Growing up in the Yorkshire Dales I was surrounded by a landscape that at first seemed incomprehensibly large and a little threatening, yet over time I was able to see beyond those first impressions and begin to understand the myriad of complex connections taking place, that together made the landscape what it was.
I began to seek out the intricate patterning and exquisite detail of nature and allow the landscape to engage with me. Quite quickly nature, whether flora or fauna became part of my vocabulary.
From those first observations of plants a love of gardening was sown, which through a nurturing support network of family and friends, grew into a career and ultimately my job as Head Gardener at Sissinghurst today.
I am often asked, ‘How much time do I spend gardening?’ or ‘How do I plan what to do and when?’ In answer to these questions, I garden as much as I can, but I also plan – both short term with my team (about work for the following weeks) and longer term with a wider group of people (about garden renewal work).
I sometimes feel like the luckiest person alive, not only do I get my hands in the soil at Sissinghurst, a soil in which generations of gardeners have created magic, but I also get to play a part in shaping the future of this great garden.
15th September – I visit Dan Pearson at his studio in London.
I invited Dan (in the summer of 2014) to join me at Sissinghurst in an honorary role of Garden Advisor. Through the year we interrogate the planting, bouncing ideas off each other for improvements, but we also talk a lot about the ‘Spirit of Place’ -that is the special qualities that make Sissinghurst distinctive.
We both arrived late to our meeting, Dan due to an over-run with a client in Hammersmith and me because I was delayed looking at planting outside an office block – following the usual pleasantries, conversation quickly turns to flowers and a vase of Sanguisorba’s sitting on Dan’s desk (flowers he picked and brought from his trial in Somerset). Dan points out subtle differences – relative merits and negative traits – each flower is an individual with personality and the sign of great plantsman is to seek out only the best forms for use in our gardens, Dan is one gardener who is constantly on the search.
We get down to work, sketching out plans and making notes; firstly we begin to pull together ideas to help inform a property ‘Masterplan’, an exercise that will begin in earnest later this year at Sissinghurst. Already as a property team we have articulated a ‘Spirit of Place’ and a vision based around the heading:
Sissinghurst: ‘A refuge dedicated to beauty; a romantic garden in rural landscape’
Now it’s important to bring together all the possibilities that exist to achieve an authentic spirit of place and to form one coherent supported plan.
Within the garden our priority is to gain Listed Building Consent (meeting scheduled with the chief conservation officer for Friday 25th to discuss the above proposed alteration) to enable us to progress with various work. Including the White Garden and the area we call the Little North Garden, this is a small garden area adjacent to the White Garden that Vita and Harold planted at one time as a phlox garden. This space has never been open to the public and we would like to return the steps (removed in 1969 to form the foundations of the Gazebo in the Orchard) that lead from the White Garden down into it.
In the Rose Garden we puzzle over unresolved issues to the south, trying to achieve a more authentic and natural dialogue between the garden and the landscape beyond.
In the Lime Walk we play with the idea of adding Asters for a late season display (two colleagues and I will be going to the Percy Picton Garden on Tuesday 29th to look at Asters and talk to Helen Picton).
At the garden gate we would like to return the farm pond (as previously discussed on this blog)
In the nuttery we plan to replant four small areas of Polyanthus (removed in 1974 due to soil sickness) to see if they grow before considering whether we return to full carpet of them.
Back at Sissinghurst work is a pace (between the rain) carrying out autumn tasks on the lawns, continuing hedge cutting and starting to lift and divide planting in various parts of the garden. We also are making final adjustments to our bulb planting lists (see excerpt below).
|Acidanthera Murielae||Picking||x100||With Delphiniums|
|Acis autumnalis||Trough 2 (4)||x20/5 pots||Pot bulbs nearly touching|
|Albuca nelsonii||Moveable pots||x3/1 pot||Grapefuit size bulb, grit pot and top Long House in winter|
|Albuca shawii||Moveable pots||x3/1 pot||Grit pot and top, Long House in winter|
|Allim ‘White Cloud’||Trial (WG)||x10||Check on flowering time, height and quality|
|Allium cowanii||Various beds||x100||Planted in succession with cowanii and ‘Graceful’|
|Allium ‘Graceful’||Various beds||x100||To follow Allium cowanii|
|Allium ‘Mont Blanc’||Trial (WG)||x20||Check on flowering time, height and quality|
|Allium ‘Mount Everest’||Various beds||x100||Planted in succession with cowanii and Graceful|
|Allium nigrum||Trial (WG)||x10||Check on flowering time, height and quality|
|Allium ‘Ping Pong’||Trial (WG)||x20||Check on flowering time, height and quality|
|Allium pskemense||Trial (WG)||x20||Check on flowering time, height and quality|
|Allium ‘Purple Sensation’||Picking||x2000|
|Allium ‘Purple Sensation’||Bed 5||x75||Plant near yew hedge, drifting into bed|
|Allium ‘Silver Spring’||Purple Border||x100||Plant with Hesperis, saved 30 from 2014|
|Allium ‘Spider’||Trial (PB)||x10||Check on flowering time, height, colour and quality|
|Allium ‘White Giant’||Various beds||x100||To follow ‘Mount Everest’|
|Anemone ‘Mr Fokker’||Bagatelles (2)||x40/8 pots||Provide sufficient water and light, 5ppp 4 pots per urn|
|Anemone ‘The Bride’||Various beds||x200|
|Anthericum liliago ‘Major’||Trial (LNG)||x3/1 pot|
|Bessera elegans||Moveable pots||x5/1 6″pot||Dry winter rest in Long House, lots of grit pot and top|
|Bongardia chyrsogonum||Trough 3 (3)||x6/3 pots||Grit pot and top|
|Canna iridiflora (canna x ehemanii)||Various beds||x3||Plant, store like Dahlia|
|Cautleya spicata robusta||Various beds||x3||Protect with fern in winter|
|Chinodoxa luciliae||Top of Peaonia’s||x100|
|Chinodoxa luciliae alba||Various beds||x100|
|Chinodoxa sardensis||Gentian Bed||x600/200 pots||Plant with the Gentian sino-ornata, 3ppp|
|Chrysanthemum ‘Gompie Red’||Picking||x4|
|Chrysanthemum ‘Littleton Red’||Picking||x4|
If that wasn’t enough in a few days I head off to Japan to build a garden I designed based on Sissinghurst.
Troy Smith, Head Gardener