ISSUE 34  |  Chasing Fireflies

Garden Visit: Vita’s Sunset Garden

August 26, 2014 10:00 AM

BY Kendra Wilson

The Cottage Garden at Sissinghurst contains no white. It faces west and is full of opulent color and rich scent: a place to sit at the end of the day, while watching the sun go down.

Sissinghurst Castle, in Kent, England, is not really a castle but the ruins of one. The tower where writer Vita Sackville-West had her study is castle-like, but the rest of the buildings are low and long, with a few cottages and barns dotted around. Vita and her husband, Harold Nicolson, used one building for eating, and another for keeping the children and nanny–at a safe distance. The South Cottage, a small Elizabethan dwelling, housed a flower-cutting room on the ground floor (with a sink and a stone floor), a tiny sitting room, and bedrooms for the grownups upstairs. The “sunset garden” is outside the front door of South Cottage.

Photographs by Kendra Wilson for Gardenista.


Above: South Cottage, and Harold’s garden chair. Vita and Harold liked to keep pots around the area where they sat, for scent and movable color. Lemon verbena was a particular favorite, to be crushed between the fingers while reading.


Above: All the garden rooms at Sissinghurst were created for living in, outdoors. The Cottage Garden was a place to sit before dusk, while the White Garden was somewhere to eat at night, with the flowers still visible and still sending out scent. For a similar show of orange, you can start Lilium Superbum, also known as Turk’s Cap Lily, from seed. A packet of seeds is $2 from Prairie Moon Nursery.  

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Above: This yarrow is Achillea filipendulina ‘Gold Plate’. For a similar bright yellow yarrow, try Achillea ‘Moonshine’; $7.99 per plant from Santa Rosa Gardens. In the background are giant cone-shaped Irish yews. For UK gardeners, Taxus baccata fastigiata is available in several sizes at prices ranging from £10.08 to £57.60 from Hopes Grove Nurseries.


Above: Pale orange daylilies. (Not sure how orange to go? Experiment with a Border of Orange Daylilies in four colors; $79.50 for 24 from White Flower Farm.) For a good selection of daylilies in the UK, visit The Nursery Further Afield.

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Above: Rough stone and brick path flanked by hemerocallis (daylilies) and hosta.

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Above: Hemerocallis ‘Stafford’ is £8.99 apiece from Crocus.

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Above: For UK gardeners, Imperata Cylindrica Rubra is £8.99 apiece from Crocus. For a grass with a similar mix of purple and green leaves, consider Panicum Virgatum ‘Shenandoah’; $8.99 from Santa Rosa Gardens.

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Above: At Sissinghurst, a drift of Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’ with brown centers and orange petals. For a similarly colored flower, consider Helenium Autumnale ‘Mariachi Salsa’; $7.99 per plant from Santa Rosa Gardens.

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Above: ‘Crocosmia Masoniorum Rowallane Yellow’; available from Holden Clough Nursery, £7.

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Above: For UK gardeners, Kniphofia Royal Standard is £8.99 per plant from Crocus. For a plant with a similarly colored flower, consider Kniphofia Uvaria Flamenco; $7.99 apiece from Santa Rosa Gardens.


Above: Vita and Harold did a lot of traveling, using Harold’s diplomatic work as an excuse. They collected many things, including a donkey, Abdul, that they had shipped over from Morocco. More prosaically, perhaps, they also collected colorful glass. In the deep window sills of South Cottage, the warm, translucent hues work perfectly with the idea of a sunset garden.


Above: In the foreground, daylilies in the Cottage Garden. Sissinghurst Castle’s tower rises in the background.

Updated from a post originally published August 30, 2012.

For more on the gardens at Sissinghurst, see The English Gardener: His and Hers, Harold and Vita. For a grand garden in England, see Sezincote in Gloucestershire.