The garden at Sissinghurst Castle Garden
Discover why Sissinghurst is famous as the epitome of the English garden and explore its series of garden rooms, each filled with different planting schemes and unique designs. Heralded for its beauty and diversity, the garden is a result of the creative tension between Harold Nicolson's formal design and the exuberant planting of Vita Sackville-West.
Autumn in the garden
With longer shadows and colder days our garden transforms with the new season. With lots of autumnal highlights through the garden and out on the estate there's still plenty to see during your visit.
Vita was very keen to provide a garden that had interest throughout most of the year. To do this she created different garden rooms with seasonal planting which provided moments of colour from spring through to autumn. This legacy of planting serves the present-day garden very well with seasonal flourishes that last until the end of autumn.
Views, vistas and photography
With such a diverse estate of parkland, woodland, wetland and farmland there are some great opportunities to take a wide variety of pictures. Here are just a few ideas that might make for a great picture, let us know what your favourite spot is and if you found some of your own.
Winter highlights in the garden
Discover the bare beauty of the garden in winter and the structure which provides the framework for abundant planting later in the year. Walk at your leisure around parts of the garden not normally open at other times of the year to discover the structure and architecture at its best.
With indoor spaces such as the tower open every day you can dive into the rich literary history of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson's former residence. The tower also allows for a great bird's-eye view, providing a different perspective of the garden's layout which is most impactful during the winter.
The White Garden
Wander through the White Garden for a refreshing contrast to the more colourful parts of the garden. Vita decided that only the colours of white, green, grey and silver were to be allowed to grow in this garden and it's now one of the most famous areas at Sissinghurst.
The garden's origins
Vita understood that when colour is restricted, the gardener has to focus on creating interest and drama with different shapes, textures and form.
When planning the garden, Harold found some white gladioli, white irises, white pompom dahlias and the white Japanese anemones, which he and Vita both loved. Look out for evidence of his all-important structure here, too – yew and box hedging allow the white flowers and silver foliage to shine out against the dark background.
Documenting the garden's creation
In her plans, Vita imagined ‘a low sea of grey clumps of foliage, pierced here and there with tall white flowers’ and by 1953 she was able to report to her Observer readers how this vision was progressing.
She writes about various grey mounds: artemisia, the silver Cineraria maritima, grey santolina and Achillea ageratifolia. These are pierced with the upright white trumpets of Lilium regale and the white spires of eremurus, foxgloves and delphiniums.
There are shrubs to add volume and structure; Hydrangea grandiflora, a white cistus, Paeonia suffruticosa subsp. Rockii and Buddleia nivea as well as trees such as Hippophae rhamnoides, a Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’ and almond trees lining the central path. The giant Arabian thistle Onopordon arabicum surges up 8 feet into the air, whilst foamy gypsophila softens the planting.
A worthwhile challenge
It was the contrast of all these plants together that created interest for the eye, despite the absence of colour. Vita seemed to relish the challenge, writing:
'It is something more than merely interesting. It is great fun and endlessly amusing as an experiment, capable of perennial improvement, as you take away the things that don’t fit in, or that don’t satisfy you, and replace them by something you like better.'
– Vita Sackville-West
Today, the garden team strives to maintain the White Garden in this way using a mixture of shrubs, roses, perennials and annuals to create interest and drama.
Experience a taste of island life as you walk through Delos, the area of the garden named after the Greek island and inspired by Vita and Harold's visits there.
The couple had wanted to emulate the feel of the island both in planting and with a ruined feel but, unfortunately, the Kent climate and the garden's north-facing position proved problematic. This, combined with their limited knowledge of Mediterranean planting, meant that it never really became all they hoped it would be.
However, in 2021 the garden team finished a project to reimagine Vita and Harold’s vision and the Delos garden is now complete for you to enjoy.
A must-see in the garden
Regional Curator Dr Jerzy J Kierkuc-Bielinski highlights a feature of Delos that you shouldn't miss:
'The garden rooms at Sissinghurst contain a number of objects that evoke the worlds of ancient Rome or of ancient Greece. Amongst these, I think that the group of Hellenistic altars from the sacred island of Delos are the most intriguing. What ancient rites or sacrifices were performed at these altars?
'Harold Nicholson’s ancestor Captain Hamilton fought in the Greek War of Independence during the 1820s. It was he who brought the altars from Delos to Shanganagh Castle in Ireland. From there they would eventually be brought to Sissinghurst by Harold.'
More garden rooms to explore
Beyond the most famous areas, there are many more spaces and features to discover in the garden at Sissinghurst.
The South Cottage Garden
See the warm reds and golds that evoke a sunset and mark out the South Cottage Garden, which is a riot of colour in late summer and autumn.
The Herb Garden
Take in the wonderful sights and smells of the Herb Garden, set beyond the Nuttery. As Adam Nicolson, Vita and Harold's grandson, says: 'Only the beautiful, the pungent and the elegant are allowed here.'
See how Kentish cobnuts, a variety of hazelnut, create a shady haven for birds and visitors alike in the Nuttery. In April 1930, Harold recorded in his diary the moment he and Vita decided to buy Sissinghurst: 'We came suddenly upon the nutwalk and that settled it,' he wrote.
The Moat Walk
Meander along the Moat Walk, defined on one side by the remains of an Elizabethan wall and by a bank of bright yellow azaleas on the other. Vita planted these in 1946, using the £100 she won from the Royal Society of Literature's Heinemann Prize for her poem The Garden.
Discover the tranquil Orchard, which Vita and Harold always intended to be half garden, half wilderness. They planted roses against the boughs of old apple trees, with winding paths mown in long grasses. Look out for the bees making use of the apple blossom to make honey in the hives.
Stumble upon the Gazebo, which is perched on the corner of the moat. It was built in 1969 in memory of Harold Nicolson by his sons Nigel and Benedict. It once served as Nigel’s summer office and you can still see the desk at which he wrote his most famous work, Portrait of a Marriage (1973), and take in the view over the Weald which inspired him.
The gardening team have completed a conservation project to re-imagine an area of the garden at Sissinghurst that was never quite completed by Vita and Harold.
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.
Climb the Tower at Sissinghurst for views of the whole garden, peruse thousands of books in the Long Library and explore the South Cottage, a retreat at the centre of the garden.
From 18th-century water gardens and Arts and Crafts landscapes to intimate woodland gardens, there are so many places to discover.
Discover our gardeners’ top tips so you can make the most of your garden, plot or window box.
There are gardens aplenty to explore in Kent, including Sissinghurst – one of the most famous in the country. From productive walled gardens to beautiful borders, there's something for every taste.