The Delights of Sissinghurst Castle Gardens
An evening with Sarah Raven at Sissinghurst Castle Gardens
I have always loved Sarah Raven's cut flowers and bulbs. I love her aesthetic and the way she mixes practical vegetable gardening with oodles of jewel-like planting.
In my previous garden, I was lucky enough to have a beautiful potager which I filled with Sarah's seeds and masses of dark purple dahlia and La Belle Époque tulip bulbs.
This Sissinghurst adventure was for my Mother's 70th birthday present (I guess like many Mother's and Daughters we tend to share and love the same things!)
The day was every bit as perfect as we hoped it would be. The weather was glorious, and we were welcomed with an array of beautiful roses tumbling over the old gated walls. As we went through, Sarah and her team had prepared the most delicious canapes – Pea and mint dips, avocado and parmesan crisps… and champagne.
My mum has visited Sissinghurst before, but it is something extra special to sit on the tower steps on a balmy hot evening and listen while Adam Nicolson told stories of the history of Sissinghurst Castle. We learned how the poet, novelist and garden writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband the diplomat and diarist Harold Nicolson had fallen in love with the ruin and transformed it into the epitome of the English garden. Sarah chatted about how Harold had designed the structure of the landscaping, and then how Vita was let loose with her romantic planting – inspired by Knole House – the home and garden Vita has adored as a child.
We were then able to wander around the garden, the tower and the south cottage at our leisure and what a treat it was to see the garden with so few people in it.
I found the rose garden utterly captivating. I love formal gardens that are then bursting with cascades of dramatic planting. I particularly enjoyed the little pops of Primrose yellow that echoed throughout the borders. It gave such a lovely contrast to the abundance of romantic pinks and opulent frou-frou of the roses. I have never thought of mixing that colour combination before – I often shy away from yellow in my garden, but this was a gorgeous palette.
Sarah had already mentioned that Sissinghurst had recently undergone and a transition back to its former aesthetic under the creative talent of Troy Scott Smith – the National Trust Head Gardener there. Indeed, it is all perfect it a not quite perfect way. There is a relaxed and passionate feel to the planting which has the exuberance and romance of a living breathing growing garden, not a museum.
The white garden enthralled my mother. She had seen it about ten years ago but couldn't believe how different and intimate it felt. The garden is the same, with a sense of history oozing from every rose, but there is something about it that seems afresh. It was just so, so beautiful as the evening light glinted on the white roses and we wandered through the scented pathways.
After our adventures amongst the roses, we had a delicious 3-course dinner – all made with fresh ingredients from Sarah Raven's kitchen garden. The food was excellent, and it was just a special, special evening.
If you ever get the opportunity to visit either Sarah's garden, her evening talk or Sissinghurst itself, I cannot recommend either highly enough.