Tuesday, 10 September 2013


This week, Great Dixter is hosting a garden symposium group from North America. One of the perks of working here is that Fergus will often ask you to tag along on educational opportunities. This week has been a perfect example: yesterday, I was able to join the symposium group for a talk by Alexis Datta, the former Head Gardener of Sissinghurst. Today, I was even more fortunate to join the group for a tour at Sissinghurst. Troy Scott Smith, the newly appointed Head Gardener, was very kind to show us around the world-famous garden. 

Troy talking to the group on top of the Tower

Although Sissinghurst has quite a storied history, it wasn't until 1930, when Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West arrived and revitalized the neglected Elizabethan property, that it started to become what we know it as today. Located in Kent (about 20 minutes from Dixter), Sissinghurst sits amid a wonderful mixture of woods and farmland. Despite their limited design background, Harold and Vita masterfully dissected the space into a series of rooms, making the 6 acres feel much bigger, without losing its sense of intimacy. Hedges, composed mostly of Yew and Boxwood, play a major role in the partitioning of rooms, and are a work of art in and of themselves. Remnants of the original walls also delineate space, while lending to much of Sissinghurst's unique character. 

A view from the Tower shows the layout of rooms outlined by walls and hedges

Heralded as one of the flagship gardens in England, Sissinghurst is truly a remarkable mixed composition of formality and informality. While some point to the White Garden, and others the Rose collection, or still others the tightly clipped hedges, to me, Sissinghurst's greatest attribute is its spacial balance and flow, coupled with a most effective combination of hard and soft elements. 

View of the Elizabethan Tower from the White Garden

Fifty-plus years after the passing of Vita and Harold, Sissinghurst still pays tribute to the visionaries and creators of this gem. The garden is carefully and thoughtfully maintained in such a way as to respect and carry on their work. With the passing of the baton to Troy, I expect there will be changes in the coming months and years, but all for the betterment and quality of this special place. 

A small tribute in the Tower stairwell

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