A sunset garden at Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Sissinghurst gardeners team , Helen Champion Sissinghurst gardeners team Helen Champion
South Cottage Garden at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent

The garden at Sissinghurst is like a play, acted out throughout the season, with each of the garden rooms having their own Act, their own drama and own moment to shine.

It was Vita who created the garden to be like this, and she and Harold spent time enjoying each garden room when it was at its peak, moving on to a different area when it started to fade.

In fact, her whole planting style was based on seasonality combined with great exuberance and fullness within that one moment. In explaining her planting style Vita later wrote:

" This throughout, has been the principle on which the whole garden has been constructed: plant lavishly and with concentration on the given moment, and never mind if you get blanks when the moment has passed. There will, one hopes, be something to look at elsewhere."
- Vita Sackville-West

As the year drifts on, we can look back and see how we have already travelled through the Lime Walk in spring, the Rose Garden in early summer, the White garden in July and the Top and Lower Courtyard in August. By September, the garden moves on to a new peak; the Cottage Garden. The Cottage Garden is an area that just gets better and better throughout the summer until, at last, in August and September it is at its peak with a jungle like atmosphere and flowers that creep, climb and clamber through the borders.

It was planted by Vita and is a great example of her experimental approach to colour, with its narrow spectrum of hot colours being used to create the effect of a sunset. In fact, Vita used to call it the sunset garden in her mind even before she started to plant it up and it was planted for Harold so that he could have the joy of a sunset every day as he looked out of his bedroom window in South Cottage.

It’s more formal name was South Cottage Garden and the fulsome planting that spills over onto the paths, and the small beds give a feeling of intimacy and enclosure that is so familiar in a cottage garden.

Late summer colour in the cottage garden
Late summer colour in the cottage garden
Late summer colour in the cottage garden

All shades of red, orange and yellow are used to create a harmonious but lively colour scheme. All of this exuberance is anchored by the four torpedo shaped yews that surround a large copper pot in the centre, giving a focal point and a sense of symmetry and formality to the area.  

By September, the sunflowers are surging up skywards and many of the herbaceous plants such as Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’, Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ and Hedichyum coccineum ‘Tara’ have a real presence and stature in the borders. But the Cottage Garden also relies heavily on both annuals and tender perennials with Salvias, Bidens, Zinnias, Tithonia and Arctotis filling in small gaps in the planting and adding pools of intense jewel like colour. This year Antirrhinum ‘Liberty Classic Crimson’ performed particularly well and made a lively combination with the tiny tangerine flowers of Emilia javanica. Self-seeders are allowed to roam freely around the Cottage Garden too, with only a controlling hand given to those such as Limnanthes or Corydalis cheilanthifolia which show a bit too much enthusiasm for travelling. The random nature of Poppies and Evening Primrose springing up in unexpected places creates an ever changing and dynamic element to the planting.

Added to all of this is the gloriously sweet scent of toffee that wafts around the Cottage Garden which seems to fit so well with this season and the hot, blazing colours. It comes from the tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum that grows in the corner of the Cottage Garden and with a seat built around the trunk, it is the perfect place to stop, and take a moment to look across the fiery colours and admire a sunset painted with flowers.