A hint of spring at Sissinghurst Castle Garden

The orchard in April

Spring is a season that all gardeners wait impatiently for, looking for any signs of life in the sort of anxious yet hopeful way that one imagines sailors used to look for land.

At Sissinghurst the first signs of Spring usually start to reveal themselves in February although, strictly speaking, the snowdrops and bright yellow winter aconites that start to emerge in Delos, are really winter flowers. Never the less, these small defiant signs of life that begin as a trickle mark the beginning of what will become the torrent of Spring.

Soon we see the fat pink shoots of Paeonia Mlokosewitschii pushing up through the dark earth followed by hellebores and the jewel-like witch hazels. Even Crocus thomasinianus, which has generally disgraced itself at Sissinghurst by spreading with far too much vigour and disregard for its neighbours, is a welcome relief from the greyness of winter that enfolds the garden in February. The sheet of pure intense violet that covers the beds of the Lime Walk is colour therapy of the best kind.

By early March the Orchard finally starts to reveal some of the many daffodils that grow there. The early Narcissus 'February Gold' is followed by our native daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus and then in a rush the others follow.

When Vita and Harold bought Sissinghurst in 1930, there was already an old orchard on the site and as the garden evolved Vita and Harold decided that this area was to be a wild garden. Vita was a huge fan of William Robinson, the Irish gardener who advocated a naturalistic style of planting and this undoubtedly influenced her planting in the Orchard. She festooned the old apple and pear trees with climbing roses, and drifts of crocus, fritillaries and narcissus were woven throughout just as Robinson had done at his home Gravetye Manor.

Vita often wrote about the daffodils in the Orchard in her weekly article for The Observer and in April 1953 she wrote:

" I grow my daffodils in an orchard, under old apple trees: not a very original idea, but so irresistibly pretty that no gardener could afford to reject it."
- Vita Sackville-West
Daffodils and crocuses in the orchard
Daffodils and crocuses in the orchard
Daffodils and crocuses in the orchard

In her articles she mentions many of her favourites; the yellow trumpet ‘Golden Harvest’, the creamy white ‘John Evelyn’ the pure white ‘Beersheba’ and the old pink daffodil ‘Mrs R O Backhouse’. The names roll off her pen with ease; ‘Winter Gold’, ‘Cheerfulness’, ‘Abundance’, ‘Soleil d’Or’ and more.

Vita grew all the different varieties mixed up together in drifts and that is exactly how they are today; a happy throng, like children in a playground.

The orchard really is lovely in Spring and by the middle of March many of the daffodils should be getting into their stride, just in time for our full garden opening on the 7 March when we open everyday, 11am-5.30pm.