A Stroll Through Sissinghurst

Is it treasonous to have pulled for Andy Murray, a Scot, over Swiss-but-almost-seems-American Roger Federer in the Wimbledon finals? Is it wrong to wish for the rain they had? As we bake in the July oven over here in the Colonies I recall with more than a hint of wistfulness a recent cool and drizzly trip to the beautiful gardens at Sissinghurst, in Kent, England. As you know it is the the Duke of Kent who presents the Wimbledon trophies. Is that a coincidence or what.

The White Garden and Priest's House at Sissinghurst
A view across the renowned White Garden to the Priest's House at Sissinghurst

His Grace (my sweetheart who is not a duke but a cowboy, even though His Grace is what you call a real duke, like the Duke of Kent; and also what you call a cardinal in the Catholic church, if I’m not mistaken–have you got all that?) and I spent a few days in London at the end of a biking trip in France. I had never been to the famous Sissinghurst and had been dying to go.

Poppy at Sissinghurst
Have you ever seen such a poppy? Cottage Garden, Sissinghurst.

I realize you might not fall off your chair if I were to tell you this was not on the top of His Grace’s list. He likes to go to places like the Purdey gun store. And to dinner. But as usual he was a sport. A bonus was we were meeting his old Army buddy’s daughter, who lives in Kent and is adorable. He also liked the beer at the place she took us to afterward. So it was a win-win.

Poppy at Sissinghurst
Another poppy you can't believe, but it's true. Cottage Garden, Sissinghurst.

You can read the fascinating and often racy history (seriously…) of Sissinghurst here, and meanwhile enjoy this beautiful, cool stroll through the gardens… You will notice the skies are cloudy. All those postcard pictures in the gift shop are taken on one of the three days a year it is sunny. The rest of the time it looks like this. I don’t want to mis-lead you.

The Cottage Garden at Sissinghurst
Doorway to Main House, Sissinghurst
Doorway to the Main House at Sissinghurst. Isn't the shape of that bench just great?


Tower Lawn, Sissinghurst
Roses climb the walls along the Tower Lawn
The Tower at Sissinghurst
The Tower at Sissinghurst with the sun trying to break through... The rain magically held off just about long enough for us to walk around. Just about.
Cottage Garden and Tower at Sissinghurst
The Tower from the Cottage Garden
The Purple Border at Sissinghurst
Alliums in the Purple Border
Lupins in the Purple Border
Lupins in the Purple Border. Our lupins in California do not look like this, I can assure you.
Entrance to the Library at Sissinghurst
Entrance to the Library at Sissinghurst, where remain thousands of volumes belonging to the famous and occasionally infamous writer Vita Sackville-West and her diplomat husband Harold Nicholson. That docent is smiling because she knows all the naughty stories.
The Delos garden at Sissinghurst
The Delos garden at Sissinghurst, which wasn't really worked out successfully until the 1990s by then head gardener Sarah Cook.

One quick story about the Delos Garden, above, which failed as a Mediterranean homage in Vita and Harold’s day but which years later was transformed into an informal woodland thing that is brilliant. From the National Trust guidebook: “In all this elegance, Sarah Cook decided to keep one searingly mauve rhododendron ‘because without it, the whole thing would have been too polite.’ It was a brave move. ‘Rhododendrons are to us,’ Harold had announced in 1946, ‘like stock-brokers whom we do not want to have to dinner.’ This one,” the guidebook concludes, “seems impervious to any criticism.” It was not in bloom during our June visit, but I’ll take their word for it. Is it treasonous to think only the English can say things like this?

*Lest there be confusion, in the original broadcast of this post I had inadvertently changed Roger Federer’s passport from Swiss to American, which could have been a major inconvenience to him at customs, despite the fact that he is famous and everyone (except me who temporarily inexplicably forgot) knows he is Swiss. I regret the error and re-state my gratitude to the night-owl reader who so gently pointed it out. Sometimes, it really does take a village. Passport Control and I thank you again.


  1. Hi,
    I do love reading your blog, but Roger Federer is Swiss, not American. He is however worth cheering for…I did!

    1. OMG DUH!!!! Thank you Angela. I had a feeling something was wrong but the guy is such a fixture in the U.S., and his English is so good, and Anna Wintour is so keen on him (wait, she is English…), that I had forgotten zat he speaks vis just a tiny accent. Actually I don’t think he even says “zat” or “vis” but I have not talked to him lately.

  2. What beautiful pictures! And the sky still looks like that! Please come back soon and bring some Californian sun and heat with you! x

  3. Love your stoll through Sissinghurst….another place on my bucket list! Clearly, the gardens prefer the cloudy skies with traditional British dampness as opposed to this dreadful heat on the East coast! Thanks again, Frances for this treat!

    1. Yes Katherine you are right, gardens do love English weather. Complexions do, too, so they say. Thank you for writing and don’t forget your sunscreen. 🙂

  4. Frances
    Just plant me at Sissinghurst!
    Remembering England in rare heatwave/drought in 1989..flew from New Milton, Chewton Glen helicopter, across England to Sissinghurst. Garden was in all its glory with irrigation as was Chelsea Flower Show. With a special friend, a gardener, and Dick who was sworn to make picture of every flower we pointed out.
    Loved seeing your blog this morning…so well snapped. Lynn

    1. I remember that heat wave, Lynn. Your trip sounds wonderful. I sure do want to get to Chelsea Flower Show one of these days. Thank you so much for writing. xo F

  5. Frances, have you read Nigel Nicholson’s “Portrait of a Marriage”? If you haven’t than put all your summer reading aside and pick this charming memoir up immediately. Nicholson does a beautiful job portraying his parents, Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson, loving but very complicated marriage. It is a gem of a book.

    1. Caro! Thank you for reminding me of this gaping hole in my literary experience. I shall add it to the list immediately. Love you, F

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