Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The most beautiful garden?

With this posting I'm stretching a bit from my tidewater focus. A few weeks ago, I spent two weeks sightseeing in France and England. I visited many gardens in France including Monet's garden in Giverny, Vaux-le-Vicomte outside of Paris, Villandry in the Loire Valley - all of them amazing! I didn't see as many gardens in England, so it's easier to pick a favorite there - Sissinghurst. The garden is located near the village of Staplehurst, about an hour from London. Well known to designers and hard-core gardeners, this garden should be known to just about everyone!

The garden was the life's work of writer Vita-Sackville West (novelist and poet) and her husband Harold Nicholson (writer and diplomat). In the 1930's they bought a dilapidated Elizabethan estate and over the next few decades turned it into a world class garden. A simple and not entirely accurate description of the garden is that Vita designed the lush, flowery plantings, and Harold designed the formal and precise layout of the garden, as seen in the Yew Walk below. In reality there was a bit of overlap in their approaches.

The garden is dominated by a tall brick tower in the middle of the garden. The tower was probably built around the 1560's (I have no idea who the cute couple at the bottom was).

This is where Vita wrote. The view from the roof is beautiful, allowing a view of every corner of the garden as well as the surrounding countryside. From here you can see that the garden is sort of like a large stage set, divided into many small and large rooms where imaginary scenes might be acted out. The south side of the garden has many fine-grained spaces,

While the center of the garden has a more expansive, pastoral feel.

Walking around the garden, I was overwhelmed by lush collection of plants and late May was a perfect time to visit. It seemed like every plant in the world was blooming, including many plants we're familiar with here.

There was wisteria,

loads of irises,


roses, and many, many other flowers.

Many of the spaces in the garden had their own color schemes. The Cottage Garden above had lots of strong, warm colors,

while the Top Courtyard featured a beautiful purple border. The garden is also well known for its White Garden, shown in a the two shots below. This garden, filled with white flowers and silvery foliage, was one of the last spaces in the garden to take shape.

An interesting aspect of the garden that I didn't know before visiting was that the garden had changed considerably since Harold and Vita passed away (1968 and 1962 respectively). Many changes in the planting plan were made by by head gardeners Pam Schwerdt and Sibylle Kreutzberger who worked at the garden from 1959 until 1990. And new additions have continued to be added, like the boathouse below, built in 2002.

If you're ever in London, this garden is not to be missed. Just hop on the train, and take a taxi from the Staplehurst train station to the garden. On the way back, be sure to have the taxi drop you off at one of the pubs in town for a pint or two. There's a great one right across the street from the Church of All Saints.


Les said...

I am SO jealous!

Phillip M said...

You should take some time off and go...

Phillip said...

You lucky devil! I don't know how I missed these posts but I like the way you've divided your blog posts into categories. Did you just do this?

Anyway, I digress. I sooo want to go to England and see the gardens there, this one in particular. I have several beautiful books on this garden. Would you say it was your favorite?

How It Grows said...

I added that table of contents some weeks ago. I didn't get the chance to see many gardens in England - I was just in the London area. I'd love to see more some time. But I think it would be hard to beat Sissinghurst because it's so beautifully planted and skilfully structured.