Getting Real


How comforting – Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson had plant casualties. They were like the rest of us, after all. This amusing revelation comes thanks to The National Trust’s renewed efforts to restore some of the ebullience and gay abandon that Sissinghurst’s creators strived for when they were alive. Sissinghurst is getting real, and with that comes exciting changes to the garden’s layout, planting and attitude to visitors.

The South Cottage (below), in which the couple lived and Harold wrote, is open to the public for the first time this year. The rooms remain much as they would have known them, and are still enjoyed by their descendents every June. Harold’s description in 1933 reveals his affection for the building:

The sitting-room is lovely except that the opening is too big. My bedroom, w.c. and bathroom are divine. The primroses are superb. Dine. Bed. Rebecca curled up beside me. Home.*

* Rebecca was a wire-haired terrier.

In the kitchen-cum-flower room Vita tended sick plants. Those that didn’t respond favourably to her minstrations found their labels tossed into an old tomato box. Perhaps this is why Christopher Lloyd, at nearby Great Dixter, hated plant labels so much. They reminded him of miniature gravestones.

I suspect we all have a ‘box of the dead’. Mine’s an old propagator lid. What’s yours?


The Cottage Garden, Sissinghurst, May 2014


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19 thoughts on “Getting Real

  1. Even whilst working at Sissinghurst for 4 and a half years, having watered the flowers in Vita’s tower writing room and seen up close her trinkets on the window sill and desk, a treat visitors must look longingly through the gate at. I have never crossed the threshold of south cottage! How lovely the family have been so kind to allow one of their inner sanctums to be seen.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a lovely inspiring article and the photo is gorgeous. Did you take it yourself? The yellow, orange and lime green is such a breathtaking combination.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve often wondered what is inside that cottage. Would be worth a trip over to see it. Sissinghurst as a whole never disappoints in any event.
    I’m not sure I’m organised enough for a box of the dead. The labels are still mixed in with all the rest. Hopeless.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m more ruthless than Vita – once a plant is dead, that’s it. Label and all, chucked out. I’m a regular at Great Dixter but have never been to Sissinghurst; the treat of peeking into the cottage will lure me down there this year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Here’s a tip then. When you are in the garden, go straight to the South Cottage and claim your timed ticket. At the moment they are only available from the cottage itself, and with only 10-12 people per guided tour they go fast.


      1. Good; looking forward to that. I was anxious to hear your comments. Nice as they may be the buildings do not set my heart alight.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I stuff the labels in my pockets and find them later, feeling a little bit sad. Then I quickly recover and plan what to put in the space. I never been to either Sissinghurst or Great Dixter, must to my shame. One day, I will, I am sure. Lovely photo, looking forward to the rest x

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Now I have a good reason for feeling okay about not labelling my pots. The alternative is to quickly fill a hole for the label is redundant!

    Not been to Sissinghurst but am halfway through reading about it in the latest NT magazine. Who knows – maybe later this year.

    Liked by 1 person

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