perfection does not a garden make

Troy Scott-Smith, Head Gardener at Sissinghurst has been charged with the mission to “re-Vita-lise” the garden.  What does this mean?  Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson created Sissinghurst, a garden made by two people for two people; a romantic, intimate, emotional and exuberant garden.  The 250,000+ Sissinghurst visitors a year have come to expect a horticultural perfection that evolved over time. The two gardeners responsible for the look and feel of the gardens at Sissinghurst were Pam Schwerdt and Sibylle Kreutzberger, who gardened at Sissinghurst for 30 years.

Historic photo of the rose garden at Sissinghurst

The Gallica rose is the oldest cultivated rose in existence today.  It is thought to be a native to central and southern Europe including France hence the name gallica (meaning of Gaul) and we know that it was grown by both the Romans and Greeks.  Vita particularly loved the romance of the gallica roses, especially the dark and sumptuous ‘Tuscany’ which was also known as the Velvet Rose.

These two women gardeners par excellence added varieties, kept the lawn weed free, trimmed the hedges, straightened the paths, and lived on the Sissinghurst property.

Formal Gardens At Sissinghurst Castle

After extensive research, Troy Scott-Smith appointed Head Gardener in 2013, came to the conclusion, that the Sissinghurst of today, was not the garden Vita and Harold had lovingly created. Vita Sackville-West kept expansive plant records and wrote a gardening column. In addition, there are  historic photographs of Sissinghurst during Vita and Harold’s time. Troy Scott-Smith said something you rarely hear from gardeners today, Sissinghurst under Vita and Harold was a garden in tune with the seasons.  When plants finished, there was a blank.  A garden can have its ups and downs.

 Vita was a romantic.  Her garden was lived in, roses cascading everywhere, old beaten up pots…a garden with little moments throughout the year.  The garden related to the surrounding landscape, the orchards and the pastures.  It had a sense of place.

Look at hedges in Vita’s day and compare that with perfectly trimmed hedges in color photo above.

I am relying on old historic photos, because many of the ideas that Troy Scott-Smith talked about are in process.  The changes that have been made are things like an underground car park, an ticket entrance to the garden that fits in with its surroundings,  the creation of pathways with self-seeders in between the stones, a restaurant that features communal seating with produce from the farm, and the creation of many meadows surrounding the garden property.

From Sissinghurst: Vita Sackville-West and the Creation of a Garden by Vita Sackville West and Sarah Raven. The caption for this photograph reads: Picture by Edie Lamont – one of Vita’s lovers – given to Mary Stewart, the daughter of Vita’s farm tenant. This painting shows clearly the Sissinghurst Vita wanted to create-loose, free and romantic, with the Tower floating above it – a haven from the rest of the world.

The Lime Walk designed by Harold Nicholson

Vita once wrote to Harold: “your little flower bits tear at my heart.”  I think Troy Scott-Smith would like us all to experience this sentiment when visiting Sissinghurst.

by Vita Sackville-West
Dedicated to Virginia Woolf
from Sissinghurst:  Vita Sackville West and The Creation of A Garden by Vita Sackville-West and Sarah Raven

A tired swimmer in the waves of time
I throw my hands up: let the surface close:
Sink down through the centuries to another clime,
And buried find the castle and the rose.
Buried in time and sleep,
So drowsy, overgrown,
That here the moss is green upon the stone,
And lichen stains the keep.
Here, tall and damask as a summer flower,
Rise the brick gable and the springing tower;
Invading Nature crawls
With ivied fingers over rosy walls…
Wherein I find in chain
The castle, and the pasture, and the rose.








Out in the garden, he points to a briar rose, trained in relaxed fashion to form a hedge by the orchard. “For me, in a small way, that sums up Sissinghurst: good horticulture but with an ordinary, natural plant. My discussions have been based around where the planting should be looser and more billowing. To be fair to the team today, they have been trying to do it. It is quite difficult to know which areas you can loosen up without making it unsustainable, as plants need to be pruned in a way that they are still performing in 10 years’ time. We could close off some of the paths to allow plants to fall over, but you can’t do that if people are walking down them.”

Adam Nicolson agrees. The first thing he would like to see is the clipped yews in the front courtyard reverted to the shaggier outline of Harold and Vita’s day. He cites the Italian musical term sprezzatura, “a state in which you are so in control you can afford to loosen up”, as the spirit of the place he would like to see. “Beauty is the governing goddess at Sissinghurst. The place should be so over-brimming with plants, you can hardly move.”


Adam supports new ideas. “I’m all in favour of not thinking Sissinghurst is over, that it has to stick in the past. It will be exciting.” The Telegraph, Just the man for the greatest job in gardening, Alex Thomas


Troy, who likes his team and their work to be visible to visitors, has a major programme to reintroduce Vita’s beloved old roses, as of the 194 varieties growing before 1953, fewer than 100 remain.

Troy saw the need for the place to be unlocked again from the rigour that had become the way that people came to know the garden after the death of Vita and Harold in the 1960’s. A challenge perhaps for the most famous garden in the country but, for one with such good bones, a new era of excitement. Dan Pearson, Dig Delve

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: