Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent is the creation of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, her husband. When bought in the 1930s, the buildings were run down and garden overgrown or growing crops. It’s Grade One listed. Since 1938 it’s been welcoming the public, now with over 200,000 visit each year.
As at Hidcote, the garden comprises of a series of rooms, each with its own character. Nicolson is given credit for the layout and the hard landscaping whilst Vita gets credit for the planting. Both architectural features and planting distinguishes the rooms.
Some have hedge borders whilst others are brick. The White Garden is arguably the most famous, as the name suggests, all the plants have white flowers. There are ten rooms altogether. Other favourites are The Rose Garden, The South Cottage Garden and The Purple Border.
There’s a distinct contrast between rooms, surprising the visitor as they move from one to the next. Overlooking the gardens is The Tower, it and the other buildings providing a perfect backdrop.
Harold was a diplomat, writer and politician. He served as a Labour MP for Leicester West. He served in the wartime unity government.
Being female Vita Sackville-West was unable to inherit her family’s estate Knole, as was the custom then, it passed to a male heir, her cousin. She resented this, some say it influenced her throughout her life, setting about with gusto to develop a garden at Sissinghurst that she couldn’t do at Knole.
She was among the most successful early twentieth century writers, publishing poetry, novels and editorial articles including a regular one on gardening for The Observer. They were an interesting couple for the time. Their marriage was open, Vita was close to Bloomsbury Group member Virginia Woolf. Harold also had same sex affairs. Sissinghurst was a popular place to meet and socialise in a time when same sex relationships was illegal.
Having lost Knowl, Vita was vehemently opposed to Sissinghurst passing to the National Trust. She died in 1962. Without any other viable options, Harold left the garden to The Trust in 1967, he died the following year.
Adam Nicholson, grandson of Harold and Vita with his wife, the television presenter Sarah Raven are working with the National Trust on developing part of the estate as a kitchen garden.