still my heart!, and an elegant Elizabethan wall that was discovered under rubbish and brambles when a gardener’s pick struck it several weeks after Vita and Harold first arrived. The azaleas were originally an explosion of many colors before reverting back to the gold of the rootstock.


On the other side of the wall white wisteria flowers over the top, ready to spill its frothy foam down over the ancient wall. This area was my favorite of the whole garden. It might have been that the row of azaleas coloured the vision however.


There were other parts of this garden that were also delightful, including The Nuttery which was a sea of light green, yellow and white flowers and ferny foliage under a plantation of Kentish cobnuts, a variety of hazel. The images were not of sufficient quality to be shown, but that garden was outstanding.

Thus ends the tour of Sissinghurst. Tea and refreshments were enjoyed indoors after checking out the offerings at this farmer’s market on the grounds. While sunny, the wind was casting a chill on these poor ladies selling luscious sweets. They needed lavender raincoats to block the wind.

There is one more garden to showcase with a summary of thoughts about the travels before we close the book on Two Innocents Abroad. Thank you all for joining in the travelogues, we love having your pleasant company and comments.

To view all posts from the trip to England, click on the links below. (There is a permanent page on the sidebar containing the links to the England posts as well. Click England Trip-Two Innocents Abroad to view it.)

Living A Dream-Meeting In Malvern

Touring With Friends-Ledbury And Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire

An English Country Garden-Stockton Bury

Batsford Arboretum With Victoria

Victoria’s Leap Of Faith

Sissinghurst Part One

Great Dixter-Finale

Frances

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22 Responses to Sissinghurst Part Two

  1. Edith Hope says:

    Dear Frances, I am so delighted that you enjoyed Sissinghurst so much on your recent visit to England as is clearly evident in your wonderful images and interesting, and amusing, commentary. This is a garden I have known all my life – briefly during Lady N’s final years and then so well during the stewardship of SK and PS, both of whom became very good and, of course, knowledgeable friends. It is, by any measure, a remarkable garden and a supreme achievement of two very talented people. Happily the National Trust continue to maintain it to the highest of standards.

    Hi Edith, so nice to see you here. Please accept my condolences on your loss. Sisssinghurst is a treasure, how nice that you know it and those who made and keep it so beautifully.
    Frances

  2. Hi Frances

    Lovely again. I’m sure your Bowles golden grass will get there if you keep it watered (it likes it damp), beautiful photos as ever, great tour, thanks

    Hi Rob, thanks. That is the problem with most of the plants admired while visiting England, they were in standing water! We manage to grow many carex varieties here even with our dry summers, they are quite adaptable, hoping Bowle’s is also flexible. It is located near the hose spigot for added watering opportunities. :-)
    Frances

  3. Frances, thank you for so many fabulous pictures of Sissinghurst. I really liked the fact that the azalea walk had reverted back to one colour, I found it a bit to “colourful” before, much more elegant now. Better start saving my pennies so I can go back.

    Thanks Deborah. We too are saving pennies to go back! Funny about how our opinions differ about the azaleas, I am sorry they reverted back to gold. We have sort of an Azalea Walk here with a total mix of colors, that’s what I like about it. Never one to be accused of elegance! :-)
    Frances

  4. Brilliant tour – really enjoyed it.

    Hi Phillip, thanks so much. That means a lot coming from one with such taste in gardens. :-)
    Frances

  5. gail says:

    My dear friend, It’s such a fantastic garden and your photos are wonderful~Really! I know I’ve said this before, but each photo takes me back to the garden with you and Victoria. I want to see Sissinghurst and GD again and again and if possible in every season. Must buy lottery tickets! The paeonia was stellar and let me know if you find a source! xxgail

    Hi Gail, thanks. It is too fun to go through these photos of our trip. They will be perused for years to come. If given only one choice, I believe fall would be a fine time to visit again. I wonder what the Brits would say about that idea? I will look for the peony and let you know. :-)
    xxxooo
    Frances

  6. Rose says:

    Frances, this is the next best thing to being there myself! This garden is definitely going on my “bucket list.” Thanks for such a wonderful tour. From what I’ve read, Vita and her husband had an unconventional marriage, to say the least, and their garden styles matched their personalities. Perhaps this clash between the formal, proper Englishman and the wild free spirit is what creates such an appealing garden. Of course, wouldn’t it be nice to have a staff of gardeners to make sure everything was properly pruned and deadheaded:)

    The refreshment ladies look quite uncomfortable–I hope you were staying warm and dry in your lavender raincoat:)

    Hi Rose, thanks. This is a garden that should be on every garden lovers list. I agree that it is the mix of formal with the free that is makes this place special. Just some help with pruning would be appreciate here, it is back breaking to bend to the position to trim the boxwood hedge around the knot garden. That is the only formal pruning job and it is dreaded each year although we love how it looks when done. My raincoat was perfect to block the wind. Inside the hedges and walls, the wind was not even noticed. That just goes to show what that such structures can make for a microclimate for plants as well as humans. :-)
    Frances

  7. Jenny B says:

    Like a good book, I am sorry to see this tour end. I was equally sorry to see that geometry was a key ingredient in this garden as well…sigh…oh well, I shall have to content myself with my willy nilly design scheme. ;-)

    Thanks, Jenny, there is one more garden we visited, Great Dixter, the next post up in the queue before it is over. We were sad when that day arrived as well, but were ready to go home. Even curves are geometry, aren’t they? :-)
    Frances

  8. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I am so glad you and Gail didn’t post at the same time. It is like getting two different tours even though you were there at the same time. Such fun. Such beauty and inspiration.

    Hi Lisa, thanks. Gail and I began posting the same visits but then mixed it up a bit. Glad you liked seeing the different perspectives. :-)
    Frances

  9. commonweeder says:

    This is a wonderful tour – and it brings back so many memories. One of my favorite places in the garden is The Lime Walk. Edith Wharton’s House The Mount in Lenox, Mass has gardens under renovation and it has a Lime Walk too.

    Thanks Pat. I used to think the Lime Walks were citrus trees, wondering how they could be growing in those places. lol I do like the idea of the way these trees are pruned to allow plantings underneath. Oh to have that kind of space, and level ground. :-)
    Frances

  10. Phillip says:

    Fantastic! Like you, I think my favorite is the Moat Walk although it is hard to choose a favorite.

    Thanks Phillip. It really is hard to choose. There were several gardens that the photos just were not up to snuff that were fabulous. There was something about the Moat Walk though, including my favorite flowers, the deciduous Azaleas. I was surprised to see them, I though English soil was too alkaline for them.
    Frances

  11. Joanne says:

    Great photos Frances of a lovely garden, the sun was shining for your visit and you clearly enjoyed yourselves.

    Thanks Joanne. It was loads of fun, the whole England trip and all the people we met. I do wish we could have met you as well. :-)
    Frances

  12. Linda Zoldoske says:

    Frances, I have so enjoyed your pictures of Malvern and the English gardens you visited! Thank you so much!

    Thank you Linda. I am so glad you liked seeing our travelogue. There is one last post about the visit to Great Dixter, coming Friday, if you’re interested. :-)
    Frances

  13. Another wonderful tour! Love that Carex (I don’t have that one, but others are great performers). Isn’t it wonderful to step back in time, in history, in another garden?

    Thanks for sharing with us.

    Hi Cameron, thanks. It does seem like stepping backwards to another era whilst visiting these gardens. We have had good luck with most carex even though our soil is not moist. They seem to be forgiving of that once established.
    Frances

  14. What a wonderful time you had!! You found things that were also right up your ‘back alley,’ I’d say!! ;-) Thanks for sharing your inspiration, Frances.

    Thanks Shady, it was an amazing trip. We are always on the lookout for ideas and new plants to be used here, of course. :-)
    Frances

  15. Gardening says:

    Hi Frances, what a wonderful post! The photographs are conveying how you enjoyed the tour. Like Cameron I don’t have carex, but I love it. Is this the last post about your tour?

    Thanks for stopping by and glad you liked the tour. There is one more garden, Great Dixter, to be featured.
    Frances

  16. Linda says:

    Frances, I am highjacking this thread to ask about your Prairie Smoke. How is it doing? I live in the really deep South so are you aware of a plant that is similar that can take my heat and humidity?

    Highjack, away, Linda. I have not mentioned the PS because it is not doing all that great. The foliage looks good, but it has not grown a whole lot and the flowers/seed heads kind of melted before becoming smokes. I am giving it more time in the ground, the plants were quite small from High Country Gardens last year. Other geums do okay, but nothing at all like the way they looked in England. Our climate might be too warm for them all, or something. I thought the Pulsatilla might work here, but can’t get it going from seed and never see plants for sale but will buy it if I ever see it. I don’t know of any perennial that has that same look but the purple smoke tree/bush, Cotinus does has smokes here that are pretty cool. Hope that helps. :-)
    Frances

  17. Sigh. Absolutely gorgeous. So happy you got to “live the dream.” I will get there one day. :)

    Thanks Andrea and welcome. That is exactly it, living the dream. May you also get to do that. :-)
    Frances

  18. Loved the quote about the milkmaid. And, of course, now I think a water feature is just silly. And, far too American. I need a moat! :) You gals had such a marvelous time… I’ve enjoyed reading your ‘diary.’

    Thanks so much, Kate. Yes, a moat! We all need a moat! With an Azalea walk beside it, and an ancient wall with perfectly pruned Wisteria…. Oh to dream. :-)
    Frances

  19. Pam/Digging says:

    Hmm, that paving set on edge around the bowl from Constantinople reminds me of paving that inspired me at Chanticleer, which led to my sunburst path around the stock-tank pond. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to know that Sissinghurst inspired the gardeners of Chanticleer, and it just trickled down from there.

    I immediately thought of your path and the one at Chanticleer when seeing this, Pam. If I can get my act together I will insert a link in this post to yours. (Link now added to the post). Nice to know about the heritage of it. :-)
    Frances

  20. Eileen says:

    Oh, those gardens are fabulous! The hedges are something were see rarely in the (US?).

    Eileen

    Thanks Eileen. Those sorts of ancient hedges, and buildings were indeed something that do not exist here in the US.
    Frances

  21. Chookie says:

    I have enjoyed your English garden tours very much! Your photos are beautiful!

    Thanks Chookie, I am so glad you enjoyed these stories. :-)
    Frances

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