Monday, January 23, 2012

Virtual Garden Tour - Sissinghurst

     Today is a virtual tour of Sissinghurst Castle Garden.  Sissinghurst was the home of the writer (garden writer, novelist, poet) Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson.  According to Gardens of the National Trust by Stephen Lacey, Vita Sackville-West fell in love with the castle in April 1930.  She says "It was Sleeping Beauty's Castle; but a castle running away into sordidness and squalor; a garden crying out for rescue."  Sordidness and squalor have been thoroughly routed, but there is certainly a fairy-tale charm about it.  Let's take a brief tour.  Step this way...

     One of the most famous bits of this famous garden is its tower.  Vita Sackville-West used it as her sanctuary where she could write in peace.  From the top of the tower you can look down on the garden and get a real birds' eye view.
     In the center of the picture is one of the "rooms" in the garden at Sissinghurst Castle. I think it's called "The Cottage Garden" which appellation appeals greatly to me, but I would call it the "hot garden".  It was stuffed full of trumpeting oranges and reds which I probably would have appreciated more on a cool day, but this particular day was quite hot and muggy enough, more like Virginia than like I expected England to be in June.  I did love these kniphophias, though.
      We were too late for most of the roses unfortunately, but some were blooming romantically around a dovecote found in a blowsy orchard.
      The orchard is bordered on two sides by a moat, deeply shaded by trees.  This was a pretty good protected spot to be when the inevitable rain broke out.  It didn't last too long.  I was standing in deep shade looking across the moat into the well-lit orchard when this little sprite ran by in the sunshine with hat askew.
     Bryan suggested this trip to England to see gardens, both famous and private ones, for our 10th anniversary.  This is almost impossibly sweet, since I'm the one that it entirely addicted to gardens.  After the idea first came up, I kept reading or hearing the opinion that visiting gardens in England is a learning experience.  I don't dispute that at all.  But actually, I was getting to be a bit intimidated by the thought.  My garden is in that "crying out for rescue" stage and it has been since we moved in shortly after getting married.  (Well, actually the evidence suggests significantly longer than that.)  We have been oh so gradually rescuing it, but there are still huge swaths of ground that I would love to fill up with charming paths and flowery borders, except that they're bulging with hard-to-remove invasive plants like wisteria, nandina, and ivy.  I'm gradually learning some tricks for getting rid of these things and I'm sure some future posts will discuss them, but the point of this is that I wasn't entirely sure I deserved to go to England and try to learn things from the gardens there.   
     I learned stuff anyway.  Here's a nice unexpected example of color echos.
     The gardens at Sissinghurst Castle (and a lot of other ones we saw in England) have color themes.  Sissinghurst's are quite lovely, but in other places I started to get a little sick of the color coordinated flower borders.  Me!  It was weird but educational in an unexpected way to find that I could actually get fed up with row upon row of perfect flowers.  There were certainly more sophisticated than a bed filled with bedding annuals, but it was kind of the same effect, an aristocratic and high-maintenance sort of gaudiness.  I'm not thinking of Sissinghurst specifically with this criticism; I'm not sure exactly what the difference was.  Something about moving through the garden on a path (at Sissinghurst Castle) rather than viewing long borders from a lawn.  Something about letting the plants do their own thing a little bit.  Something about the garden being a symphony with loud parts interspersed with quiet parts, rather than a medley where the catchiest phrase of each song is patched together.
     The most famous of the color gardens at Sissinghurst castle is the white garden. 

     I believe this was the white garden from which all white gardens spring.  I expected to find one of those scenes that has lost some of its luster from being too famous and too often copied, but I was totally charmed.  It was very crowded with tourists, but I shuffled through it with the hordes back and forth and back and forth in different directions to try and really drink it in.  I hate crowds but the garden was worth putting up with this unideal viewing condition.  I expected it to be perhaps a little washed out, because we saw this room before the rain clouds and it was brilliantly sunny and hot.  I expect a white garden to not be at its best in the middle of the day.  But it was as bright and fresh and crisp as sheets on a laundry line.  I'm not sure I can explain this.  I attribute it partly due to an exquisitely precise choice of white-flowering cultivars.  (Lots of gray foliage and a little bit of dappled shade from some arbors helps too.)
     I also learned that I want more clematis.
     Another thing I learned from seeing gardens in England is that it's OK not to have one.  I do love the jam-packed flowery look.  I already knew enough to know that I can't grow, say, delphiniums in Southeastern Virginia, but I have read what sounds like good advice, which is that you can have a cottage garden feel with what does grow in your climate.  But what I can never get is the timing.  I would love to have more combinations like the lilies and alliums shown above in my garden but the plants I want to combine never seem to be blooming at the same time.  I have plants blooming most of the year, but not usually a lot of different kinds at once.  I'm going to keep plugging along and grow more plants and try to keep making notes about what does well and when it's in bloom (I love looking at people's Garden Blogger's Bloom Day entries to help with this too).  But I noticed something odd in England.  I was there in June.  There were poppies and chamomile blooming.  The poppies and chamomile were already pretty much done in my garden.  And there were sunflowers and goldenrod blooming!  I have no expectation of sunflowers and goldenrod until August.  I have some half-crocked theories to explain this English unseasonal magic but none of them hold water.  If anyone reading this has an explanation, please enlighten me with a comment!  But I'm chalking it up as one of the unknowable mysteries of nature.  Like all the unknowable mysteries, it is both humbling and comforting.  Here's how I see it.  I cannot have both chamomile and sunflowers in my garden at the same time so a true English garden may be fundamentally unachievable.  On the other hand, I don't want to have chamomile and sunflowers in my garden at the same time.  I love the seasonality of gardening here too much for that.  Being in England among all these beautiful and sophisticated gardens taught me something absolutely priceless.  Squalid and sordid though it may be, I love my own garden best of all.

Oxalis - Macro Monday

     Another dreary January day, so I look to my neglected houseplants for a little color.  Hey, that's interesting, this is a green oxalis, not a purple one...  This plant shows up in the garden store every year around St. Patrick's day and I always fall in love with it's adorable green shamrocks and delicate white flowers, and its charming habit of closing up its leaves every night at bedtime.  There's a burgundy-leaved version but it's the fresh green that appeals to me.  They can live outside here (I think) but I don't really have anyplace suitable to put it in the ground and I usually don't bother keeping it.  However,  this one stayed in its impossibly tiny pot all summer in a tray with cuttings so it got more watering and attention than most of my plants usually do.  In such a tiny pot, I thought it had a slim chance of also getting through the winter, so I brought it inside.  After a very brief winter's nap (too brief?), it's now putting on new growth.
     The purple on the new leaves' undersides caught me by surprise more than once, not just because the tops of the leaves are green, but because the purple is more or less intense as the viewing angle and light angle change.  It's like an outlandish hat worn by the outlandish wife of Mr. Elton in the movie Emma (in the scene where she tells Emma that she plans to throw a party for Jane Fairfax).  Mrs. Elton is wearing a green dress and a green hat, but as she swirls around Emma to conspiratorially take her arm as they walk, the hat changes color remarkably from green to red and back again as the satiny sheen catches the light from different angles.  Or, it's like the colors on some bird's feathers, grackles and starlings most accessibly -- take a good look next time they settle in your yard and gobble up all the seed in your feeders.  Or the spot on a mourning dove's neck as libido awakes in the early spring.  (Really! Make a note to look if you haven't seen it.)
     I just watched Emma again for the upteenth time.  The dialog in this movie always makes me laugh (like Miss Bates's line "it left us speechless!  Speechless, I tell you, and we have not stopped talking about it since.")  More than that, it's a great garden movie.  Once you have watched it as many times as I have, you won't need to pay so much attention to the plot anymore, and you may find yourself absorbed by the gorgeous flowery places, indoors and out, images from a gardener's fantasy.  I just wish I could stop the movie and jump in.  Click here for a trailer, including glimpses of some of the beautiful garden scenes (the colors in the movie are lush and vibrant, despite the trailer looking washed out) and even the outlandish hat very briefly at about 0:34.
     For today's post, I'm joining Lisa's Chaos for Macro Monday for the first time.  To see what other people are looking closely at, visit Lisa's blog.