Just in

A day at Sissinghurst

I have a friend on the Rust who is addicted to the TV hospital programme Holby even though he has a phobia of hospitals. It’s much the same with me and gardens.

I could not name you a single flower nor plant but like nothing better, especially in summer, than to roam in gardens.

In their later years a trip to gardens was one of the few things my parents could manage. These visits were organised months in advance and I would tag along. I had always wanted to visit Sissinghurst Castle, the home of Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville West, and yesterday did so.

I am interested in diaries and diarists and Harold Nicolson was one of the best chronicler of the times still frequently cited in any history of the 1930s. “Keep a diary …” said Mae West “and one day that diary will keep you.” I suspect Harold Nicolson did not have a financial motive. He was a supreme writer – as was his wife Vita – and their son Nigel and his son Adam have continued the literary tradition.

In reading the Harold Nicholson diary I had no idea that both he and Vita were attracted sexually to their own sex rather than one another. Nigel revealed all in Portrait of a Marriage.

Vita’s most famous lover was Virginia Woolf. Vita could not inherit Knole the home of the Sackville Wests because she was a woman. This always rankled with her.

So in 1932 she and Harold acquired Sissinghurst Castle, an Elizabethan manor owned by Sir Richard Baker, and built a magnificent garden there.

As you pass through the rather dull red brick home reminiscent of a minor Oxbridge College you enter formal walled gardens.

Because of the crowd as it was a warm summer’s day this was not that easy to navigate.

So I was pleased to find myself in more open land by a stream which led to a gazebo with breathtaking views over the Kentish Weald.

It must have been a wonderful spot to write. Despite passing my annual medical which included a cardiogram I decided not to risk the 78 stairs of the Tower where Vita wrote.

I’m always interested in the sort of people who visit such gardens. I expected botanists but it was mainly families – a trip for the elderly – or overseas tourists.

My strategy is the first time to get the lay of the land with a view to future visits. It would be a lovely place for a picnic.

Knole and Winston Churchill’s home Chartwell are not that far. With its gift shops some may say that the National Trust is too commercial I would argue that it has saved spectacular homes and gardens for the nation.

About Robert Tickler

A man of financial substance, Robert has a wide range of interests and opinions to match. More Posts