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Sissinghurst Castle

How Memories Are Made.

Memories are doing things that you don’t usual do, visiting places or eating an amazing meal, learning something new or going somewhere you haven’t been to before. Making someone feel special and creating a memory is an amazing gift.  I did just that with my friend yesterday for her birthday.

As we drove into the 460 acres Sissinghurst Castle Estate, my friend gave me a brief history of the couple who designed and restored Sissinghurst Castle. I was very excited to see the famed grounds and tap into my friend’s depth of gardening knowledge. I must confess as I am writing this I am feeling like it was more my treat than hers.

My friend had just finished reading a wonderful book called Portrait of a Marriage: Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson written by their son, Nigel Nicolson MBE. The bisexual relationships of both Vita and Harold were indulged throughout their marriage in 1930’s. Within the book my friend remarked on their amazing bond and deep love for each other. This garden was brought to life by the couple and they worked on ‘rooms’, a word not often used for an open garden. Walking around the gardens, I did feel like you were entering a ‘room’, each enclosed in either brickwork walls or hedged off and themed.

Their planting is a beautiful mix of formal and cottage style gardening. Yet the cottage style planting was all contained in defined borders, giving it a structured feel. Each bed was well stocked and plants rambled between each other in a very clever way. I remarked to my friend that wherever you stood and looked out in the garden, there was a ‘window’ for you to look through, see the garden beyond or frame a view within that room, it was a feast for the eyes. For me they both must have had amazing vision and an architectural eye, which is still evident in their planting and design today. I can see why this garden is world renowned.

When I hosted a garden design team months ago, my brief to the students was a simple, contemporary white and green garden. The first garden we walked to yesterday was the White Garden,  Vita and Harold had done just that. They had chosen plants that only flowered in white and the foliage was only ever green no matter what the season. In my minds eye when I dream of my garden the green and white theme, it was lush, calming, clean and pure. In reality it was all I imagined and more. This will definitely be my planting theme when my garden moves to the top of the project pile.

A must is to climb up the 78 steps of the Tower which is located in the center of the estate. Built in the 1560’s it is imposing and intriguing. I couldn’t understand why numbers going in had to be counted, until we entered the Tower and started making our way up. The corkscrew wooden staircase was wide on the one side and your one foot could happily take the next step and at the other end of the stair just your toes could rest. Along the way the Tower housed Vita’s writing room, a printing press and beautiful coloured glass held in the recess of the windows, which were made into showcases.  Once at the top the aerial view of the gardens and the estate was breath taking. We looked at the precision with which each bed had been created and the genius of design that from above was as spectacular as at ground level. Two gardeners from the estate were looking out and chatting about the paving and planting of one of the sections of the garden, that they were needing to re-do. Catching the end of their conversation they said Harold choose that gravel for a reason, in that moment I realised that Vita and Harold’s dream is still being kept alive today by an amazing team.

I had always wanted to visit Sissinghurst Castle and I can happily say I have made a wonderful memory of a beautiful place with a very special friend.

Oh I hear you say, what did you eat? My friend was going out with her family in the evening so we opted for a cream tea lunch with a glass of homemade sparkling Elderflower. We both dislike fruit scones (they only offered cheese and fruit scones) so my friend and I picked out the raisin and ate our scones happily with clotted cream and strawberry jam.

Wishing you all a year of making wonderful memories.

Sissinghurst Castle

 

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