Sissinghurst – The jewel in the crown ?

6 Jul

The last stop on my Tour de Kent was the creme de la creme of gardens – Sissinghurst..

As one of the most visited gardens in Britain, we shouldn’t have been surprised, at 10am on a Monday morning, to find the car park busy with coaches just off the ferry from Germany and Holland. When there are people queuing round the block to get in, it’s perhaps strange that they don’t open till 11am, leaving us to wander aimlessly round the gift shop – standard, not overly inspiring, NT products.

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To avoid the crowds, we headed off piste to the new kitchen garden. This is a new development, masterminded by Sarah Raven, who recently spent a couple of years living here at Sissinghurst ( her husband Adam Nicholson’s family own the castle ). She and Adam spent several years trying to bring Sissinghurst into the 20th century so to speak. They wanted to farm the land, grow food for the cafés, and generally update the whole NT concept. They’ve now moved back to their house, Perch Hill, but I’m not sure if they all parted on good terms !

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The vegetable garden is huge, laid out on a gentle scope, and buzzing with volunteers. There’s certainly plenty of produce being grown here to supply the cafe and restaurant. But whether they using it in a modern innovative way, I wonder.
We did stop for tea and a scone after our trip round the garden, and they were ok but the little pots of non-local strawberry jam were disappointing – is it too much to ask for homemade jam ?

The garden itself was hitting its June peak. The roses looked fabulous as you would expect. The white garden was impressive. But it really was hard to enjoy the space as it was simply so busy – and this was Monday morning remember ! I struggled to take any photos without people in them !

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The only respite we found was in the herb garden , at the furthest point from the house and during a brief shower so fewer people had ventured that far.

Sissinghurst is a garden divided into distinct rooms and altho this can give a good sense of enclosure, when there are so many people it just makes you slightly claustrophobic. The high yew hedges also remove any sense of what is beyond the garden – beautiful, rolling, quintessentially English countryside. Which is a great shame, you could really be anywhere.

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The high horticultural standards of the NT are very much in evidence, but though I tried to imagine Vita Sackville West wandering through the White Garden, it was hard to do.
Add to the experience the lacklustre catering and uninspirational gift shop, and you’re left with a pastiche of Englisg Country Garden within a theme park.

The other two garden I visited that weekend – Great Dixter & Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage – made a far greater impression on me.

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