Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Grand tour - Sissinghurst Castle

The next destination on the grand tour were the gardens of Sissinghurst Castle, in Kent.  They were laid out in the 1930s by Vita Sackville-West and her husband, Harold Nicolson.  She was a poet and wrote a gardening column for The Observer.  She was also a fringe member of the Bloomsbury Group. The history of Sissinghurst is far too interesting and ancient to even begin describing here.  You can find a potted version on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sissinghurst_Castle_Garden, but it would be much more worthwhile to read Vita Sackville-West's grandson, Adam Nicolson's book 'Sissinghurst', where he charts the history of this amazing place, and how it sits in the Kentish landscape.  
I had forgotten about the photogenic Kentish oast houses.  It's many years since I have been in that part of the world.  Kent was famous for its hop fields.  Once picked, the hops would be dried in these distinctively shaped buildings.  These are the ones belonging to Sissinghurst.

Our tour of the gardens began at 5.30 pm, in the famous white garden.  Sarah Raven and her husband, the aforementioned Adam Nicolson, each took a group and we were shown round the gardens and into a couple of the buildings which now comprise Sissinghurst.  Adam spent his boyhood there.  Lucky chap - it's a fabulous place!
The white garden is not at its best in September, but as the light was fading, the flowers which were in bloom, were glowing and beautiful.
The garden room which was at its best was the cottage garden.  It was full of yellows, oranges and reds, and combined with the golden sunlight of late afternoon, was warm and wonderful.  
Here is Sarah Raven, trying to identify a rather weird fruit from the tree behind her. It had her foxed, and the rest of us!
Vita and Harold would sleep in the cottage, separate from another place where they would eat, and separate again from the building where their children slept!  It was an eccentric household, to say the very least!  The photo below shows Vita's bedroom, and there is a story that before the building was filled renovated, she woke up one morning with a blanket of snow over her bed!
We climbed to the top of the Elizabethan tower, where Adam gave us a potted history of Sissinghurst.  The views across the Wealden countryside were amazing, and Adam told us that it is almost certain that Queen Elizabeth I would have stood there, during her three day stay at the castle in August 1573.
By eight o'clock it was time to leave the garden and go for dinner.  It was nearly dark.  It struck me that it was rather special to be rocking around the gardens at Sissinghurst at that time of day, when the public wouldn't normally be there!
As we left the garden the last vestige of sunlight was illuminating the tower.  Bats were whizzing in and out of the gatehouse, where I was standing to take this photo.  It was a very memorable visit.


  1. Marvellous!
    Fantastic photos of an iconic place!
    And to take such a late tour... Lucky you!
    Oast houses!
    Showed the kids the ones in Binsted when we were home! They were fascinated!

  2. Love the last picture! It's fantastic! Ellen

    1. Thank you Ellen. There was a very special atmosphere in the garden, once darkness began to fall. I've now got to trawl through my photos of the next garden we visited with Sarah Raven - Great Dixter. No silhouette photos from there though! A

  3. Wow, just fab pictures and I love the colours. Lucky you to get a tour from the owners themselves. I'm really enjoying doing a catch up, it seems your photos just keep getting better and better! x