a Historic Market Town in the county of East Riding of Yorkshire
a Historic Market Town in the county of Derbyshire
in the county of Merseyside
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It is entirely fitting that one of the loveliest gardens in the land can be found in a county renowned for its beauty and affectionately known as 'The Garden of England' for Kent is all this and much more.
Across the landscape of Kent there is a patchwork of tile-hung villages, pretty towns, orchards full of ripened fruit, hop fields and picturesque harbours with a flotilla of gracious tall-mast yachts. Amongst all this lie the famed gardens of Sissinghurst Castle, created by Vita Sackville-West and her husband Sir Harold Nicholson in the 1930's.
The couple had fallen in love with virtually derelict Sissinghurst Castle, a once grand mansion built in the mid-15th-century for Sir Richard Baker. Occupying a lovely location above the Vale of Kent, Sissinghurst was one of the first English mansion's to be built of brick. After a chequered history covering a couple of hundred years, the house suffered various degrees of neglect and had it not been for the foresight of this talented pair, the house and grounds would have been swallowed up by the ravages of time.
Together, they set about repairing the fabric of the building and once this was done they quickly transformed the interior into a comfortable country house. Sir Harold was a well known historian and his wife was an author and poet, they were both possessed of a sense of romance and order, thus it was not surprising the pair turned their attention to the shambolic grounds around their lovely new home.
Old garden walls and derelict buildings dictated the shape of the garden which was designed to represent a series of outdoor rooms - each, a faultless example of colour and form. Delightful walkways were created to link large and small enclosures, giving the six acre grounds an illusion of space and harmony. The design belongs to Sir Harold but the colour and texture of flowers, plants and trees where chosen by Vita Sackville-West.
A dramatic feature is the garden built around the back-drop of the Tudor prospect tower with its two octagonal turrets. To one side the moat is still filled with water and a spiral staircase runs up to the top of the tower from which there are extensive views over the garden across softly glowing Kentish countryside. A main walk leads from the tower to the White garden with silver-leaved plants and sweet white flowers. The Rose garden, is the most famous of all the gardens, it shows a variety of old scented roses, whilst the Cottage garden has a lovely collection of old-fashioned plants.
This is a carefully contrived garden where colourful clematis, wisteria, honeysuckle and roses ramble over walls, climbing up past windows, reaching towards eaves and winding around doorways give an impression of the un-contrived. There is an enduring quality about Sissinghurst, which interestingly started life as a medieval manor-farm. After a couple of hundred years the house passed to Sir Thomas Baker whose ambitious son John made alterations. He entertained Queen Mary here in 1557. His son Sir Richard Baker is thought to have demolished most of the old structure and built for himself a magnificent mansion which included the Elizabethan wing and the tower. Queen Elizabeth I visited Sissinghurst Castle in 1573.
When Vita Sackville-West died in 1962 not only did she leave behind a cherished historic house but more importantly, she left a garden of great beauty where there are elements of magic everywhere you look.
Sissinghurst is cared for by the National Trust. It is open to the public from March until November.
Worth mentioning is the village of Sissinghurst itself - this is a lovely pleasant place to amble around, there is a rich mix of delightful architecture, a beautiful old church with clock tower and a pleasant pub. The village is within a short distance of the market town of Tenterden which has wonderful Elizabethan and Georgian houses.
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