Sissinghurst Castle and Gardens- from Stone Age to now
We were at the Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent England, which was more of spectacular gardens interspersed with restored remnants of a magnificent 16th century home to explore whatever was left of the ‘Manor House with a moat’ belonging to Saxingherstes family and the present name has a ring to it.
To our query that there was no Castle actually, just a name, the Volunteer answered that by the 1560’s the wealthy Baker family build a lavish courtyard Home that was leased to the government during the Seven Year War that was transformed into a prison for 3000 French prisoners and was mockingly referred to as their ‘Chateau de Sissinghurst or the Sissinghurst Castle’ and ironically the name struck on!! After 300 years of decay and fluctuating ownerships; a couple Vita and Harold Nicholson bought the semi –ruins in 1930’s and ‘Spring came to Sissinghurst’ as they transformed the ruins to manicured gardens and kaleidoscope of flowers beds, vines and bushes.
We had earlier ascended the 78 steps majestic Tower, stopping at Vita’s Writing-Room on the Tower’s landing and had begun walking towards the South Cottage past the beautiful Yew tree Walk.
South Cottage- a Part of a Scattered Home
Further ahead lay the picturesque South Cottage which held Vita and Harold’s bedrooms alongwith Harold’s Work room; enveloped with gardens. We passed the path to the Apple Orchard on our left to join the small queue of visitors as very few persons were allowed into the more-than-500 years old restored tiny home Cottage, at one time! We were fortunate to visit Sissinghurst on a day when Volunteers were available to escort us to the South Cottage so visitors are allowed in, otherwise one cannot go on your own.
Waiting outside I felt as part of a scenic landscape surrounded by abundance of vivid bright flowers. I stepped into the Time machine to visualise the Nicholson family living in different parts of Sissinghurst- the parents Vita and Harold in this Cottage across the wide lawns, Vita spending her day at the Tower Writing-Room, their sons Nigel and Benedict lived between the Priest house, Cottage and Long Library-Big Room, all spread over a vast area united with lawns, gardens, trees and shrubs- so unusual!!
The Aesthetic Toy South Cottage
Soon we stepped into the toy-like cottage to first enter Harold’s Book room with a long Writing Table lined with book-shelves, the early 20th century Typewriter & telephone and overseeing the beautiful Cottage-Garden.
The carved elegant 4 poster bed, the intricate tapestry behind it, the black-white wall paintings, the traditional furniture & rugs on the floor – all reflected the aesthetic high standards of Harold Nicholson. The bedroom too has awesome visuals of the Tower gardens!
Next we climbed up the narrow wooden staircase to Vita’s large bedroom, quite similar to Harold’s room downstairs but had some medieval items from her magnificent childhood home in Knole like the bedframe and many travel souvenirs. Yet the couple chose to live on their own separately?
Passing the ‘small bedroom size’ bathroom with modern fittings we eagerly went ahead to the fantasy Cottage garden dominated by 4 big Yew trees and colourful flowers of all shapes and sizes swathed us. The Cottage garden with the backdrop of the ‘orangish’- red brick Cottage mirrored the refined and stylish gardening techniques of the Nicholsons.
Delos- from Greece to Britain
We decided to next explore the Mediterranean Delos that was on our far right. I recalled reading about the Greek archaeological site of the Delos Island believed to be birthplace of Apollo. Soon we entered the fascinating Delos complex where Vita and Harold tried to replicate the ancient site from a photograph taken by Vita on her trip to Delos in Greece; with the small rocky stones, columns and pillars they found in Sissinghurst from the ruins of the 16th century palatial house.
It was easy to get the Delos look but the Mediterranean plants were problematic. Years later, now Garden designer Dan Pearson & National Trust gardeners have been successful in recreating the look with Mediterranean plants, evergreen shrubs besides scattered Cork-Oaks interspersed with spring and summer flowers- the whole effect is captivating exquisiteness!
Enchanting White Garden and More
Behind the Delos we could see cluster of white flowers and headed for the famous theatrical White Garden of Sissinghurst. It was a sunny warm day and the white clusters of flowers gave it all a soothing look like a white wedding! I looked out for the Oak-Box seat, as per our Guide book, where Vita had decided to create this white garden on a cold January moonlit night! In the time machine I saw Harold and Vita give shape to the ‘white dream’ with white Irises, white Tulips and white gladioli, white pom-pom- Dahlias and white Japanese Anemones!
We were told that up ahead was Nicholson family’s Dining room and Kitchen. We had been pondering throughout our visit where these 2 areas were as Sissinghurst is a fragmented house approachable through garden paths only! These units were restored by the Nicholsons as Sissinghurst was purchased as a ruin!!
The Remarkable Purple Border
We decided to walk back to the Nicholsons ‘Big Room’ near the Entrance of Sissinghurst that served as a Drawing room then, now called the Long Library with 4000 books!! With the majestic Tower behind us strolling past the Purple- Bordertowards the Long Library I recalled reading how Vita created this dramatic primarily purple mien with plethora of purple, crimson, magenta, blue, pink, lilac violet flowers that looks remarkable till today!