Gardeners cuttings from Sissinghurst Castle Garden
What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfilment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade. ~Gertrude Jekyll
In The Garden
To me, this is the perfect summary of June; young, fresh and beautiful. It is a month of extraordinary beauty in the garden, with new delights appearing every day with such speed that a daily walk around the garden is an obligatory event. In addition, there is the promise of yet more delights to come and all the while knowing that we’re not even at the halfway point of the year.
And perhaps nothing embodies and celebrates this glorious month more than the arrival of the roses at Sissinghurst. They rush into the garden like old friends arriving at a party, clothed in every colour imaginable, draping themselves over every wall, climbing up every tree and tumbling through every bed and border.
I think this is what Vita meant when she wrote about her vision for ‘a tumble of roses, and honeysuckle, figs and vines.’ There is a feeling of wild abandonment
in the garden, an exuberance and romance as the garden hurtles towards its own midsummer night’s dream.
For Vita, roses were the epitome of the romantic garden and in particular it was the old roses [those roses that were bred before the first hybrid tea ‘La France’ in 1867] that caught her imagination.
They are, perhaps, Sissinghurst’s most iconic plant and the only plant that Harold and Vita found when they moved here. Growing amongst the ruins and the weeds was a gallica rose and they named it ‘Sissinghurst Castle’; the first of many old roses that Vita was to grow here.
At Sissinghurst, Vita finally had the space to indulge in her passion for roses and this she did with such enthusiasm that by 1953 there were at least 194 different roses growing here. She grew all her favourites; gallicas, albas, bourbons, centifolias, and damasks as well as many hybrid musk, hybrid perpetual and some hybrid tea roses too. She acknowledged that they had their limitations, flowering only once in a gloriously riotous mass in June but she relished their colours, scent, form and beauty andfelt that their merits far outweighed their faults writing in 1937, ‘… in spite of these drawbacks a collection of old roses gives a great and increasing pleasure.’
For Vita, forever the true romantic, it was the romance of the old roses that appealed to her; their history, their colours and their evocative names such as ‘Cardinal de Richelieu’, ‘Mme Lauriol de Barney’ or ‘Charles de Mills’. She often wondered who these people were, writing ‘I wish I could find out who Mme Lauriol was in real life, to have so sumptuous a flower called after her…’ But it wasn’t just the names that appealed to her, it was their history too. The fact that Bourbon roses had originated from the Ile de Bourbon (now known as Reunion) appealed immensely to her nature and in 1957 she wrote ‘If you were born with a romantic nature, all roses must be crammed with romance, and if a particular rose originated on an island the romance must be doubled, for an island is romantic in itself.’ She loved the colours of old roses too; the ‘slaty-lilac of Cardinal de Richelieu’, the ‘parma-violet of Tour de Malakov’ and the velvety texture of ‘Tuscany’. Colours such as crimson, wine, magenta, violet, purple and ruby reminded her of her travels in Persia where the rugs and carpets of the Middle East with their ‘sumptuous colouring’ had been unfurled for her to look at.
To Vita an old rose was everything a rose should be and although other roses had their merit, they could never rival the perfection of the old roses. Her collection at Sissinghurst is an enduring legacy of that love and passion.
During your visit, you can still see these beautiful roses, some of which are the originals that Vita planted. Please do ask any of the gardeners if you would like to look at any of the roses mentioned in this article or if you prefer, just wander and immerse yourself in this perfect summer moment. Vita declared herself to be ‘drunk on roses’ and we hope that you might feel just a little drunk too.
Come and learn from the experts
During the course of our rose month we are delivering an exciting range of garden talks, walks and lectures, all based around roses.
Please check the website for more information and booking or pick up a leaflet today.
In addition, two times daily (Mon – Fri - at 12 and 3pm) learn what we do and how we do it with a short free talk.