Vita Sackville-West - Muses & The Beau Monde
Victoria Mary Sackville-West, Lady Nicolson, CH, born 9 March 1892, usually known as Vita Sackville-West, was an English author and garden designer.
Vita Sackville-Wests name, work and garden need no introduction, so I will share just enough photos of her and her garden at Sissinghurst to make it impossible for you to resist diving headfirst into her world to discover the flowers and people she loved.
Vita Sackville-Wests relationship with Virginia Wolf has become an iconic LGBT+ relationship evident in their intimate letters to each other. I will not be delving into the romantic drama of their lives as I am much more interested in her romance with the garden.
Below is a video by Amnesty International UK for Pride 2020: Award winning actress and LGBT+ ally Jodie Comer reads the beautiful first letter from Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf. A touching and passionate exchange and part of a two part reply with the wonderful Nicola Coughlan.
Vita Sackville-West is best remembered not just for her writing and romances but also for her garden. Sissinghurst Castle Garden, in the Weald of Kent in England, was created by Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson, an author and diplomat. It has become one of the most famous gardens in England and is now in the care of the National Trust.
"It was Harold Nicolson who provided the architectural framework for his wife's romantic profusion of planting. He had a love of firm classical lines, which made up the overall design of the garden. This was the perfect setting for the subtly coloured and informal planting schemes.
They wanted the garden to have not only a formal structure with extensive views, but provide a sense of privacy and intimacy. This was achieved by dividing the garden into separate enclosures, creating the now famous White Garden, Rose Garden, Orchard, Cottage Garden and Nuttery."
- Great British Gardens
While in the Red Library at Duffryn House in the Vale of Glamorgan, I came across a book - Some Flowers by Vita Sackville-West. There was an illustrated plate on the front cover of Iris Reticulata, a winter flower, purple with speckled gold. It was inscribed inside as a birthday present but had never been read since 1993, it had just sat on there on their shelf. This individual was most likely one of those awful people Beverley Nichols warned about, who chose only to grow flowers in summer and held some ridiculous thought that winter flowers were a myth. The slip cover read.
"In Some Flowers Sackville-West took the novel step of choosing her favourite flowers and describing their appearance, origins and characteristics - and the best way to grow them - in a series of brilliantly expressive pen portraits which retain their freshness over fifty years later.
The flowers she selects are not those which only have an effect en masse but those which are lovely in shape, colouring, marking or texture - 'Flowers which painters have delighted, or should delight, to paint - and shows a similar sensitivity in the words she choose to depict them."
There were flowers I knew and flowers I didn't, flowers that were so obvious that you had forgotten about them and the beauty in their simplicity. The use of language was wonderful:
"She is familiarly called The Lady Tulip but actually reminds one most of a regiment of listed red and white soldiers. Seen growing wild on the mediterranean or Italian slopes, you can imagine a Lilliputian army deployed at its spring manoeuvres. I supposed her alleged femininity is due to her elegance and neatness, with her white little shirt so simply tucked inside her striped jacket, but she is really more like a slender boy, a slim little officer dressed in a a parti-coloured uniform of the Renaissance."
My father had no conversion over our lunch that day in the Duke of Wellington. Just an open book across the table from him, with a purple and specked gold Iris Reticulata on the cover.
Sackville-West was not a professional gardener, being first and foremost a poet and writer, so I will end with this record of Vita Sackville-West reading from her poem The Land.
Reading Recommendations & Content Considerations
by Vita Sackville-West & the Creation of a Garden
Vita Sackville-West Vita Sackville-West & Sarah Raven