All the same, I cannot help hoping that the great ghostly barn-owl will sweep silently across a pale garden, next summer in the twilight – the pale garden that I am now planting, under the first flakes of snow.Vita Sackville-West
When we think of gardens and garden flowers we usually think of colours – lots of colours. But there is something particularly restful about a garden that has nothing but white, and shades of green. And by limiting the colour palette, texture and patterns of light and shade come to the fore.
An English manor house
Despite its name, Sissinghurst Castle in Kent is more of a manor house than a castle. The original manor house was built around the end of the 13th / early 14th centuries. Nothing remains of that house apart from some sections of its moat. But in the 16th century a new Renaissance courtyard home was built here by the Baker family. It had a new brick gatehouse and comfortable family accommodation.
The house was leased to the government during the Seven Years War (1756-63) to be used as a prison camp for 3,000 captured French sailors. It is to them that we owe the ‘castle’ element of the estate’s name; they wrote home to their families, often referring to Sissinghurst as Chateau de Sissinghurst, and the name stuck. Unfortunately, they also destroyed much of the house.
What survived was restored by the Mann Cornwallis family, including the Renaissance gatehouse, stable block and several farm cottages. But Sissinghurst owes much of its present-day fame to the couple who bought it in 1930 – Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson. They fell in love with the estate and devoted much of the rest of their lives to creating a home here. They restored some of the buildings and adapted them for their needs; but most significantly, they created the garden that would make Sissinghurst famous. It was Harold who designed the series of separate ‘rooms’; but Vita whose influence is most strongly felt in the planting of these. She felt that plants should not be constrained but instead be allowed to tumble over paths in a more romantic style.
The White Garden
This is perhaps the most famous of these ‘rooms’. As the website of the National Trust (who now own and manage the property) explains:
Creating one colour borders and gardens was something that appealed to Vita. She had already created the Cottage Garden with its narrow range of ‘hot’ colours and relished the idea of another opportunity to experiment with colour. She understood that when colour was restricted, the focus of the gardener had to be on creating interest and drama with different shapes, textures and form.
Vita described the development of the garden in her column in the Observer newspaper, from which my quote above is taken. She planned for the White Garden to hit its floral peak in July. Unfortunately we visited in August, in the middle of a heatwave, so some of the flowers were past their best; but there was still plenty to enjoy.
I’m sharing this gallery of images from our visit as my first contribution to Jude’s Life in Colour challenge, which this month is focusing on white and silver.
I visited Sissinghurst in 2018