Sissinghurst Castle GardensA treat this afternoon – a walk with the head gardener, Alexis Datta around an empty (!) Sissinghurst (on a Wednesday, when it is closed to the public). The National Trust run a series of walks such as this at their different gardens. Yet again we were blessed with an incredibly blue sky, bright sunshine and a wonderful cooling, fresh north-easterly wind. Our guide has been at Sissinghurst for 17 years – as Head Gardener for the past 4. Although the walk had been entitled ‘The Splendour of Spring’ and expected to highlight the Lime Walk resplendent with tulips, spanish bluebells and snakeshead fritillariae – with the amazingly hot weather of the past couple of weeks, the Lime Walk had completely gone over. We did admire the pleached limes and the hornbeam hedge which is cut twice a year to keep its formal lines all through the summer. Interesting tip – they put sticks in the ground at places where the bulbs made a poor show this year so that they know where to replant for next.

On to the Nuttery – probably the best part of the garden right now packed with Trilliums – the white of the grandiflorum flowers gleaming through the dappled shade under the trees and the browny red¬†Trillium sessile with interesting leaf bordering the path. Buy them in leaf, said AD, don’t try to grow them from the rhizomes as they don’t appreciate the drying out.

White wisteria sinensis alba with 2 foot long pannicles tumbling over the wall along the Moat Walk opposite the golden Ghent Azaleas.

I had never really thought about why it is called Sissinghurst CASTLE gardens – in fact there was never a castle here at all – simply a medieval, moated manor house down in the old orchard area (part of the moat remains today), followed by the Tudor manor house, (the front range of buildings now remaining) – with Elizabethan tower. However, Sissinghurst housed more than 3000 French prisoners of war for 7 years from 1756 and it was they who called it ‘le chateau’.

Alexis talked about how Vita and Harold bought the castle ruin and surrounding land for £12,000 in 1930 with the objective of creating a new garden, having decided to leave their former home at Long Barn near Sevenoaks as there was to be development nearby. Harold was responsible for the hard landscaping (although he had no formal training) planning the wonderful long views and vistas. Vita was the plantswoman and between 1947 and 1961 wrote a weekly gardening column for the Observer newspaper which is a wonderful record of what Vita liked and disliked and helps the Head Gardener to decide on what to plant.

The wildflower meadow in the orchard looked stunning with the roses climbing up through the fruit trees (not yet out) – they lost quite a few trees in the ’87 hurricane so have created wooden structures as a replacement for some of the roses to scramble up.

A shock to see that a section of the tall yew hedges which make up the Yew Walk between the tower lawn orchard have been cut down (owing to an attack of the fungal disease, phytophera) and new plants put in (currently about 2 feet high). Of course this completely opens out the view from the Tower Lawn onto the orchard – some may like it, others not. Apparently it will be another 7 years before the new plants reach the same height as the existing yews.

On the tower wall, noticed the beautiful yellow climbing Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’ – only 4 yrs old and very fast growing – already up to first floor window.

News that the Priest’s house in the corner of the white garden is currently being converted by the Trust to be one of their holiday cottages and so will be available to rent! White rose Mme Alfred Carriere against house wall, Viburnum opulus roseum, Geraneum cenereum subcaulescens, Chaenomeles ‘Knap Hill Scarlet’, Physostegia virginiana ‘Alba’, Olearea scilloniensis and Pulmonaria officinalis ‘Sissinghurst white’- all caught my eye!

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