The Lime Walk at Sissinghurst Castle
For the past many weeks, I have been chained (or at least bound with a fragile and only too easily broken string) at my desk trying to meet my book deadline. So I apologize for my infrequent posts. I will have so many great gardens and imagery from my book to show you in 2010.
My book is on sustainable design in the smaller garden. The topic of this post, as you can see, is a grandly famous Kentish garden that is neither small nor probably very sustainable. Sissinghurst comes out of another age. But while searching for some reference for my writing, I came across these photographs I took there several years ago. Thinking they were lost to the digital ether, I was very happy to find them. They so vividly remind me of a wonderful visit, gracious hosts and the interesting things that happened to me during my brief hours there and I wanted to share them with you.
The view through the tower gate
I was working for Domino Magazine at the time (do you remember magazines? weren't they nice?) Deborah, my editor, suggested that while on a London shoot that I should visit Sarah Raven, one of our magazine contributors and friends. Sarah is an author of several wonderful cooking and gardening books and she is married to author Adam Nicolson, the grandson of Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West who famously created the gardens there. I was thrilled when Adam and Sarah invited me to stay with them for a night before I went back to New York.
We had a wonderful day. Sarah picked me up at the train station and we went buzzing around buying things to cook together. Adam gave me an evening tour of the fantastic garden, which I had never visited before. Dinner was simple and delicious. I learned that boiled quail eggs rolled in celery salt make a great appetizer. We talked for a long time afterwards in front of an ancient fireplace so huge that Sarah could actually sit under its mantel on a stool. Tired and a little drunk from several whiskies I went up to my bedroom quite late.
The view from my bedroom at dawn
I was awakened in the middle of the night by voices, several loud voices seemingly coming through my open window from the direction of the courtyard. I half-consciously thought they were produced by some deranged family next door and rolled over to sleep. Even Sissinghurst can't pick its neighbors I thought ruefully.
Shortly before sunrise, which came early there around 4:45 am, I heard the shouters again. This time, annoyed, I stumbled out of bed to see who could possibly be so noisy and running around outside at that hour.
Just as I stuck my head out of the window the shouting stopped, almost leaving an echo to bounce between the various buildings. I was trying to imagine what I had heard. It sounded so realistic, like two or three people hailing each other between distant parts of the garden. I waited to hear more but nothing came, so I started to head back under the covers. Just then I was struck by the beautiful view of the golden light starting to come over the horizon and into the misty garden. Bolstered by a dawn chorus of birds I thought to myself, "You dummy, don't go back to sleep get your camera and go see the garden."
I splashed water on my face and tried as silently as possible to get dressed and head outside. A marvelously unpopulated Sissinghurst greeted me tinted by that radiant English light that we garden editors dream about and so rarely get. Wandering alone, I could see how the garden had been planted among the foundations of the Elizabethan castle and sense how it might have been for Adam and his siblings to grow up there in a place where the roles of indoor and outdoors seem to have been reversed. Here the garden is the centerpiece to a collection of former outbuildings turned into one unconventional collective "house". Adam writes beautifully about his life there and the long history of the place in a new book Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History. It's available now at Amazon.uk and will be published here by Viking in May 2010. Pre-order it here.
Several hours later, I was rushing to Heathrow still in a state of stunned amazement. Thank you Adam and Sarah for your hospitality and continued friendship.
Looking back at the Tower from the Rose Garden (above and below)