SISSINGHURST VISITS

1 Sissinghurst panorama1At last! Months later, I get to take up Jean’s invitation to post on my visits to Sissinghurst. Last month I at least laid the foundation when I posted on Long Barn, the Nicholson’s previous garden.

As I’ve explained before, in 1995 I spent six months in a campervan, mainly studying gardens in the UK. I visited Sissinghurst three times: in late May, mid-summer and early autumn. Here is one of the few ‘look-I-was-there’ snapshots I’ve ever had taken… I am standing inside the Rondel with the tower behind me and a dream has come true! 2 Jack in the Rondel

Recently I started scanning the nearly 1500 slides I took during the trip, and in time I will post on other gardens I visited. The above view of the Rose Garden from the top of the tower I photostitched – a fun exercise! The hedge on the left between the Rose and Cottage Gardens has been rejuvenated over the last few years. Compare current photos of its new slim and trim shape with this one.

But before I set off, let me point you towards an excellent  impression of Sissinghurst, posted by my good friend Moosey of mooseyscountrygarden.com recently after visiting Sissinghurst for the first time. In her inimitable way she comments on the experience here. And as a collection of Sissinghurst pictures, nothing beats Dave Parker’s series, now several years old, over here.

3 Sissinghurst iris An impression of Sissinghurst is of carefully selected plants against mellow brick and in exquisite old containers; the rustic and the sophisticated as foil to imaginative planting. Sissinghurst is the ultimate example of old brick walls in a garden. Mostly it is wonderful old-fashioned roses one sees pictured against the brick, but my best capture was an iris below a sink in the Top Courtyard. The  texture of the aged bricks, their varied shades of orange-pink-red and the patina of time are a wonderful foil to delicate and fleeting flowers.

The Moat Walk is flanked by the oldest brickwork at Sissinghurst, part of the foundation of the medieval manor, and unearthed (literally) to much excitement from the overgrown rubble towards the end of 1930. My source, by the way, is Tony Lord’s excellent book Gardening at Sissinghurst, together with Jane Brown’s Vita’s other world . There are few other gardens (or relationships!) as well documented, which helps to explain the immense interest in Sissinghurst. I own and have read and reread these books, as well as several others on the garden, Portrait of a Marriage, and the many volumes of journals and the letters between Vita and Harold and other people. You might call it my obsession 😉4 The moat

This picture captures many of the elements of the garden: beautiful lead vases – bought one by one as they could afford them from a patient antique dealer– top the Moat Walk’s ancient wall, which is colonised by various lime-loving crevice-dwellers, seemingly without human intervention. In fact the effect is carefully orchestrated, and whereas some of the plants are almost weedy, others are rare and select.

5 Bagatelle Vase, Lower Courtyard

On the right is one of the Bagatelle vases, inherited by Vita’s mother, Lady Sackville… and thereby, too, hangs a tale… Here it is planted with what I assume is a Helichrysum , but not  the plant Tony Lord shows it with.

Helichrysum It might even be this one which I photographed on Sunday: we were up the mountain marking the route for Saturday’s Iron Crown Challenge – a trail route half-marathon fund-raiser our Rotary Club has organised. (My obsession with the garden possibilities of our wild flowers comes through loud and clear in my posts here about previous walks on the mountainside!)

6 Varied abundance in the Rose Garden We are now in the Rose Garden, where another of the qualities that define Sissinghurst and have been copied in so many ways during the last 80 years can be seen: the lush and luxurious planting within a strong geometric structure. Although roses are the central plants in this garden, a vast variety of other plants provide texture, colour support and an extended season of interest, all contained within a network of paths and hedges of various heights. The central Rondel (see first photo) masks the fact that two important axes do not cross at right angles, due to the obtuse layout of the original buildings. The Rondel in turn is central to my own development as a garden… but that is a subject for a separate post!

7 Rose Garden towards Lime Walk

Here is another view across the Rose Garden… the flag irises at Sissinghurst make me despair for my own garden, where they need to be cosseted – and yet I’ve grown them with huge success in previous gardens… The Lime Walk which runs parallel to the Rose Garden can be seen in the background – note the series of horizontal lines that help give form to the composition in this garden.

8 Cottage Garden

The weakness of the last two shots is that they make the Cottage Garden and the Rose Garden look very similar in feel, which they are not – you will need to explore that statement by studying other people’s photographs!

These last photos tell a more personal tale…The thyme lawn (outside the Herb Garden) was the inspiration for the thyme lawn in my own Rondel Garden (see above teaser ;)…) Unfortunately it survived only a few years, a victim of neglect in my ever growing garden and erratic climate. But thyme does grow for us, so perhaps one day I will reinstate it…
9 Thyme Lawn
…I admired this plant. “Don’t you know it?” asked a member of my party, “Like you, it comes from South Africa! It is called Phygelius.” I had never heard of it. But I discovered a field of it in the damp ground below Freddie’s Dam within weeks of my return… 10 Phygelius

Admittedly less impressive than this hybrid, it nevertheless was an impressive sight which I had never noticed before. Strangely enough, despite all my plans, I’ve never brought any of it into my formal gardens, and a friend who imports new varieties of plants and trials them for commercial sales, has told me that all the phygelius he tried have disappointed him…

And thus we come to the end of my highly personal impressions of Sissinghurst.

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5 thoughts on “SISSINGHURST VISITS

  1. Jack, This is wonderful — well worth waiting for! I didn’t know about the rondel masking the non-right angles. This is a lesson I can probably use to my advantage at some point, since everything on my property is on a strange angle to everything else! I love your photo-stitched panorama; very impressive.

    • Thanks Jean. Another garden where this technique is used very architecturally to link only two oblique angles is Luttyens’ design at Hestercombe, one of his great partnerships with Jekyll… one of the gardens I will still post on from my scans.

  2. Jack, Sissinghurst is also my obsession. Great to see and read your impressions of it. I also grew a thyme lawn in my last garden, the onkly sunny spot in the garden, it was beautiful. So beautiful my dogs loved it as well, became their very favourite place to lay and chew a bone, oh well, at least they smelled nice.

    • Hi Deborah! I love the way a tribute to another garden always has a soul of its own – even if one were to imitate it quite slavishly, it would still be a very different garden!

  3. Pingback: MY RONDEL GARDEN – or: To let go or to hold on? « Sequoia Gardens Blog

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