British gardener Raven (Wild Flowers, 2012) integrates Sackville-West’s writings into a gardener’s guide to one of England’s finest landscapes, which was laid out with a studied nonchalance.
The book is packed with photographs, a boon for readers unfamiliar with botanical terminology, though Raven kindly adds some English equivalents for many of the named species. The opening short history of Sissinghurst from the 16th century is actually unnecessary. The real story is Sackville-West and her husband, Harold Nicolson. (Raven lives on the grounds with her husband, Adam Nicolson, Sackville-West’s grandson.) Vita grew up at Knole, a beautiful estate and stately home in Kent. Since she was female, she was unable to inherit Knole when her parents died. Sissinghurst, 20 miles away, came up for sale, and Vita viewed the derelict house and grounds as a Sleeping Beauty in need of rescue. Harold laid out the bones of the garden, executing the structure of walks, hedges and intimate small rooms. Vita’s hand can be seen everywhere. She demanded absolute lack of formality and planted Harold’s formal structure with a maximum of informality. Her style displayed a fine carelessness caught between the wild and the controlled, and her overall philosophy became, “Cram, cram, cram, every chink and cranny.” Due to her time on the grounds, Raven ably describes the beauty of Sissinghurst. “An enchanting garden like Sissinghurst is, I would say, at its most beautiful at precisely the point where its informality is about to tip over into chaos,” she writes. Devoted gardeners will relish the lists of plants favored by Sackville-West, and those who dabble in gardening will learn that gardens aren’t made in a day, a year or even a decade.
Enjoyable for gardeners and lovers of quaint British landscapes.