And next was Sissinghurst. My sister Tina had said “If you can – see Sissinghurst”. I explained that this was not on the agenda of possibilities. But it seemed that it was. After a suitable recovery time, the same day that we arrived at Cousin Colin’s home we loaded ourselves up (minus Daisy, who somewhat reluctantly, and overtly mournfully, consented to stay behind and mind the home fires) into Colin’s car again and set off through the miraculous countryside of Kent.
Up hill and down dale, it was possible to imagine highwaymen at every turn and coaches rattling down the winding cobblestone streets in the villages; stopping at public houses that had barely changed in their skeletal forms for the past 400 years.
The hills rolled off into the distance, divided into green squares by hedgerows. Stands of Robin-Hood forests dotted the hillsides, made up of massive birch trees and age-old oaks. I found myself searching for green-clad figures with funny feather-spiked hats lurking amongst the trees; there weren’t any, but their ghosts were definitely there.
Sissinghurst, the dream home of Vita Sackville-West, if it was nothing other than the buildings that framed it would be enough to make you swoon. But it is so much more than that. A munificence of Englishness, plants such as we coax into being in Aus flourishing into relaxed lushness as if this is the place where they really belong; which of course, it is. Ordered beds full of luxuriant growth nurtured in such a way that it all looks easy. But again of course they are the result of the careful planning of their originators and constant care since.
And most of all, Sissinghurst resonates with the memories of romantic figures in an impossibly romantic era; Vita Sackville-West’s own somewhat gravelly voice reading her own poetry in the tower studio where she worked. Her letters to husband Harold Nicolson speaking of their mutual love for this place of dreams.