It may be that you have noticed; I’m quite keen on plants. So it was quite a surprise for me that plants weren’t actually the highlight of my recent trip to Sissinghurst. Yes, of course I am in the midst of writing another blog on its plantings but actually three other factors stood out for me above all else.
1. The Buildings
The history of Sissinghurst Castle is quite remarkable. It started life as a Saxon pig farm in the Middle Ages, was used as a prison for French seamen during the Seven Years War and had Queen Elizabeth I to stay in August 1753 (what a shame she couldn’t get to see Vita Sackville-West’s summer garden that year!). There have been numerous iterations of buildings and demolitions but what remains today is absolutely breathtaking.
I completely and utterly fell head over heels in love with the architecture. In fact I admit I did call Paul in Sydney and tell him to keep working hard because we absolutely had to save up and buy this lovely house I had seen in Kent. I was infatuated with its charm.
It’s really hard to pinpoint exactly why the buildings are so stunning; I guess it is a combination of factors that are all in complete harmony with each other. The brick and tile colourings, the natural variation, the proportion of ceiling height and windows and its sense of grounding amongst the garden all adds to its magic.
The interior of the house is just as stunning. It has to be the most inviting, homely and beautiful place I have ever seen. So many old houses feel cold and stark, uncomfortable and impersonal, but this is the diametrical opposite. There are little details everywhere you look, all of which fit and contribute positively to its feel, nothing seems superfluous or overly ornate; it is just pure heaven.
Even the tower does not seem out of place for me somehow. It works with the rest of the architecture and has the side benefit of enabling the most wonderful viewpoint of the property.
2. The Structure of the Gardens
I am a big believer that if you get the structure of a garden right, the rest will follow. Frankly, you can’t get much better that the structure at Sissinghurst. Despite a few inherently tricky angles that Harold Nicholson (Vita’s husband) had to manage, the bold structure is perfectly formed.
It is geometric in nature – straight lines, rectangles, perfect circles and semi-circles – with many garden ‘rooms’. Whilst the planting in each of the rooms is not dissimilar in style, colour schemes and plant types differentiate them and create a sense of anticipation for the visitor. The garden as a whole hangs together perfectly and yet doesn’t lack variety. It is the highly skilled planning of the structure which makes this possible.
3. A Sense of Place
A ‘sense of place’ is one of those phrases used by arty, creative types which can sound a bit airy fairy and subjective to the more logical mind. I actually googled a definition and even the results were airy fairy, but I liked this simple one from www.artofgeography.com best:
As I walked around I found myself almost in disbelief that I was really there; it was so hard to take it all in, almost too much to absorb all at once. I highly, highly recommend a visit to this remarkable garden, if you are ever lucky enough to get the chance to go.