Sissinghurst Castle Gardens - National Trust Kent

Built on the site of a medieval manor Sissinghurst is instantly recognisable by the sixteenth century tower which adds a fairytale like charm drawing visitors from across the globe .

I recently took a trip back to Sissinghurst which felt like stepping onto the set of a sleeping beauty movie as the garden reawakened . Its slightly unkempt appearance, a change to its usually well manicured style, was a consequence of Covid restrictions limiting the number of volunteers and gardeners allowed onto the site. It was as if the plants were relishing their freedom, growing through previous confines, giving the place a whimsical air of enchantment.

Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent Tower with Summer poppies . National Trust South East Kent .

The gardens were created mainly in the 1930's by Vita Sackville West a respected author and part of the famous Bloomsbury Set alongside Harold, her Husband who was a Diplomat. There have been many books written about the couple as well as the gardens . Both were also known to have relationships with partners of the same sex durning their marriage, Vita most famously had a 10 year affair with Virginna Woolf who visited Sissinghurst often .


Vita Sackville West and Harold Nicolson Sissinghurst .

If laws were different in the 1930's Sissinghurst as we know it would not exist. . The laws of primogeniture dictated that only men could inherit property. Vita had been left distraught after the death of her Father as she could not inherit her beloved family home Knole in Kent where she always felt she belonged. Vita and Harold instead brought Sissinghurst in 1930, then a neglected collection of Tudor buildings with a sprawling farm. The couple worked hard to clear the site and restore buildings starting with Vita's beloved tower.

It appears that Harold designed the garden "rooms" and Vita filled them with flowers .

The garden is always evolving , but still faithfully follows their lines, planting and ideals today .

Since 2008 Sissinghurst has a Vegetable Garden and the farmland on the estate is now a working tenanted farm. These were set up in partnership with Adam Nicolson, the Grandson of Vita and Harold with his wife Sarah Raven who is also a writer, and Gardner. The project was the subject of a BBC Documentary and Adam also wrote a book about this venture and the estate https://www.sevenoaksbookshop.co.uk/shop/sissinghurst-an-unfinished-history-by-adam-nicolson/

Most of produce is used to feed visitors to the cafe, which makes the food miles zero as it is only 100 metres to the restaurant.



The gardeners at Sissinghurst have sought to find and replant the original varitiies, using Vita's notebooks, diaries and catalogues marked with potential rose orders . Her thoughts on roses where recorded in her garden notebook in 1954, these really made chuckle as I read :

“I know also that most of them suffer from the serious drawback of flowering only once during a season, but what incomparable lavishness they give, while they are about it. There is nothing scrimpy or stingy about them. They have a generosity which is as desirable in plants as in people”.


People often ask when is the best time to visit Sissinghurst ?

Many say that that June is best as the roses will be in bloom , but the garden has so much more to offer than just roses and the famous white garden .

Spring was my first time at Sissinghurst, way back in 2008 for a pond dipping experience with my kids. There was a torrential downpour which sent most people scurrying off to the cafe for shelter. We stayed in the garden and were rewarded with a rainbow stretching across the fields framing the open barn . The gardens were clear of visitors and we enjoyed splashing along through the paths , admiring the empty 'rooms'along the way .


My next visit was Summer of 2009 , I was surprised by the increase in the number of people in the gardens compared to the last time I visited. This was after the BBC had aired the documentary on Sissinghurst which had clearly sparked interest and visitor numbers. It was a very hot day and the gardens were in full bloom and screaming for attention from every corner . The narrow paths were full of people making it difficult to enjoy the gardens as views of each 'room' were blocked with people jostling to get the best views or photographs.

Sissinghurst formal garden view in Spring from Tower .

We retreated to the cool calm of the Long Library and then to the tower to escape the crowds.

Once we had climbed the 78 steps we were rewarded with the most amazing views of the estate. From this point we could see how the gardens were laid out and far better appreciate the design from this perspective .

 
Sissinghurst Garden Kent . View from the tower in Winter at sunset

I returned next in 2018 over Twixmas. The gardens were closed over Winter, we were here to see the newly opened South Cottage. It was a damp and misty day and just the estate grounds, cafe and South Cottage were open. This time there were very few visitors, just the odd dog walker and tea drinker in the cafe .

The Nicholson family had recently stopping living in the cottage which was the main residence of Vita and Harold. This was the place where Harold would write and plan the garden, and Vita would tend to her plants before taking them to the garden .

The whole of the cottage was included in a guided tour but understandably no photography was permitted . It felt like a great privilege to get a glimpse into this most intimate part of Sissinghurst and to hear more of the story of Vita and Harold's life when they lived there . The atmosphere was homely , it was almost as if they had just left each room as we entered.

 
Vita Sackville West Quote- Days I enjoy

"Days I enjoy are days when nothing happens,

When I have no engagements written in my block,

When no one comes to disturb my inward peace,

Vita Sackville West - "Days I enjoy "

 

 

I now realise as I write this that I have visited Sissinghurst in every season apart from Autumn . I really need to rectify that this year and hopefully I can write a blogpost for you after.



Visiting Sissinghurst in 2020:-


The gardens are open to pre booked visitors .

The Library, Tower and Cottage are not currently open .

Cafe - check with National Trust to see if the cafe is open before visiting

Sissinghurst Estate Walks

There is both a one and three mile walk available .

The shop is open and sells gifts as well as plants .


https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sissinghurst-castle-garden

The gardens and properties are all maintained by the National Trust by a team of staff and volunteers.


Short breaks at Sissinghurst are availiable

https://www.sissinghurstcastlefarmhouse.co.uk

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/holidays/priests-house-kent


 

Further interest links -


There are some great books at Sevenoaks Books if you want further reading on or from Vita Sackville West and Sissinghurst

https://www.sevenoaksbookshop.co.uk/?s=vita+sackville&post_type=product


You may like to watch Adam and Rebecca Nicolson "A Life in Flowers" mini documentary on Vimeo

https://vimeo.com/221317133


Or stream the 2019 Movie "Vita and Virgina" through Curzon Home Cinema

https://www.curzonhomecinema.com/film/watch-vita-and-virginia-film-online



 















I never thought I would buy anything featured in Vogue, let alone from the cover , the prices would usually be out of my league.

I posted Lock & Co Hatters shop on Instagram and was researching a caption when the September Vogue cover came up on my Google search . The hat caught my eye, and as it was affordable I thought I would go into the shop to try it on and use it as an opportunity to have a quick look around. I have passed the shop before, but Locks is one of those shops that I wouldn't usually feel comfortable going into unless I was buying something. I needn't of worried as I was made to feel welcome, and I ended up impulsively buying the beret. Hardly surprising though as the only shops I have been in for the last six months have been the local farm shop or Co-op. I think it was about time I brought a treat for myself .

As the hat was worn so well by Adowa Aboah ( it looks much better on her than me ) I am not going to post a picture of me in my new beret here anytime soon. Despite me not resembling a super model I still purchased the hat, it really felt super comfortable to wear. The shape seems to sit around the head rather than the way a lot of berets seem to just perch on top. It's slightly wider than the usual Lock Beret at 12inches, I think that's why it's such a comfortable fit . The top is lined which also helps it to sit really well . The beret is priced at £55.00 . Not cheap, but a classic wool beret will last and so price per wear should make it work out to be good value. As this one is a limited edition only available from the shop I decided it was worth investing in. My Daughter has even very kindly offered to help me get wear out of it too. I am sure I/we will get a lot of wear out of it over this Autumn and many more .

Locks even packed it in a great cotton drawstring bag making it easy to store when not worn.

 

~ A look into the Worlds Oldest Hat Shop ~

Legend has it that a postcard was once delivered to Lock &Co addressed only to

"The Best Hatters In the World, London."

I was intrigued to go into the shop find more .

Lock & Co is a world renowned London Establishment with two Royal Warrants (HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HRH The Prince of Wales) trading since 1765 from No 6 St James.

When James and Mary Lock moved from Charles Davies shop (founded in 1676) across the road they began to establish what is now the second oldest family business in London. With 7th and 8th generation members it is also one of the oldest family businesses in the UK.

They have been making mens hats for over 300 years and for women just over 30. Traditional methods are still used in their manufacturing. Most of the hats are made in the UK, mainly in Manchester , but ladies couture hats are still made on the premises . The Panama hats however are handwoven in Ecuador using centuries old techniques.

 

Famously discrete, they won't talk about celebrity customers unless they are no longer alive. However a Google search revealed a long list that included David Beckham who favours the Muirfield Tweed Cap (as seen below on Instagram).

Customers come from all walks of life, and in London Locks hats are very popular with Taxi Drivers : "Cabbies" .

 

Probably Lock & Co are known best for inventing the Bowler Hat wayback in 1849. The Coke was worn from 1912 in films by Charlie Chaplin who made this hat his trademark. There is now a thank you letter from Mr Chaplin sitting in the Lock archives .

Another Hollywood Movie Star customer was Douglas Fairbanks Jr who actually lived above the shop. The Fairbank Trilby designed and named after him is sold by Locks today . Interestingly a collection of his Locks hats were sold by auction after his death in 2011 at Doyle in New York .

Locks has an extensive archive and following an article in the Times in 2000 a fan settled an unpaid bill left by Oscar Wilde for his 1882 US Book Tour Hat. A cheque was sent to No.6 for £3.30 to cover the outstanding bill which he left behind due to his incarceration.

The Archive Room at the back of the shop is usually open to the public but due to Covid-19 this particular area of the shop is temporarily closed . It would be great to visit again when it reopens to explore a bit more and to see the Lord Nelson Archives.

I may even treat myself to another hat !

Do you let me know if you go to visit.

 

Lock & Co Hatters

6 St James St,

London.

SW1 1EF


Opening Hours are 10-5pm Mon -Sat


https://www.lockhatters.co.uk


Locks shop photos and video - my own.

David Beckham image - Instagram

All other images are from Lock & Co website


 



What is Instagram ?

I get asked this a lot by friends and it's actually quite hard to answer in just one sentence. My reply usually goes something like this :

“It's a bit like a party . Super busy and full of people as it's been going on for quite a while . Most people there have already made made lots of friends, so it can feel a bit intimidating . Like any party though

it's worth making the effort to go . Take a look around , you've really nothing to lose."


How can I get into Instagram ?

You can take a look online, but you need to open an account to get in. Like any party when you first arrive you will want to find people you already know. This could be friends , brands you love, maybe even a celebs or TV shows you like. See what you think - its free , you have nothing to lose by joining in . When you find a pictures you like , double tap on them and show them some love .



Why should I like a picture on Instagram ?

I am a frequent 'liker ' on Instagram. I always explain it's kind of like saying hello , letting people know you are there. This is as well as the obvious appreciation for a photograph or its content . Once a friend of mine said to me , "I really like looking at your pictures on Instagram." I replied “Do you ? I didn’t know that". I had no idea they were even looking at my photos, let alone that they actually liked them . It's really nice if people take a moment to tap and like. It's similar to saying hi to someone at a party, they may reply by popping over to your account . It also means that the owner of the account, knows what people like. Continually sharing content that people are not engaging with in can feel like people aren't interested. Eventually it could lead to someone not wanting to share stuff on Instagram .

Why do I need to follow people ?

If you follow people it will make the app more engaging for you . It will then give you an Instagram feed that is tailored to you.


Should I comment ?

If you like to chat , certainly, chat away . You may want to say something about an image, ask a question on or just say that you like the picture posted . People who post images will usually appreciate it when someone takes the time to give a comment. A lot of time and thought goes into creating a post for Instagram.

Expect to be spammed with follower requests.

Even if you have set your account up as a private one you will get people requesting to follow you . You may find that after you say yes they unfollow you. It is an annoying practice that some people use to gain more followers. You can then unfollow or if you like their content carry on following .

Don’t expect masses of followers

If you have a private account you may just want follow your friends and family . Most of the other accounts you decide to follow probably won’t follow back. They'll have no idea of who you are because they can’t see anything about your account (it’s private ). People don’t tend to request private accounts . I think being private on Instagram when you first start is the best option whilst you familiarise yourself with the app.


Working out your Why ?

It takes a while to work out how to use the app and what you want from being there. It could be that you just like to look at pictures . Shots can inspire you to travel, decorate your home, style your wardrobe, cook more adventurously, the list is endless.

It takes time to work out what Instagram can give you in return for your time spent on the app. I am sure you'll find it can be rewarding in lots of different ways.

My why has changed over the years . I joined Instagram in 2016 , I started off with a challenge of posting a positive picture everyday for a year. Next, I was posting pictures of my sewing, and then it became the instagram feed you all know today.

There is so much more I could say on Insta but I will leave it here for now. Hope you enjoyed my musings .

Till next time,


Toodle -lo

Lois