SissinghurstThe gardens at Sissinghurst created by Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West, are icons of British gardening eminence and are visited by over 150,000 people every year. Author, Sarah Raven, traces the history and creation of these gardens using the extensive writings of Sackville-West. These writings were originally published in a weekly column for the Observer between 1946 and 1957 and reflect the Sackbville-West’s gardening ideas, drawing on her experiences as she and her husband developed their notable gardens. Raven is married to the grandson of Nicholson and Sackville-West and lived at Sissinghurt with her family.

Raven organizes the book by themes, beginning with a short history of the place starting in Elizabethan times, to show what made the place so special of Sackville-West when she first saw it. After describing Nicholson’s structuring of the garden, the author turns to the way Sackville-West planted the garden to reflect her own personal style known for it exuberance and fine appreciation of texture and color. Raven focuses on the major themes that dominated Sackville-West view of gardening: flowering shrubs, strong fragrance in the garden, plant diversity and the use of exotics, filling every area of the garden with plants, and filling borders with a jumble of plants. Raven goes on to detail the specific plants that Sackville-West. Separate chapters are devoted to indoor and container gardening, cut flowers, and the less noticeable plants that Sackville-West particularly loved and fondly called “painterly plants”. A chapter on recent years at Sissinhurts after Sackville-West’s death concludes the work.

The text uses an abundance of quotes from Sackville-West’s articles for the Observer which add a personal touch as well as humor and beautiful writing. The book includes a large number of small black and white photographs of the gardens and the people that contributed to it. A few color show some of the gardens but are sometimes marred by the binding that splits them into two parts. If you want a picture book about Sissinghurst this is not the book for you; if you want an insight into the woman who created you will not be disappointed.

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By Karen