The grandson of poet Vita Sackville-West records the sometimes murky history of Sissinghurst, a Kent estate where the author grew up—and now lives again—and which he has endeavored to restore to its former status as a self-sustaining farm.
Nicolson (Quarrel with the King: The Story of an English Family on the High Road to Civil War, 2008, etc.) relates several stories. The focus is always Sissinghurst itself, but the author chronicles its varied, sometimes bloody, history in many of its aspects: geological, agricultural, political (the ruins of a Roman road are nearby; Queen Elizabeth I stayed there in 1573), architectural and personal. Although the author's family had owned the property, hard times forced his father to turn it over to the National Trust, which allowed the Nicolsons to remain residents while the Trust maintains and improves the property and seeks to attract tourists. Tens of thousands visit Sissinghurst every year. When the author decided to return to live there after the death of his father, writer Nigel Nicolson, he walked the grounds and was saddened to see that it had become principally a house-and-garden tour stop—no more grain, pigs, cows or vegetables. He decided he wanted to return an agrarian focus to Sissinghurst, to provide organic food for the kitchen (which serves lunch to myriad visitors) and to see it again become what it could and should be. The fireworks began immediately. People already working there liked, even loved, what existed, and the Trust was reluctant to support a plan initially so tenuous and idealistic. But the author's persistence and affection eventually changed key minds and hearts. Includes helpful photographs and drawings.
Though a tad defensive and self-congratulatory, the author emerges as a doughty steward of the land, and his family's legacy.