Located in the Kentish countryside near Cranbrook, Sissinghurst is a wonderful garden in the ruin of a great Elizabethan home, set in the middle of its own woods and farmland. Despite its great history: it had been a medieval manor house, visited by both queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth in the 16th century, it fell progressively into ruins and was mistreated over nearly 300 years. It became a prison for up to 3,000 captured French seamen during the Seven Years War (1756-63) and suffered heavy destruction. It was acquired in 1930 by Harold Nicolson, writer and diplomat, and Vita Sackville-West, poet, novelist and gardener, who magnificently revived this once-great but neglected set of ruins into a remarkable home with a series of impressive gardens.
The Tudor central entrance arch - National Trust
Entering the Tudor central entrance arch and gateway built in 1530, and passing four 19th-century bronze urns, we access the 'Top Courtyard', a cool green space walled on all sides. The front range and oldest part of the building (c.1490) is covered with red roses "Allen Chandler" and pale pink roses 'Meg' on the inner side of the Front Courtyard. A real delight for the eyes!
Inner side of the Front Courtyard - ©National Trust Images/Jonathan Buckley
The 'Purple Border', a clever mix of pink, blues, lilacs and purples, is a real showstopper with its exquisite combinations of lupines, roses, clematis and hardy geranium. To extend its blooming season, tulips, wallflowers, irises and dahlias have been progressively added.
The Purple Border - ©National Trust Images/Jonathan Buckley
At the southern end of the 'Top Courtyard', a small gateway leads into the 'Rose Garden', where irises, alliums, peonies, Japanese anemones and eremurus are planted among the mounded roses. Figs, vines, clematis and more roses are trained on the walls. There is little bare soil to be seen!
Paeonia "Felix Crousse" in the Rose Garden - ©National Trust Images/Jonathan Buckley
What a wonderful spot in which to sit and enjoy the rich fragrances exuded by the Rose Garden! Hugging the wall is a spectacular Clematis 'Perle d'Azur' in all its splendor.
Lutyens bench in the Rose Garden - ©National Trust Images/Jonathan Buckley
The 'Lime Walk' or 'Spring Garden' reflects the deep involvement of Harold, who controlled the planting as well as the design. This beautiful avenue is bordered by pleached limes with colorful patches of spring flowers underplanted around their feet.
The Lime Walk with spring flowers in bloom - ©National Trust Images/David Sellman
Off the Spring Garden, is the hot colored 'Cottage Garden', where 4 large Irish yews dominate the center of the garden. Following a "sunset" scheme, that can be admired from spring to fall, they are surrounded by a rich mix of oranges, reds and yellows reflected first in the tulips, wallflowers, aquilegias and arctotis, then later in the season in the verbascum, red hot pokers, cannas, crocosmias and dahlias. Joining their warm glow, some annuals have also been added such as the beautiful 'Deep red' sunflower and the 'Ladybird' corn poppies.
National Trust Images/Jonathan Buckley
The spring planting of red, orange and yellow tulips and wallflowers in the Cottage Garden.
At its peak in late spring, the 'Nuttery' becomes a spectacular sight with its succession of cobnuts underplanted with splashes of yellows, blues, greens and whites, emanating from the euphorbia amygdaloides, smyrnium perfoliatum, orchids, trilliums, white bluebells and wood anemones.
Statue of Dionysus in the Nuttery - ©National Trust Images/Jonathan Buckley
Alongside the 'Nuttery' and separated from it by a bank of golden azaleas, underplanted with bluebells, is the 'Moat Walk', where the wisteria floribunda 'Alba' is flowing over the wall and superbly mingles with the erysimum 'Bowles Mauve'.
Azaleas, bluebells and wisteria in spring on the Moat Walk - ©National Trust Images/Jonathan Buckley
Climbing the Elizabethan Tower is quite an experience with sweeping views over the Kentish countryside and Sissinghurst gardens.
The Elizabethan Tower
Vita established her workroom on the first floor of the Tower, sanctuary where she wrote her books, poetry and gardening articles.
The Writing Room in the Tower - ©National Trust Images/John Hammond
From the Tower lawn a small gateway leads to the 'White garden' where Harold added white gladioli, white irises, white pompon dahlias and white Japanese anemones that they both loved very much. Giant Arabian thistles (Onopordum Acanthium) glamorize the beds and 4 Rosa Mulliganii have been trained up an arbor at the corners of the central crossing.
The White Garden, Sissinghurst, ©National Trust Images/Jonathan Buckley
Attached to the Priest's House is the shady summer dining patio. It is in a little trellis-covered colonnade, called the Erechtheum after the temple on the Acropolis in Athens, and covered with a white fragrant wisteria. Vita spent her last days in June 1962, in the bedroom above, looking out through one window over the greys, creams and greens of the White Garden.
Wisteria venusta in spring in the White Garden - ©National Trust Images/Jonathan Buckley
Faced with large death duties to pay on the estate, and concerned about maintaining his parent's great creations, Vita and Harold's son, Nigel, decided to transfer the ownership of the estate to the National Trust (www.nationaltrust.org.uk) in 1967. Today, over 180,000 people visit each year this wonderful and remarkable estate.