Sissinghurst Castle

The renowned garden created by writer Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson

Sissinghurst Castle

Sissinghurst Castle Gardens are perfect for garden lovers and those wishing to experience a countryside day out. Purchased in 1930 for £12,375, the run-down estate was bought and redesigned to incorporate the gardens we see today. 

Sissinghurst is more than a garden; it has layers of history, a fairy-tale escape from modern life. The writer and diplomat Harold Nicholson and Vita Sackville-West the famous famous poet, novelist and gardener bought the estate. It was a neglected old property with fragments of an Elizabethan house. The couple invested time, effort and money to produce one of the loveliest gardens in the region. 

There is a high concentration of gardens, castles and historic villages in the county of Kent. Your visit to Sissinghurst can be part of a multi-day tour, experiencing vineyards, ancient castles and stunning gardens. Our Great Gardens of the South itinerary features Sissinghurst Castle and our day tour from London excursion Sissinghurst and Great Dixter Tour - two of the most talked-about and loved gardens in England.

The horticultural masterpiece of Kent

A brief history of Sissinghurst Castle

The beginning
Sissinghurst is only fifty miles due south of London, yet even today it feels a million miles away. 

On the southern rim of the great metropolis is the north downs, steep chalky hills stretching 150 miles east to west. Further south is the 'Weald' an old Saxon word meaning 'a wooded valley' and beyond the next wave of hills of the South Downs National Park. Sissinghurst sits in the Weald, insulated by oak, chestnut and hazel, making the place feel separate from the 21st Century. In the not too distant past travel in the area was challenging, especially during winter. 

Archaeologists discovered stone age tools south of the garden; a stone knife and scraper. Gold Celtic jewellery was unearthed - a gold ring of twisted strands.

The Saxon period
Let's jump forward in time to around a thousand years ago, Sissinghurst's old name was 'Saxingherste.' Meaning Saxons living in the woods, a 'hurst' being a wooded hillside. So, life began at Sissinghurst as a pig farm, the oak trees dropping nourishing acorns, the perfect meal for hungry pigs. 

The family that lived on the estate in the 13th Century fought for the King in their French wars. The warrior King Edward I stayed at the estate, therefor the owners must have been loyal and important. There is evidence that the King needed guidance in the thick wooded Weald, we can imagine the area being much like a giant maze of trees, streams and dells. 

Late medieval
The Baker family acquired the estate in the 1500s. Sir John Baker, an ambitious lawyer, bobbed and weaved his way around the Tudor Court with the changing political and religious orientation. He became Attorney General, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Speaker of the House of Commons. During the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I, he had a somewhat more sinister title. Sir John was Known as 'Butcher Baker' for hunting down so-called heretics and having them burned at stake. 

He managed to survive the change from Catholic to Protestant and even benefitted from the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The land and fortune amassed helped finance the entrance and flanking wings that still exist at Sissinghurst. 

Elizabethan times
Sir John's son Richard Baker, was a different man and used his inheritance to create a colossal deer park around the house and built the Elizabethan Tower, as a lookout for the hunt. The Tower doubles as an entrance into what was an enormous Renaissance courtyard house that lay beyond. An up to date property with a large amount of glass, vaulted gallery 120 feet long and thirty-eight fireplaces, most had marble chimneypieces. The Queen visited and was entertained with hunting, music and offered gifts. Shortly after the event Richard Baker, became Sir Richard Baker. 

Sissinghurst suffered a long slow decline over 300 years. When Vita Sackville-West and her husband, Harold Nicolson, first read the property's details, it described the Elizabethan buildings as 'picturesque old buildings'. They were by then, ruins. It was precisely the 'romantic' ruins and history that provoked the creative spirit in them both. At first, there was no electricity, no drains, no heating, nothing. They completed the main structure of the garden within two years, and by the late 1930s, the garden starts to look as it does now. 

It was the expertise, enthusiasm and energy of the head gardener Jack Vass made it all happen. War interrupted progress when Jack Vass joined the RAF, Vita and Harold relied on him and hoped for his return unscathed from any action he may have faced. He did return, but unfortunately, they fell out in 1957, and new head gardeners arrived in the form of Pam and Sibylle. They remained joint head gardeners until 1990, refining and improving over three decades. Along with Vita and Harold, they are the four creators of this incredible place. 

Today Sissinghurst Castle is owned and managed by The National Trust

Features of the Garden 
The Rose Garden is at its peak in June and July, and planting includes roses, honeysuckle, lavender, figs and vines. One of Vita's favourite flowers are Irises, which are planted among the roses. There is not much spoil seen, and little space is plugged with alliums and peonies.

The Moat Walk is planted with azaleas, bluebells and wisteria. Each year the gardeners push perennial wallflowers into the nooks and crannies in the mortar, each plant carefully placed with a lump of compost to give them a head start. The moat walk wall was repointed in the 1970s' and gardeners then laid siege to wall cutting chunks of mortar and filling the gaps with wallflowers once again.  

Cutting Hedges in your garden may seem like a pain. At Sissinghurst, the task needs to be executed with military precision at the exact time of year. Cutting begins in August and is completed by the end of September. It is estimated to take 30 man-weeks of work. The yew hedges get extra special attention, and they must be perfect. To create the 'wall' effect of the hedge, gardeners use spirit levels, string, planks and poles. Accurate records of the height and condition of plants are kept. The overall effect is overwhelming and satisfying. 

The White Garden is probably the most loved and admired of all the 'garden rooms' at Sissinghurst. The last to be named and giving the most impact. White Garden is a combination of Vita and Harold's joint vision - it unites Harold's theatricality and Vita's classical control. You will see white varieties of; gladioli, irises, pompom dahlias and Japanese anemones. 

We can provide an expert guide and out of hours private guided tour at Sissinghurst. You may prefer a driver guided day tour with a knowledgeable guide. 

Places to visit nearby
Other gardens nearby include Great Dixter, Christopher Lloyd's loved by people and the natural world. Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn with award-winning gardens. Penshurst Place, a medieval manor house with traditional gardens. Scotney Castle, a romantic garden with a 14th-century moated castle. Historical places of interest include Canterbury Cathedral, Leeds Castle, Town of Rye and Bodiam Castle. Our Great Gardens of the South Tour features a whole collection of fine gardens. The rolling hills of Kent and Sussex are now the epicentre of a revolution in English sparkling wine. We recommend an English Sparkling Wine Tasting stop on your travels.  

Our Tour Designers will always customise a trip based on your interests and accommodation preferences. 

Touring and accommodation
We have a database of tried and tested luxury Bed and Breakfast and Hotels. The five-star option for the South East of England is South Lodge Hotel and Spa. This hotel is ideal if you wish to tour the wine region, castles and gardens mentioned, and it is only 25 minutes to Gatwick airport and 1 hour to Heathrow. For the pure garden lover book our Sissinghurst Castle and Great Dixter tour to contrasting world famous gardens.

If this is your first time to England, we would recommend a custom version of our Town and Country Tour; it covers the famous places and allows you to utilise your private driver-guide by getting-off-the-beaten-path. Our Classic tour of Ireland is a good place to start for the first trip to Ireland, and we suggest the Classic tour of Scotland for your first trip to the bonny Highlands. There is a wide choice of accommodation in the UK; CottagesManor House Hotels and traditional Guest Houses.

The Much Loved Garden at Sissinghurst

In the Heart of 'the Garden of England' Kent

  • National Trust Property
  • Farm to Table Restaurant Policy
  • VIP Tours Available 
  • Enjoy Lunch at a Local Pub

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