Recreating Delos at Sissinghurst Castle Garden
The gardening team at Sissinghurst embarked on a conservation project to re-imagine the Delos garden, an area of the garden inspired by the Greek island of Delos that was never quite completed by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson.
Vita, the poet and writer, began transforming Sissinghurst Castle Garden in the 1930s with her diplomat and author husband Harold. 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 island of the same name in 1935. The island provided such a source of inspiration that on their return they aimed to emulate the feel of Delos at Sissinghurst.
Delos: the original concept
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 (kermes oak) and Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree).
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 wildflowers of Greece’ is a wonderful example of Vita’s response to what she found beautiful.
Over time, Delos gradually lost its character and atmosphere and ended up having little or no reference to Vita and Harold’s original ambition. The planting, too, had significantly changed from Mediterranean-inspired plants to woodland planting.
Recreating the Delos design
Working with garden designer Dan Pearson, the team hopes that Delos matches Vita and Harold’s original vision. Using current design practices, clever landscaping and a broader spectrum of planting, a more robust garden has been created while still maintaining the spirit of Vita’s ambition in consultation with the property team which drew upon archival research.
'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.'
- Dan Pearson
The finishing touches
Work began in the early part of 2019 and during 2020 the remaining work was all but completed. This included Dan Pearson returning in March 2020 to complete the scented path, an area of Delos brimming with Mediterranean plants such as the annual herb, Nigella damascena (love-in-a-mist). Other plants such as Orlaya grandiflora (white lace flower) and Papaver rhoeas (field poppy) were also introduced into the garden to add colour and diversity to this newly formed space.
In spring 2021 the garden was completed for all to enjoy.
Explore the garden at Sissinghurst, with its vibrant planting schemes and architectural planning, and discover why it ranks among the most famous gardens in England.
With 460 acres of beautiful Wealden countryside there’s plenty of space to explore, run around, walk the dog, cycle and spot wildlife on the estate at Sissinghurst Castle Garden.
From castle to prison, working farm to world-renowned garden, Sissinghurst's past is nothing but varied and each of its incarnations have added to its story.