Chinks of light

Sissinghurst chalkboardSissinghurstSissinghurstThe white garden, SissinghurstThe meadow and South Cottage, SissinghurstSissinghurstSissinghurstLychnis coronariaSissinghurstHelenium 'Moorheim Beauty'Blue clematis on brick wallView of SissinghurstSweetpeas

I’ve been feeling weighed down lately with too much complicated life going on here and world-weary and thoroughly aghast at the behaviour of the people in power. Even David, who, for as long as I’ve known him, has always kept up-to-the-minute with current affairs, switched off the news earlier in the week Before It Had Finished and said, “The world is going mad”. There’s just only so much one can take, isn’t there? More and more, I’ve felt the need to ignore what’s going on outside my little patch of land and instead think only about what needs watering and who needs feeding. (And even the ‘who needs feeding’ can seem like a massive chore sometimes.) I quite fancy switching off all the devices and cutting myself off from the world for a year or so. I might then have a peep to find out if it all really did go Pete Tong (wrong) but I suspect I’d be quite happy not to.

But as that’s not terribly practical, I’ve been focusing on simple tasks like hanging out washing – listening to the birds and feeling the sun on my skin as I peg laundry on the line – and spending as much time as possible looking at plants. Rather than completely sink into a pit of despondency, easy though that would be, I am sitting quietly on the clifftop and looking out for all the slivers of hope and beauty and optimism that I can.

In the spirit of carving out some pleasure, today I took the day off and drove to Sissinghurst Castle with two good friends. We’re all women who juggle work and family life – we have 10 teenagers between us – and we kept commenting on how wonderful it was to be out, to be away from the everyday and to be in such a beautiful place. We had coffee and cake and lunch and coffee and cake. We ooh-ed and ah-ed at the planting and the architecture and the arrangement of the place. On the way home, we stopped and bought Kentish cherries from a roadside stall. We returned happy, recharged and ready to turn our sunned faces to the onwards march again.

Happy weekend, friends.


Red brick and roses: a visit to Sissinghurst Castle Garden

My mind is brimming with ideas this morning, laying down snapshots and processing happy memories of a glorious, flower-filled garden visit.

We first visited Sissinghurst in the early 2000s before our daughter was born. With two energetic toddlers in tow, we were more focused on keeping them on the paths and not straying too far from the toilets than admiring the glorious gardens and surroundings. I had clocked that it was a place of beauty, though, and we have some very lovely photos of the boys in the meadow. Despite now living only an hour’s drive away, it wasn’t until yesterday that we finally made the time to go there again, this time without any children – none of them could be persuaded to tear themselves away from their computing devices (oh yes, revision). ‘It’s ok, mum, you go on your own. We’ll be fine…’ ‘Well, ok then. If you’re sure.’ And we hotfooted it out of the door. How times change.

Anyway, back to Sissinghurst Castle Garden. The place has a fascinating history: it was used as a prison for 3000 French soldiers captured during the Seven Years War (1756–63); it was a poor-house in the late 1700s; and it was a fine example of Victorian farming during the mid-1800s when it was owned by the Cornwallis family. Poet and writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicholson bought it in the early 1930s and set about transforming the buildings and grounds, creating the famous garden rooms that draw people from across the globe today. The National Trust took over managing the site in the 1960s, although members of the Sackville-West/Nicholson family still occasionally stay in the South Cottage. History lesson over (if you’d like to know more, start here), let’s move on.

The gardens are what we went to see, although you can also wander into a few rooms (the library, etc) and have a tour of South Cottage if you’re organised enough to get a timed ticket when you arrive (we weren’t). We did climb up to the top of the tower where I took these photos from each corner:

View to the north over the shop in the old piggery and restaurant in the granary (top left of photo).
To the south, over one of the garden rooms with the propagation area (no access, sadly) to the right behind the house and the lovely curved wall.
To the north-east-ish and the famous White Garden. The silvery tree you can see mid-left is a magnificent Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’ (weeping silver pear).
South Cottage and a snippet of meadow bottom left.
Gardeners (all women, as far as I could tell) were clipping box hedging; you can just see the wheelbarrows, etc, in the bottom of the pic. It was all very carefully done with lines and spirit levels (which is not how I do it!).
The library in the foreground and the oast houses in the background.

The red brick buildings and garden walls provide the perfect backdrop to the swoon-inducing planting. Really, the planting is delicious. Roses, such gloriously scented roses – climbers trained perfectly against walls, bush roses left to grow huge, climbers growing up inside frames and over hoops, low-growing roses; the air was thick with their heady, intoxicating smell. And the irises and salvias, and magnificent euphorbias of all kinds, all at their peak. The grounds were full of wildflowers – oxeye daisies, tall buttercups, huge clovers, mixed grasses, all nodding and swaying in the breeze. The place is magical.

Right, enough of that; must get on. Back to earth. Bye for now.