I am still occasionally reluctant to admit I’m a Woolf scholar, but I’ve never been a Bloomsbury person. I drew the line there.
Nonetheless, I loved my visit to Sissinghurst Castle and Gardens, a ruined castle which Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson made into one of the most celebrated gardens in England. What makes Sissinghurst special is that it represents the best of an English garden: lush, overplanted, and making subtle use of architectural elements to better show off the plants. This is not Versailles. Instead, there’ll be a low brick wall, then a high one, each sized to best show off the clematis and roses growing before it. An arbor frames a view of the farm in the distance. The white garden, with every kind of white flower, is like a canyon between high walls, flowers on left and right, with a wide lawn between. It’s not hard to envision oneself in a moonlit scene in such a spot.
Even on a dreary day, with a damp ticket entitling me to the buffet lunch in my pocket, and with the diesel engines of the tour bus idling in the background, in my Barbour raincoat, pretending not to see all the middle-aged Americans who’d come on this pilgrimage with me, it was a romantic sight.
If you’ve been there or not, you’ll find it’s worth a click over to the lovely personal essay in today’s Times by their grandson, Adam Nicolson, who lives there now.
Photo of The Rose Garden at Sissinghurst Castle; Jonathan Buckley/National Trust Photo Library