Recreating Delos at Sissinghurst

Placed plants ready for planting in Delos, September 2019

This year, the gardening team at Sissinghurst are embarking on a conservation project to re-imagine an area of the garden that was never completed by Vita and Harold.

Vita Sackville-West, the poet and writer, began transforming Sissinghurst Castle in the 1930s with her diplomat and author husband, Harold Nicolson. Harold's architectural planning of the garden rooms accompanies Vita’s colourful and abundant planting in the gardens.
An area of their garden known as ‘Delos’, was inspired by Vita and Harold's visit to the Greek isle in 1935. The island provided such a source of inspiration that on their return they aimed to emulate the feel of Delos at Sissinghurst.

Taking inspiration from the ancient ruins of Greece, Vita scattered stones around the garden from the demolished medieval mansion which once stood at Sissinghurst and planted Mediterranean plants such as Quercus coccifera and Arbutus unedo.

However, the Kent climate and north-facing position of the garden, combined with their limited knowledge of Mediterranean planting, meant that the garden never really became all they hoped for and instead resulted in a woodland feel. 

The spirit of experimentation and inspiration that guided Vita and Harold is evident throughout the gardens. Visiting a ruined island in Greece, returning to rural Kent to set about putting in broken columns and false ruins, ‘smothered there by mats of the wild flowers of Greece’, is a wonderful example of Vita’s response to what she found beautiful.

Over time, Delos gradually lost its character and atmosphere. Today, it has little or no reference to Vita and Harold’s original ambition. The planting, too, has significantly changed from Mediterranean inspired plants to woodland planting.

Working with garden designer Dan Pearson, who has helped to redesign the space, the team hopes to complete Vita and Harold’s vision. Using current design practices, clever landscaping and a broader spectrum of planting, a more robust and sustainable garden will be created while still maintaining the spirit of Vita’s ambition in consultation with the property team and drawing on archival research .

" Over the past four years I have been working in advisory role at Sissinghurst. During this time I have got to know the gardens more deeply and to understand the need for regeneration and change that respects and recaptures the magic of Vita and Harold’s romantic vision. I’m honoured to have been asked to revisit and bring to life their plans for Delos, an area of the garden which, over the years, has lost its original intent. It is fascinating to discover and understand the historic reasons for the design of this Mediterranean landscape, and I am thrilled to have been entrusted with the responsibility of bringing an exciting new chapter to the gardens. "
- Dan Pearson

Work is planned throughout the early part of 2019 and visitors will be able to see its progress each time they visit. We hope to have parts of the garden accessible for visitors in the mid to late summer where you will be able to see planting taking place and chat to the gardeners about the project.