Sissinghurst Part One

Sissinghurst. The name says it all. Mystery and romance. The renowned garden of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. Home of the world famous white garden, the white Wisteria was just coming into bloom when we visited. (For facts and figures and reliable information, click on the link to the National Trust site for this fascinating place here.)

It was the last day of our mid May garden visit in England before returning home to Tennessee. Fellow innocent abroad Gail and I were being escorted by the vivacious Victoria, of hair clippie fame to this most famous of gardens. The sun was brightly shining. For a change. This is the entrance. (Note the four nineteenth century bronze urns which Vita’s mother had inherited from the Wallace Collection in Paris). Please come along and we will show you what we saw. It was fairly bustling with visitors, so there will sometimes be folks in the photos that we do not know, please excuse our temerity in not getting permission. There is a lot to see, even breaking it into two posts there are many photos. It is hoped you will gobble up, or hoover as the Brits say, the experience, as did we.

Along the inner walls of the Top Courtyard, the first garden seen after coming through the entranceway arch were walkways around the perimeter featuring stone troughs, they call them sinks, on brick pedestals with a calm, quiet lawn in the middle. Tulipa batalini ‘Bronze Charm’ glistened in the clear light. Others were planted with Auriculas and other delicacies, changed throughout the year.

At the feet of one of the series of stone sinks were exuberant wallflowers, Erysimum ‘Chelsea Jacket’. The signage at this garden was outstanding, name tags for most plantings were discreet but visible.

The main walk led us to the Tower.

We climbed the winding steps inside the turret. It was a trial, but the people coming down the spiral staircase all said, “It’s worth the effort!” (This photo was taken looking upwards inside the spiral of the carpentry involved.) Onward.

Along the winding stairs, a window with a beatiful view was passed, but the eye catcher was her name in tile on the sill. Hmmm, motor turning inside cerebrum….Fairegarden in cobalt letter tiles cast in hypertufa…. Onward.

The summit was reached, after peering into Vita’s workroom on the first floor above the open passageway that was furnished with her belongings, a glimpse into her private world. Outside, lichen on the shingles attested to the air quality, as did the color of the sky.

It was a bit breezy.

The view from the Tower of the South Cottage and Rose Garden. The yew hedges have such a sharp edge to the pruning that it almost looks like metal rather than living plant tissues.

The view from the Tower of the Top Courtyard. This is a large estate. Note the trough and wallflowers that have been shown in previous photos in the center of the walkway.

Enough bird’s eye view, let’s look at the human view. We begin with the iconic white Wisteria in the White Garden. The method of keeping these aggressive vines in tip top blooming form is pruning to two buds in February as well as severe pruning in summer after flowering of the longest whips.

Enchanting planting combinations abounded. Camassia coming up through Cotinus, puuurfect.

Inspiration for quince, grown against a wall and hard pruned. We have seedlings of quince and no space for more large shrubs. This may be adopted in some way. Please note the doorway leading from the walled garden.

Another doorway. I like the sundial mounted above.

And another.

Uh oh. This door is locked, no passage. The handbook we purchased in the gift shop states that …

In plan, Sissinghurst is a conversation between invitation and delight, a constant suggestion of what might be beyond the next hedge or wall, but no revelation of what that was until you reached it. The experience of walking around the garden is in that way a squence of arrivals.

This is a good stopping point for part one. It is the amuse bouche before the meal to come in part two.

Oh one more shot, a gratuitous macro of Pulsatilla vulgaris, a plant that continues to elude the Fairegarden, whether by seed or plant.

Stay tuned for part two of our visit to Sissinghurst Castle coming soon.

The posts from our London excursion can be seen by clicking 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 Two

Great Dixter-Finale


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37 Responses to Sissinghurst Part One

  1. sequoiagardens says:

    Aha! Beautifully done! Jean (I think it was – it’s a few month’s back already…) challenged us all to post on Sissinghurst. I’ve had it on the backburner ever since, and hope to show some of my shots in the next weeks. In fact, I should take my que from you and get it done. I’ll post her link and then you can cross-refer!

    The hedges are looking sharper and neater than ever – in particular the long-term reshaping of the hedge between the Cottage and Rose Garden that I’ve been voyeuring for 3 years on flickr is finally done. You’ll see on my pics what it looked like in 1995…

    Hi Jack, thanks. I look forward to seeing your Sissinghurst shots, especially the hedges for they were most fascinating.

  2. Randy says:

    When I saw those hedges from above I thought they were brick walls, that is tight pruning. Never happen like that around here:)

    Hi Randy, even from the ground they didn’t look like real shrubs, way too perfect! How can they achieve that is beyond my comprehension! πŸ™‚

  3. Oh Sissinghurst, my heart beats a little faster every time I hear its name. My first garden love, and it has not dimmed at all over the twenty five years since. Still amazingly beautiful!

    Hi Deborah, I totally understand your love affair with this fabulous place. It will never be forgotten here either. πŸ™‚

  4. Valerie says:

    Frances: I am so enjoying your photos and explanations of what you saw. I hope that I too may see this first hand. It is a really beatiful garden and has been written about so much. I await the next post. Valerie

    Thanks Valerie. I hope you can see it for yourself, it is worth whatever it takes to get there. Life is too short not to. πŸ™‚

  5. Les says:

    Even as a plant person, I would have been torn between focusing on the brickwork and other structures and enjoying the plants. Bravo to them for such good labeling, seems the ones not labeled are always the ones you want to know. I can’t wait to hoover part II.

    Thanks Les. It was impossible not to be swept away by the hardscape. We have seen most of those plants before, although not in such a setting, but the walls and pathways and urns and everything, never have we seen such beauty! πŸ™‚

  6. Gail says:

    Frances, I was back there from the first photo and stayed there the whole post~It’s a marvelous garden with so many classic garden elements: walls, enough perennials and annuals to make your heart skip a beat, hedges, rooms, statues, architectural plants, vistas, meadows and those doors to garden and sky views! Your photos are captivating~~Wasn’t it a wonderful trip! xxxgail

    Hi Gail, thanks for those kind words. It was amazing, everything about our trip together in fact. It was the best, as was being able to share the experiences with you. πŸ™‚
    x x x

  7. Frances, Thank you for sharing your visit! It is a dream of mine to stand where you and Gail were looking down on the gardens. Lovely observations in your beautiful photos! ;>)

    Hi Carol, thanks for joining us. Do follow your dreams, you won’t be sorry! πŸ™‚

  8. Ibrahim says:

    Frances thanks again for sharing. It’s not every day we get a chance to visit such a lovely place.

    Hi Ibrahim, thanks. It was the trip of a lifetime. We are so very lucky to have been able to see this and the rest and meet the people. Lucky is the word. πŸ™‚

  9. commonweeder says:

    What a beautiful tour. It took me back to the tour I took in 1983 – in August – with a delightful group of gardeners. I was overwhelmed by the thought of the labor this garden takes, but I love the idea of walled gardens and Sissinghurst is all about the walled garden. Your trip sounds wonderful.

    Thanks Pat. I would love to see the English gardens at other times of the year, but May was positively exquisite. It makes me guilty to see the work involved in the tending, not what one is supposed to feel at seeing such beauty. I remember reading that the positively WORST comment to be made upon touring a residential garden is how much work it must be, and agree with that. The walls and hedges are so thoughtfully placed, Sissinghurst is a gem. πŸ™‚

  10. Frances, ooh ahh, simply so wonderful and I love the angles of your photos. Feels just like I was there. Love the wallflowers, too.

    Hi Monica, thanks. Even though we didn’t get to Kew, as per your recommendation, Sissinghurst and Gread Dixter did not disappoint. I don’t know how they get the wallflowers to be so full and lush, mine never look like that. They were extensively used in every garden we visited.

  11. Sandra Jonas says:

    More! More! wonderful post!

    Thanks Sandra, glad you enjoyed it. There is more to come soon. πŸ™‚

  12. lotusleaf says:

    English gardens are so wonderful, aren’t they! There are some old English gardens left over from the British times in India too.

    Yes, Lotusleaf, I agree completely. So it is not just the land and climate of England that makes these gardens special, but rather those who created them. I am glad they still stand in India.

  13. Anna says:

    The more I read and see of Sissinghurst the more determined I am to visit. Thanks for such an enjoyable post Frances. I am looking forward to the next installment.

    Thanks Anna. To live in England, I cannot imagine being able to visit all those fabulous gardens. It would take more than a lifetime even if that is all you did. Next post is part two, then the grand finale of Great Dixter. Stay tuned! πŸ™‚

  14. nancy says:

    We visited Sissinghurst right after you did. The weather was warmer, but the garden was just as beautiful!We were captivated by some of the same views apparently. I have several of that blue gate, stone troughs,vistas from the tower.

    Hi Nancy, how lucky to be there at that time, and when it was warmer! We were not thwarted by the cold, being glad it was not raining as with some of the other garden visits earlier in our trip. Glad you took some of the same shots, that is what caught my eye too. There were many many more where the light was too bright, but seeing those shots brings back the fond memories. πŸ™‚

  15. Phillip says:

    Oh, I’ve been waiting for this. One of my favorite gardens although I’ve never been there in person. Great photos Frances and I look forward to seeing more.

    Thanks Phillip. I can see the influence of Sissinghurst on your own beautiful space. You simply must go yourself some day. πŸ™‚

  16. Frances those are some really good shots.

    I look forward to the second installment.

    Thanks Rob. It was so sunny that day, the camera was blinded by the light after shooting in the rain previously. But it felt good to humans. πŸ™‚

  17. Rose says:

    Frances, I devoured every word and was absorbed by every photo. Thank you so much for posting this! As I told Gail, I read a novel set partially at Sissinghurst a month ago and was intrigued by both the garden and Vita herself. I’m almost embarrassed to say I had never heard much of either of them before then, but the novel prompted me to do a little research. Your photos offer a much more personal tour than the official website, which I really appreciate. Looking forward to Part II!

    Thanks Rose. Thinking of a novel set in Sissinghurst, what a story one could weave with all the passageways and hidey holes. A mystery for sure. Glad you liked the personal viewpoint in this post. The official site gives all the facts without the impressions of a first time visitor. πŸ™‚

  18. What a beautiful place to visit. I have heard quite a few people rave about the beauty of the gardens. The pictures remind me of visiting the UK in the summer. I wish I was going this year…. πŸ™‚

    Dear Noelle, may God bless you and your family. Your love and strength have and will see you through the trials of life. May you all get to visit the UK again.

  19. gardeningasylum says:

    Looks like you had a wonderful day – I remember falling in love with that workroom at the top of the stairs! Lovely photos of a magic place πŸ™‚

    Hi Cyndy, thanks, we really did love that garden. The whole place was so full of history and intrigue and the the garden looked marvelous. πŸ™‚

  20. Grumpy Gardener says:

    Where were the famous bottle trees and tire planters? I really missed them.

    You would have loved the signage for the entryway doors of some of the gardens, about four feet in height with the words Duck Or Grouse, then below, Mind Your Head. You aren’t making fun of my bottle tree now, are you? πŸ™‚

  21. brokenbeat says:

    loving all of these england posts! thanks for linking to the hop’s blog. i learned from the best.
    much love

    Dear Brokenbeat, thanks for leaving a comment. Glad you liked these posts and well done on the blog.

  22. Joanne says:

    A lovely garden, thank you for the tour Frances

    Thanks Joanne. It is a scrumptious place, Sissinghurst. The pix are viewed often to bring back those sweet memories.

  23. Patsi says:

    Ooh ooh…love tours !!!
    The red and blue combo of the Camassia Cotinus is my favorite.

    Hi Patsi, glad you are happy about seeing the tours, but only part two and Great Dixter are left. Until the next trip. That combo was exquisite. We grow both of those plants and will have to try putting them together. πŸ™‚

  24. Jenny B says:

    It’s just perfection! I would especially love to see the white garden.

    Hi Jenny, it really is. The white garden is the most famous part of this place, I believe. It was that white wisteria that caught my heart. πŸ™‚

  25. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Those clipped hedges are wonders. I can’t imagine the work it takes to keep them like this. Beautiful photos Frances. I can’t wait to see more. MORE!!

    Thanks Lisa, there is more. All the gardens we visited in England showed tremendous amounts of labor intensive maintenance, much more than a single home gardener could ever do, even if they had the expertise. But there were still plenty of ideas to be taken from them. πŸ™‚

  26. Lola says:

    A most adventurous post Frances. Intrigue around every corner or should I say door. It’s almost like the “Secret Garden”.
    I am looking forward for part 2.

    Thanks Lola. Sissinghurst was full of gasp inducing surprise and wonder. It was simply beautiful. πŸ™‚

  27. Tatyana says:

    The view from the Tower of the Top Courtyard is breathtaking, and I felt like I was there myself. Fantastic garden and great post. Thank you Frances!

    Thanks Tatyana, it was wonderful to see the whole from the heights. I can imagine what it must have been like for Vita when she wanted to take a break from her workroom in the turret to gaze at the gardens, transporting! πŸ™‚

  28. A very lovely tour. How special to see it with your friends and fellow gardeners.

    That sundial above the door is so perfect. I’ve wanted a wall-mounted for my stone chimney, but since I already have an indestructible pedestal sundial that was a gift to me at least 30 years ago, I’m trying to remain practical and satisfied!

    Thanks Cameron. Seeing all of the gardens we visited was more enjoyable with the company who shared the experience with us, nothing like it, in fact. That mounted sundial was so attractive. I have noticed similar ones in several of the gardens featured in Gardens Illustrated. Now all we need is a wall around the garden with a nice doorway. πŸ™‚

  29. joey says:

    I’m in awe, Frances! Thanks for the lovely tour and photos from the turret … I’m most impressed since, with my vertigo, climbing the winding steps inside the turret would certainly do me in. If indeed I ever made it up, I’d never be able to get back down. Your photos are a delight!

    Thanks Joey, it was an awesome place. I too am bothered by vertigo, but it was so crowded that I just looked at the person’s back in front of me going both up and down, it was very tight quarters which helped.

  30. Victoria says:

    Goodness, it all seems like a dream now? Did we really see those beautiful gardens? Did the sun really shine like that? Yes, it must have done, because there I am, with my jacket billowing in the wind and making me look like the back of a bus! What a fantastic time we had… Love, Victoria xx

    It does seem so distant from the day to day life now being lived. My daughter Semi and I often marvel at the difference between what we ourselves see in photos or the mirror as opposed to what others see. In you I see a sleek motorcycle, not a bus. πŸ™‚

  31. Frances β€” these posts, by gardeners who are American and who I have met, have been more interesting to read than most articles and books about Sissinghurst. It makes a real difference to be able to picture you, your garden and then see and hear your response to Sissinghurst. And I have to say I would adore a hedge that smooth and straight and tall. Our arborvita hedge may never recover from last winter’s snow.

    What sweet things to say, Linda, thanks so much. I do think reading about it from a more personal perspective than the books and magazines is what blogs have to offer. If you love those hedges, replace the arborvitae with yew. πŸ™‚

  32. Lovely photos and tour, Frances. We’re heading to England the end of July. Not sure what all I’m going to get to see, as it’s a ‘family’ trip, not geared toward gardens, per se. If it’s at all possible, though, I would like to make a visit there.

    Thanks Jan. How wonderful that you and your family are going across the pond. In July it should be much warmer too, a good thing. Wherever you visit, it will be fabulous. Take lots of photos! πŸ™‚

  33. Thanks for part I. I look forward to part II. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that I had the same idea for flowering quince as Vita (or somebody) at Sissinghurst did. (Of course mine is still a bit of a mess, but it’s definitely vertical.) What a treat for you & Gail.

    Hi MMD, thanks. How special that your quince is similarly trained. I hope to attempt it somehow as well. The whole trip was indeed a treat for us both. Wish you were there! πŸ™‚

  34. VW says:

    The gorgeous old architecture is such an important part of these great english gardens. We just don’t have much of that out here in the Western US. Sad for us! I love the periwinkle and crimson flower combo.

    Hi VW, thanks for stopping by. You are so right, the age of the hardscape is one of the things that makes the English gardens drip with atmosphere unlike any other place we have ever seen. The Camassia and Cotinus, both grown here, were a superb combo and need to be tried. There were so many ideas gleaned from all the places we visited. πŸ™‚

  35. Gardening says:

    Nice to read about this English garden. But the weather is an advantage for English people which we don’t have in many parts of USA. So, it’s tough to grow many plants here in USA. Nice to uncover the architectural beauty of the garden.

    Hi Albert, thanks. You are so right about the weather in England, it certainly explains why certain plants they grow beautifully do not look like that here in my Tennessee garden.

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