Researching the White Garden

This week we have another guest blog, from Monique Wolak. Monique is a Dutch garden and landscape architect and researcher and has been working at Sissinghurst for the past 6 months, carrying out research on the garden. Despite the fact that Vita and Harold kept detailed notes on the creation of the garden, there are still some unanswered questions regarding the layout and later development and it is these questions that Monique is researching. This week she tells us about her research findings on the White Garden.

I feel very privileged to be asked by the Head Gardener Troy Smith to do detailed research surrounding this fabulous garden. We would love to know more about its history, about what the first thoughts of Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West were for every garden part and how that part evolved in time. Often alterations are made in the design; statues and pots are moved and plants are changed. Sometimes the whole atmosphere of a garden room is transformed.

The White Garden is the first garden room at Sissinghurst to be researched in detail and it is exciting to gather more information that will help to form a picture of how the garden has developed.

An overview of Sissinghurst Garden in 1932

An overview of Sissinghurst Garden in 1932. Copyright Adam Nicolson

When the Nicolson’s came there was a rural hedge that divided the space of the White Garden with the orchard, there were no walls on the north and south side and Delos and the White Garden weren’t separated by a hornbeam hedge. Removing the rural hedge was one of the first jobs they undertook in 1930 and two years later it was replaced by the yew walk. At first Vita and Harold had the White Garden as a Rose Garden, with a much simpler path structure than we have now, the vase took pride of place in the centre and the so called Erectheum was built for outdoor dining.

The rose garden 1937

The rose garden 1937. Copyright Adam Nicolson

Walls were covered with figs, vines and roses, almonds and lavender were planted on either side of the main path. Roses and box hedges were put in, and from a photograph and one of Vita’s own articles we know that she planted a whole bed with Delphiniums so that their tall vertical flowers led the eye to the vertical Tower which she loved so much.

This garden became too small for all the roses Vita wanted, so she started to move them to what now is called the Rose Garden. After the war they made their white, grey and green garden and the structure of the former rose garden changed. In the northern part the four beds were divided into smaller ones and a pattern of box hedges and paths were thought out by Harold.

The box pattern and paths as we know them today.

The box pattern and paths as we know them today. Copyright Adam Nicolson

The almonds were suffering under the load of climbing roses. At the end of the 1960s they were removed and a structure was installed to support the roses around the centre.

Rosa mulliganii on the structure

Rosa mulliganii on the structure

Through the arch in the north wall there was a lovely view of the Kentish Weald and stone steps led to a lower phlox garden. On the only existing photograph I have discovered of this part of the garden we see the steps with phloxes growing in between.

And that leads us to the gap in information. From this lower part and from the northern part of the White Garden, there are no known photographs which show how these garden parts looked. Although there are hundreds of pictures of the statue of the Virgin with her beautiful weeping pear tree, the structure with the rose and all the beautiful flowers, we miss this essential part of information. Therefore, if you or somebody you know perhaps possesses photographs of these garden parts from the 1930s till the 1980s and would be so kind to share them with us, I would be very grateful. You can contact me on the details below:

T 01580 710700
M 0031 6 19880998


3 thoughts on “Researching the White Garden

  1. Hi Monique,
    I’ve enjoyed reading about the history you’ve uncovered and how the White Garden was created over many years. The progression of photos through time really help tell the story. I love hearing how Vita and Harold complemented each other so well – Vita’s love of plants and Harold’s great design sense. Their collaboration is magical.
    Keep up the great research!


    • Thanks Ann I will pass your comment on to Monique. Work on the White Garden is progressing and all the small beds are now empty and have been prepared, ready for replanting in spring. A good reason to visit us again soon, I think! Helen


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