Paris Chelsea Tour 2013
Trip Recap May 15th – May 24th, 2013

May 21

“It was a world that encouraged slowness, detail, attention," Adam Nicolson writes of his boyhood years at Sissinghurst, the 16th century castle where Vita Sackville-West had her famous garden, from 1930 until her death in 1962. Nicolson is the grandson of Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. His love for every square inch of the estate is contagious. Sissinghurst is in Kent, 50 miles south of London, in a part of England known as the Weald, which means forest. It covers hundreds of acres and attracts 115,000 visitors each year. It was opened to the public in 1938 and purchased by the National Trust in the 1960s, a long and difficult process of negotiation shepherded by Adam's father, Nigel.

Sissinghurst has been a Tudor estate, a Renaissance palace, an exclusive deer-park, a grisly prison for captured 18th-century French sailors and a ruin. When Adam's grandparents, Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West, bought it, they planted a garden and invited the public in, at sixpence a head. "Profusion, even extravagance and exuberance within the confines of the utmost linear severity". Vita Sackville-West's own words to describe what has become one of the most internationally famous gardens of this century. In 1930, Harold Nicolson and his wife Vita Sackville-West bravely and ambitiously bought the badly deteriorated Sissinghurst Castle. He was the meticulous designer and she, the plantsman. He was strictly classical in taste, she poetical and romantic. The result is a most beautiful garden of strict formal design and joyously abundant planting. It is said that if all other plants were removed leaving only the rose, that the garden would still be outstandingly beautiful. The rose is Sissinghurst's 'most brilliant star'. The old roses here are recognized as one of the finest collections in the world. Vita Sackville-West planted hundreds in every form and helped return some lost roses to cultivation. She was a very romantic woman and this reflected in her description of the elusive definition of some shades of colours. An example is :- "like dusk falling under a thunder-cloud that veiled the setting sun". (Meadow fritillary) "deep pink dusted with chalk" (Primula pulverlenta). This most beautiful garden is the result of the combination of two quite differently gifted people, blending their talents perfectly and leaving a legacy of beauty for generations of gardeners to come. Sissinghurst .... Harold and Vita came along in 1930, fell in love with the place and it was five years before they even had water or electricity.

What remains now of the original house is the Entrance, a long building dating from 1490. Originally a stable it is now called the Long Library mostly used for storing furniture from her family home and all the books she reviewed. The Tower is what Vita wanted..this is where she would write, isolated and it remained her sanctum until she died at age 70.

Christopher Lloyd's garden in East Sussex is an example of cottage gardening on a larger scale.

The Manor of Dixter is first noted in 1220 and structural additions were made again in 1464. In 1910 the English architect Edwin Lutyens restored Great Dixter and designed the gardens. The garden is composed of a series of small gardens including a fine topiary garden, rose garden, kitchen garden - an attractive mingling of vegetables and flowers - a large orchard with many pockets of wild flowers and a magnificent herbaceous border in summer, truly a joy for any gardener to visit. Christopher Lloyd liked to tease the followers of garden fashion by shocking their preconceived picture of the correctness of certain colours together, perhaps by placing magenta alongside orange where he feels the juxtaposition will achieve the desired effect, yet at the same time pleasing the less orthodox gardener with a fresh idea! Those of us who have attended Christopher Lloyd's lectures will be eager to see his garden and in particular his style of planting so true to the real cottage garden of abundance.

Great Dixter is a beautiful house. The Porch Entrance, Great Hall and cross-wing which is open to the public, date from 1464. As one approaches the main entrance of the house, one is reminded of the nursery rhyme - 'There was a crooked man, who lived in a crooked house' - there is a decided lean to one side which I find delightful. Sad not to see him or his little dogs any more but the garden is exceptional and gets better with each visit.



  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row