Just this morning, I was musing at how often we subconsciously try to recreate the gardens of our childhoods. Like those lost, half- forgotten summers of our youth, where the sun always seemed to shine, I’m not sure that we necessarily remember them correctly.
But clients and students will often wax lyrical about the scent of honeysuckle and roses, of hiding amongst the fruit bushes to devour plump blackcurrants, of lying in the long meadow grass between the gnarled apple trees of the orchard, of the scent of lilac and wisteria on a warm May morning, and that of drifting off to sleep with the scent of jasmine wafting in through the open bedroom window. Aaaaaagh, lovely……
But trying to recreate one’s childhood garden can be a tricky thing, often open to failure. How do you recreate a dream? However, two of our best British gardens – Sissinghurst in Kent and Wollerton Old Hall in Shropshire, are the products of just such a quest.
First, Sissinghurst. Did you know that the Vita Sackville West grew up as the only child of 3rd Baron Sackville in Knole, a vast pile of a house, with too many rooms to count (although some say there are 365 – one for each day of the year) and over 1000 acres.
And here are part of the vast gardens that surrounded it.
I can just imagine Vita as a rather imperious and solitary child wandering about this cavernous house all on her own. However, when her father died, due to the usual arisiocratic inheritence rules, Vita, as a female, was not allowed to inherit Knole and it was passed to a male cousin. Heartbroken, Vita had to move out and never set foot in her childhood home again.
Vita married Harold Nicholson
She first moved to Long Barn and, as she acknowledged herself later, it was there that she first tried to recreate Knole in microcosm- look at that topiary- just like the previous photo of Knole!.
And then later, at Sissinghurst,an ariel view taken just as they first saw it:
Vita bought it in 1930 with her husband Harold Nicholson,and here she tried to do the same thing again, always longing for “dear Knole”. Here she is, just having bought it, digging the first border.
Of course Sissinghurst is now a magical garden and a very successful personal attempt at trying to capture a remembered idyllic time in her life.
Moving on to a more recently made garden – Wollerton Old Hall in Shropshire- It’s not as well-known as Sissinghurst but is a lot of people’s favourite garden, including Chris Beardshaw off the telly!
I once went for a private lunch with the owners (well, private for a group of paying fans like me!) and heard the story of how Lesley Jenkins and her husband John came to create it since 1984.
She used to live there in the same house when she was a child with her siblings and adored parents. The children would play endless games in the beautiful garden, and their father who was a pilot, would fly over the garden and dip his wings to let them know he was on his way home to the nearby airfield and to get the kettle on. Sadly, Lesley’s parents divorced and the family had to leave the house, leaving those beautiful memories behind and, as Lesley now says “life was never the same again.”
Cut to many years later and Lesley, by chance hearing that the house and 4 acre garden is up for sale, goes to visit. To her huge disappointment the garden is not remotely as she remembers it – it’s largely laid to lawn with borders of overgrown shrubs.
Undaunted, Lesley and John buy the property and set about recreating the idyllic garden of her childhood memory – a memory that maybe never was real? But what a beauty it is……
Hubby taking a breather from arduous garden visiting…..
What’s your childhood garden memory?