Garden Visits: Sissinghurst

Oh, Sissinghurst, the garden that started me on a life long affair of “English” gardens. It is a mad (and long lasting) love affair I have with Sissinghurst. She is always in the back of my mind when I am dreaming about designing another area of the garden. How would Vita and Harold handle it?  Would they use more box hedging, or just add another brick wall?

When Jean asked on a recent post to describe how we felt about Sissinghurst, I thought it would be easy. I have been in love with this garden for over 25 years, and have almost every book written about it. But nothing could compare to seeing it for the first time. And nothing could compare to the major pain it was visiting it through public transit. We took a train, transferred to a bus, then walked from Sissinghurst village.

In 1994, when Ian and I made our first visit to England, there was only one place I had to visit. He wanted to see Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and of course every pub in London(still a life time ambition for him). I just wanted to visit Sissinghurst.

And it was well worth it!  Look at this picture. This is the moment that I realized green architecture could be gorgeous.

A doorway into another world. One that I wanted to live in.

I was very lucky, it wasn’t crowded at all.

Thus began, my life long ambition to have a Lime Walk. Hopefully started this year at Kilbourne Grove.

Look at how colourful this border is, I never realized that you could have so much colour in September. Back then, I thought that gardens ended in August.

This is the first time I saw Cyclamen hederifolium, I had sold the florist cyclamen at the flower shop, but had not realized there was a hardy one, or how beautiful a sheet of it was under a tree. Now, another ambition helped on its way, thanks to Barry.

Most of my design sensibilities in my garden I owe to Sissinghurst, long may she live.



53 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    A lovely tribute to a garden you love Deborah… and one that so inspired you. I have never visited except in my dreams and many books. How wonderful you had the place practically to yourselves! Lovely photos! Their whole world seemed magical to me… Vita as writer, child, woman, gardener… very interesting life.

  2. 3

    Laurrie said,

    Ah, the Lime Walk. I can picture what you are attempting to do with your rows of linden trees. I applaud your wonderful plan to create something you saw and loved. Now I can’t wait to see your Lime Walk develop as it grows and you post about it!

  3. 5

    […] Green Theatre, Garden Visits: Sissinghurst […]

  4. 6

    Jean said,

    Deborah, What a wonderfully evocative post. I love the idea of your asking yourself “What would Vita and Harold do?” I know what you mean when you say that you thought it would be easy to write about something you love so much — only to worry about whether your words will do it justice. You succeeded beautifully; Sissinghurst will be even more crowded after people read this! 🙂

  5. 8

    You are making it very hard for me to be content with staying at home. Ahhh – the english garden. What a lovely thing. I need to make it one of my goals to visit here and others there – I had a chance to see Windsor Castle’s gardens in the spring, but only from afar. I will go back for more!

    FYI – my arbor “after” pics are up – thanks for watching my project unfurl! Kelly

  6. 10

    Beautiful post Deborah, perhaps Sissinghurst is your muse? I would love to visit the gardens one day, all of the recent posts have me very intested. Love the term ‘WWVHD?’.

  7. 12

    kate said,

    I love to read how people were inspired to create their gardens. Sissinghurst must be such a wonderful garden to visit. It looks so beautiful. I am currently reading Vita S-W’s collection of garden articles. They make for wonderful reading.

    • 13

      I love her books, learn something new every time, (still).
      I also love to read about how people were inspired and created their gardens, for me, so much more interesting than macro photographs and plant profiles.

  8. 16

    I have seen Sissinghurst only in photos, and I can only dream of what it must be in person. I see how you were inspired to put in your lime walk. I look forward to watching the progress of your garden. I wonder how many gardens all over the world have elements that were inspired by Sissinghurst!

    • 17

      It would be interesting to know. I just finished reading The White Garden by Stephanie Barron. In it, an American garden designer is hired to recreate the white garden for a Long Island estate. I didn’t go quite that far, lol.

  9. 18

    miss m said,

    Oh goody, pics from old Blighty ! (Did you get a scan ?)

    Thanks for this fabulous peek, Deborah ! It’s fun seeing your POV. Can’t imagine not having Sissinghurst on my places to see list if ever I go back to visit the UK. I probably was too young to fully appreciate such a wonderful place the one and only time I was over there. Did get a chance to visit Kew though.

    Lovely !

  10. 20

    One of my favourite gardens as well, and only from books and shows! It must have been a dream to spend time in – especially when relatively quiet. Enjoy creating your own dream garden! 🙂

  11. 22

    Grace said,

    I can “hear” the enthusiasm in your words, Deborah. I hope Kilbourne Grove becomes everything you aspire it to be. You’ve got a great reference with the beauty of Sissinghurst.

  12. 24

    fairegarden said,

    It is the stuff of pleasant dreams, Deborah! I believe your own garden will look like this one day, on a smaller scale, with your own rows of trees and hedges. How wonderful that you were able to visit, and without crowds too! 🙂

  13. 26

    commonweeder said,

    The Lime Walk was one of my favorite parts of Sissinghurst – and now I have 3 Limes (tilia cordata) of my own. I also have lots of thyme in my lawn – another memory of Sissinghurst which is a magical place.

    • 27

      They are lovely trees are they not. I did love the Herb Garden as well, I actually had a thyme lawn in my last garden. My dogs favourite spot to lie (certainly made them smell better, lol).

  14. 28

    SummerHouseArt said,

    You have inspired me to find out even more about Sissinghurst. Wonderful photos. Ah wouldn’t it be wonderful to have such a garden AND the staff of gardeners to go with it? I would love just one gardener sometimes to help us create all the things we dream of.

    • 29

      If you had the staff of gardeners, it would be so much easier to have the garden, lol. I would love to have someone just to cut the grass, it takes 3 hours out of my very short weekend.

  15. 30

    I’m so enjoying these posts about Sissinghurst. I’ll maybe never make it there, but I too have taken some inspiration from Vita’s gardens. No white garden for me, as much as I love it–here, it would disappear in the fog and just be messy.

    • 31

      Jodi, you really have to look at the environment in which you live and use that in your garden design. No lovely huge rhododendrons for me (much as I love them), alkaline soil. But, we can get inspiration anyway.

  16. 32

    Melanie said,

    Hi, I definitely want to visit Sissinghurst on my next trip to England. I’m coming to you from Northern BC in zone 3

    • 33

      Hi Melanie, thank you fro visiting my blog and leaving a comment. Lucky you to be able to go to England, please do visit Sissinghurst, it is worth it.
      Hopefully spring is on its way to you in Northern BC, although the weather in Toronto today was very cold. March came in like a lamb, I hope not going out like a lion.

  17. 34

    One of these days, Sissinghurst! I have been to Hidcote Manor, which was a thrill. Need to dig out my slides and scan them. I have sooooo many slides of soooo many gardens.

    The effect of photographing your photographs gives them an amazing, dreamlike quality, so appropriate to the subject of dream gardens.

    Deborah, I hadn’t been thinking of going to see Marjorie Harris (I’ve been so busy with school!) but if you are going, I’d love to meet up with you there, finally. I think you have my email address, so drop me a line and let’s try to rendezvous.

  18. 36

    Gail said,

    Deborah, I would love to see this garden.. So many of the classic gardens have design principles to draw from~~My garden will never be formal, but I can use the wall on the house to create a room or balance the natural look with evergreen architecture. Thank you for sharing…gail ps I read that the UK has over 60,000 pubs, I wonder how many are in London!

    • 37

      Gail, I think design principals, like repetition, scale and balance can be used in informal as well as formal gardens, they just make it “look right”.
      I googled pubs in London, over 7,000, I think we only hit a few hundred, 6,800 to go!

  19. 38

    Wendy said,

    I love cyclamen and it be gorgeous to see a sheet of it under a tree! This English garden is gorgeous. I love how European gardens are so wonderfully designed that a bird’s eye view is just as important. Lucky birds.

    • 39

      Me too! Barry, has given me a few that he has grown from seed, hopefully in a few years, I will have a little mini spread.
      The view from the tower is fabulous, I have to get up on my roof and take some pictures, before the trees leaf out!

  20. 40

    It is kind of like the Elysium of gardens for us isn’t it? Some people, and places are just meant to be landmarks.

    One day, maybe I will get there, until then I must be content to visit through blogs, and photos.


  21. 42

    Rosie said,

    I’ve never visited the gardens other than through pictures in books – its so beautiful no matter what time of year it is.

    Deborah you asked about the name of my hellebore – the only name I have is orientalis picotee – I fell for it when I saw its beautiful centre. I suppose there are quite a few variations of seed for orientalis and if they were to name them all it would be a never ending list – but if this produces offspring as nice as the parent then I’ll probably give it a name myself.

    Enjoy the rest of your weekend
    Rosie 🙂

  22. 44

    tina said,

    What an awesome inspiration. That limewalk will be awesome. Will you also make it into an allee? You know it is funny, despite me living in Europe I had never heard of Sissinghurst and know little about it. I wish I had known because I’d have loved visiting it. I do have a bit of Sissinghurst in my garden though. It is pulmonaria ‘Sissinghurst White’ and it is blooming now. Just love it. I guess it will have to count as my visit:)

    • 45

      Tina, it is an allee (two rows of lindens), but I also planted a serviceberry allee last fall. I also have Sissinghurst pulmonaria, mine is definitely not flowering now!

  23. 46

    Diana said,

    Deborah, a remarkable place indeed! thank you for taking us there. Should we return this would be number 1 on our list of places to visit. While in England 7 years ago we were fortunate to enjoy some time at Stourhead and Hidcote, both beautiful and extraordinary places. The Gunnera manicata at Stourhead is astounding! and as soon as we returned to the US, a beech was a tree we planted. Of course we won’t live long enough to enjoy its glorious growth, but nonetheless.

    Happy Springtime to you!

  24. 48

    Anna said,

    Enjoyed reading about your visit Deborah and seeing your photos. Sissinghurst remains at the top of my list of garden visits and each time I read more about it the wish becomes stronger and stronger. I will probably burst with excitement when and if I get there 🙂

  25. 50

    Kassie said,

    Sissinghurst….sigh…I have visited twice, and the first time my brain was filled with the music I knew from the Balanchine ballet “Mozartiana,” by Tchaikovsky. Just sublime. I wonder if I will ever have such a serene moment in my life ever again!

  26. 52

    Marian said,

    I’m sorry about your journey! I live a few miles away and walk my dogs in the woods around the lakes and orchards in all seasons – they are full of wood anenomes at the moment and the bluebells are about to flower. The garden itself is a blissful place in the early morning and last thing before they close – that is how to avoid the tourists! They also open for a wander around the garden with a glass of wine around midsummer’s eve – worth a trip from the States! Next time do visit Dixter, Godinton and Hole Park, all local favourites of mine. Thanks for all your posts!

    • 53

      Marian, lucky you! I would love to see pictures of the woods, I never got there. I have tried planting a few bluebells in my Lilac Dell, but they do not flower early enough here, the trees leaf out too early.
      Thanks for the advice on other gardens to visit, I feel the need for another trip coming on!

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