Sissinghurst

A few weeks ago I finally went to Sissinghurst Castle Gardens - it's one of those places that's been 'on the list' for absolutely ages, so now I can tick it off (although it is definitely worth repeat visits).

Set in the Kent countryside, and down a fairly narrow lane, is the Sissinghurst estate once owned by Vita Sackville-West, and now managed by the National Trust. On a warm day in June it is clearly a very popular outing, but because the gardens are fairly spread out and divided into 'rooms' it never felt crowded or overly busy.

Passing the old oast houses with an area of re-introduced wildflower meadow, you enter the main gardens through a large arched gateway in the walls of part of the old house, and step out onto a large lawn surrounded on all sides by vibrant flower beds bursting with summer colour.

The Tower is well worth the effort of climbing for the fabulous views over the Kentish Weald, and a bird's eye perspective of the gardens.

At the entrance you're provided with a map of the gardens, but unless you're looking for something in particular I think it's really much better to wander wherever your feet and your senses take you. There's so much to see, little hidden corners then wider open spaces, shaded ponds and sun-drenched beds, formal borders and rambling climbers.

The rose gardens were looking a little bedraggled as I went after a few days of very heavy rain and winds, but overall the effect was of slightly faded glory rather than a mess. A longer walk takes you round semi-wild meadows, apple orchards, and a moat, overlooked by a gazebo that was used as an office and writing retreat and is a beautifully peaceful spot.

The White Garden is of course Sissinghurst's triumph and is a full-to-bursting froth of green, silver and white - white poppies, foxgloves and nigella pop among the foliage in the early summer sunshine.

Continuing to wander, I found secret spots, shady havens, and grand open vistas, and a little further out, the vegetable gardens on the side of the hill, growing produce for use in the restaurant - which made a handy place to rest for a quick but delicious lunch.

Sissinghurst is one of those gardens that invites you to explore at your leisure, to slow down, and to literally smell the flowers, to sit a while and take in the small details and the overall effect. Carefully but sympathetically managed, there will be something of interest throughout the year, and I definitely intend to go back.

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