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Vita & Harold

Vita Sackville-West and her husband Nigel Nicolson bought their home, Sissinghurst, in 1930 and gradually created one of the most famous gardens of all time.

Vita and Harold

Photo: Public domain (Das steinerne Herz / Wikimedia Commons)

From left to right: Harold Nicolson, Vita Sackville-West, Rosamund Grosvenor, Lionel Sackville-West

When Vita Sackville-West and her husband Nigel Nicolson bought their home, Sissinghurst in Kent, United Kingdom, in 1930 it was in very bad shape. They restored most of the derelict Elizabethan buildings and gradually created one of the most famous gardens of all time.

Visitors still flock to this quintessential English garden to admire the long formal vistas, private enclosures with clipped yew hedges, and the profuse romantic beds of flowers. Harold was the mastermind of design, creating sweeping lawns, water features, and geometric structure in the overall plan.

Roses are used lavishly at Sissinghurst; they clamber all over the mellow brick walls, intertwine with clematis, and scent the air. Vita, who chose the plants, didn’t’ like roses with no perfume and loved the old-fashioned shrub varieties and even encouraged ramblers to clamber up trees in the orchard.

Her widely imitated white garden has beds edged with boxwood and grey foliaged plants such as lavender co-mingled with white lilies, peonies, wisteria, and other cottage-garden favorites. Many modern gardeners have a visit to Sissinghurst on their bucket list, and I recommend that you visit if you can.

Vita died in 1962 and Harold a few years after. On Vita’s funeral service-sheet were the lines from her poem “The Land.”

“She walks among the loveliness she made,
Between the apple blossom and the water
She walks among the patterned pied brocade,
Each flower her son and every tree her daughter.”

Note: The Lilly Library of Rare Books at Indiana University, Bloomington holds many of the private papers, diaries, and letters written by Vita and Harold. He was in the British Foreign Service for many years, and they corresponded every day when he was abroad or in London while she was at Sissinghurst.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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