Spring arising at Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Early morning light in the lime walk at Sissinghurst Castle Garden

The garden at Sissinghurst is an example of that rare moment in time when two minds meet to make something extraordinary.

Created by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson in the 1930s, it is a perfect reflection of their individual personalities. Harold; the clear thinking classicist who had the ability to twist and turn an awkward, unruly space into a series of formal garden rooms with long vistas and classical focal points and Vita; the headstrong romantic who filled the garden with her lavish, extravagant planting schemes.

However, there is one area that Harold claimed as his own both designing and planting it himself. This is the Lime Walk and with its straight avenue of lime trees, focal points and precise intricate planting it is a reflection of Harold’s skill as both a designer and plantsman.

Harold planned the Lime Walk to look its best during the months of March, April and May. Work began in 1932 with the planting of the 30 pleached lime trees (Tilia x europaea) and in 1936 the central path was laid between them. Harold then set about filling the borders in the Lime Walk with a mass of spring flowering bulbs designed to create a rich tapestry of colour with intricate and precise planting. He called the creation of the Lime Walk ‘My Life’s Work’ and for Harold it became one of the most important areas of the garden.

Fritillaria meleagris adding to the spring colour in lime walk
Fritillaria meleagris adding to the spring colour in lime walk
Fritillaria meleagris adding to the spring colour in lime walk

By the beginning of the war in 1939, all the elements of the Lime Walk were in place, but it was only after the war that Harold really had the time to fully devote himself to ‘MLW’ and from 1946 he threw himself into this project, keeping meticulous notes as he went along. He even employed his own gardener, Sidney Neve, who joined the gardeners at Sissinghurst in 1937, age 17. Harold planted an amazing array of bulbs and spring flowering plants including many varieties of Narcissus, Tulips, Primroses, Anemones, Scillas, Erythroniums, Violets and Auriculas. His aim was simple; to create ‘the loveliest spring garden in England’. Every year he wrote careful notes in his notebook, commenting on the successes and failures of his plantings. Like most gardeners, he was seldom happy with his results, writing comments such as: “Rather a dull section – enliven”, “Same old story – heaps of primroses but tiny and flowerless” and “Tulips are wrong colour – replace”.

He was helped in his quest for perfection by frequent trips to the RHS spring shows in London tracking down rare and unusual bulbs to add to the Lime Walk. Every year the colour combinations would change slightly, evolving over the years depending on Harold’s interests and recent discoveries. For him, the Lime Walk was a sanctuary and a refuge from the stresses of his working life and he did much of the work himself, regularly weeding and pruning the limes.

Since his death in 1968, successive Head Gardeners have ensured that the beauty and simplicity of the Lime Walk endures, continuously improving and replanting areas that need attention. Many of Harold’s choices are still used today and we hope that if Harold were to see the Lime Walk he would approve of how we care for his legacy.

We do hope that you will be able to visit the Lime Walk this Spring. It is a wonderful sight in April and a joyful reminder that winter has finally passed.