Sissinghurst Castle Garden welcomes winter visitors for the first time
This year, for the first time, the National Trust’s Sissinghurst Castle Garden will open during winter, allowing visitors to enjoy the architectural structure and pared-back beauty of this celebrated Kent garden at a time when it has traditionally been closed.
It is in winter that the brilliance of Harold Nicolson’s design – which provided the framework for Vita Sackville-West’s exuberant planting later in the year – comes to the fore.
Head Gardener Michelle Cain said: “We’d love to change the perception that gardens are only interesting in summer.
“Here, the garden rooms are like acts in a play, taking their turns on the stage. But in winter the ‘act’ is the whole garden and you can appreciate, perhaps better than at any other time, the design that Harold Nicolson created and how he managed to fit his grand classical ideas into the constrictions of the space available.
“For me, and many others who visit Sissinghurst, what makes this garden so special is the juxtaposition between Harold’s strict formality and Vita’s exuberance. Neither would be as successful without the other.”
Winter is a perfect time to appreciate Harold’s layout, much influenced by his passion for Greek classicism.
Michelle continued: “The view from the Tower shows the layout at its best. From here you can see how Harold created the formal elements he and Vita wanted in the ruins of a grand Elizabethan manor house, an idea which was considered unusual at the time.”
In winter, the clever use of hedges, used to define the now-famous series of garden rooms, is particularly obvious. And with the abundant flowers and foliage of the high season pared back, the long vistas take centre stage.
“From the White Garden you can see all the way to the Lime Walk. Carefully placed statues act as eye-catchers that keep drawing you through on a journey.”
In the Rose Garden visitors can get a clear view of the Sissinghurst method of rose training: roses are trained onto hazel or chestnut structures, with stems bent over to encourage more side shoots and bring the flowers down to eye level.
The Lime Walk, best known for its displays of spring bulbs, also appears in a new light in winter.
“The walk shows that the garden is not all about flowers, colour and packed borders. The pleached limes are beautiful in their own right and create a quiet area that’s all about classical design.”
Around the garden, Osmanthus, Sarcococca, Chimonanthus, Hamamelis, hellebores and snowdrops add bursts of welcome winter colour and scent.
Those looking for a longer walk can enjoy the changing colour and texture of the season with estate walks through woodland, farmland and past lakes.
Visitors can also see the International Garden Photographer of the Year exhibition in the oast house, and catch a glimpse of progress on Delos, a new garden area that takes inspiration from Vita and Harold’s travels to Greece.
The garden will be open weekends until 6 March. For opening times and prices, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sissinghurst-castle