Monday 23 March 2009

Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Sissinghurst, Kent

Planted around a clutch of charismatic and weather-beaten, red-brick buildings dating from the fifteenth century, the immaculate and imaginative garden at Sissinghurst Castle is in an exquisite setting. At the front entrance is the handsome, but shallow, main house and long library, divided by an archway leading into the front courtyard at the foot of the elegant tower. A wooden spiral staircase inside the tower takes you past a cluttered and homely library laid out as it was when writer Vita Sackville-West lived here and Virginia Woolf came to visit. You pass two much barer rooms before reaching the small roof terrace from where you can survey the neat patterns in the gardens below, the aging jumble of red brick buildings and the rolling farmyard beyond.

Trimmed to perfection
Back at ground level, the gardens are divided by venerable brick walls and towering hedges into a series of 'rooms', each with their own theme, such as roses, white flowers or cottage plants, connected by smart stone paths. There isn't a weed to be seen and the box hedges and other topiary are trimmed to perfection. One of the most atmospheric areas is the Lime Walk, flanked by trees grafted together to form a natural fence surrounded by elaborate flower beds. The meadow, a bright yellow sea of daffodils in March, is also a pleasant spot to linger.

Timed Entry
As one of Britain's most lauded gardens, Sissinghurst draws the crowds and the National Trust has resorted to limiting the number of people that can enter at any one time. Still, you can pass the time by strolling around the small lakes and patches of woodland, separated from the gardens by a serene moat. You can also head for the tearoom, the shop, the restaurant or sit on the grass and admire the fine old barn and the row of oast houses with their distinctive funnel-shaped roofs next to the ticket office. Even though most of the flowers aren't out yet and the entrance fee is approaching a tenner, Sissinghurst is easily beautiful enough to justify a visit in the spring sunshine. 8/10