Essential Architecture-  United Kingdom

Sissinghurst Castle Garden


Vita Sackville-West


in the Weald of Kent, near Cranbrook, Goudhurst and Tenterden


garden 1930s






  The Elizabethan tower at Sissinghurst.
Sissinghurst Castle Garden

The garden at Sissinghurst Castle in the Weald of Kent, near Cranbrook, Goudhurst and Tenterden, is owned and maintained by the National Trust. It is among the most famous gardens in England. Indeed, some garden enthusiasts would put it first.

Sissinghurst's garden was created in the 1930s by Vita Sackville-West, poet and gardening writer, and her husband Harold Nicolson, author and diplomat. Sackville-West was a writer on the fringes of the Bloomsbury group who found her greatest popularity in the weekly columns she contributed as gardening correspondent of The Observer, which incidentally—for she never touted it—made her own garden famous. Sissinghurst's garden is one of the best-loved in the whole of the United Kingdom, drawing visitors from all over the world. The garden itself is designed as a series of "rooms", each with a different character of colour and/or theme, the walls being high clipped hedges and many pink brick walls.

The site is ancient—its name and means a Saxon clearing in the woods. A manorhouse surrounded by a moat was built here in the Middle Ages. The original building was replaced in the late 15th century by a large manor built by the Baker family—related by marriage to the Sackvilles of Knole and hugely enlarged in the 1560s when it became the centre of a 700 acre deer park. For Sackville-West, Sissinghurst and its garden rooms came to be a poignant and romantic substitute for Knole, reputedly the largest house in Britain, which as the only child of Lionel, the 3rd Lord Sackville she would have inherited had she been a male, but which had passed to her uncle as the male heir.

After the collapse of the Baker family in the 17th century, the building had many uses: as a prisoner-of-war camp during the Seven Years' War; as the workhouse for the Cranbrook Union; after which it became homes for farm labourers.

Rose arbor in Sissinghurst's White garden room.Sackville-West and Nicolson found Sissinghurst in 1930 after concern that their property Long Barn, near Sevenoaks, Kent, was close to development over which they had no control. Although Sissinghurst was derelict, they purchased the ruins and the farm around it and began constructing the garden we know today. The layout by Nicolson and planting by Sackville-West were both strongly influenced by the gardens of Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens and also by Hidcote Manor Garden, designed and owned by Lawrence Johnston. Sissinghurst was first opened to the public in 1938.

The National Trust took over the whole of Sissinghurst, its garden, farm and buildings, in 1967. The garden epitomises the English garden of the mid-20th century. It is now very popular and visitors should try to visit during the less busy periods of the year and day.