In June, alongside all the other wonderful gardens we visited, we also went back to Great Dixter and visited Sissinghurst for the first time. Sissinghurst is a name to conjure with. I realise that I have been sitting here wondering what I could say about Sissinghurst that has not already been said by much more august bloggers and proper writers than I. And so, a sort of blogger’s cramp set in for most of this summer.
In the end, I decided that I would start with the plants that caught my eye, and then work outwards to some more general comments about the whole garden. It is, of course, stuffed with visitors every day, and so, long range photographs would have meant setting up camp for the odd second when no-one was passing- not my style. So, I really did focus on on the detail of the plants and the planting at first, to overcome the sense of intimidation being in such an iconic place. And I began with the roses that we managed to catch…
Planted by Vita Sackville-West to cover the inner walls of the front courtyard, this repeat-flowering climber, Rosa ‘Allen Chandler’ has deep cherry-red flowers with long golden stamens, and is a very good do-er according to many. It would have been a very modern rose to her, an introduction from 1923 by Alfred Chandler and George Prince, the latter being a well-known Oxfordshire rose grower. It does marry really well with the warm brick of the walls behind it, and although it had been scorched and then drowned by rain on the day we saw it, it was looking pretty good. On roses, Vita herself says, writing in her 1954 garden notebook
“…There is nothing scrimpy or stingy about them. They have a generosity which is as desirable in plants as in people…”.’
Probably not planted by Vita, Rosa ‘Blossomtime’ was nevertheless a big bouncing beauty, with huge generous flowers, it is true in pink and not always my favourite shade either, but a healthy and well-growing rose. I am a big fan of Rosa ‘New Dawn’ and this rose started out as a chance ‘New Dawn’ seedling. It is a modern rose, dating from 1951 when it was introduced by Conrad O’Neal, a well-known US rose grower. It can be grown as a shrub or a climber.
Rosa ‘Cramoisi Superieur’ is a China rose, with twiggy growth, repeat flowering but smallish flowers, and good resistance to disease. It is a very old rose, certainly grown before the 1830s when various French growers lay claim to originating it. This may well have been one of Vita’s roses, the cherry-red colouring being a favourite of hers- and very garden-worthy, as it takes all-comers, including heat, with ease.
Almost the last flowers on this beautiful rose, Rosa ‘Paul Transon’, when we visited at the end of June. But it is one of those roses that only gets more glorious as the flowers age- the soft mauve is so much more romantic and interesting than the youthful pink. A 1900 introduction from Barbier Frères, it grows against a warm brick wall in the Rose Garden, and it may well be one of Vita’s own selections from the 1930s.
In the Rose Garden, another fabulous name from the past, Rosa ‘Ispahan’ was almost at the end of the flush of flowers for June. Again a pink- but what a grand presence it has. A Vita selection, this rose is a very old Damask rose, dating probably from the Middle Ages. A once-flowerer, nevertheless it has huge big flowers, great disease resistance and a strong fragrance, though I couldn’t get near enough to verify.
Not a Vita selection, but Rosa ‘Golden Wings’ has all of the simplicity of the wilder roses, and the colouring and presence of the breeder’s rose. Another US introduction from Bosley Nurseries in 1956, it is an easy shrub rose, blooming once and thereafter sporadically, it is heat-resistant, disease-resistant and needs very little attention.
Rosa damascena var Trigintipetala may be one of the oldest roses in the collection. Dating from before 1612, it appeared in Europe shown by Dr. Georg Dieck in 1889, having originated in Bulgaria or Turkey. It may also be found under the name ‘Kazanlik’. On a quick search, I could only find a couple of French stockists.
This Vita selection, now bizarrely named as Rosa rubiginosa ‘Duplex’, is a bit of a mystery. Unusual as it is happy growing in deep shade in Sissinghurst, I almost passed it without realising it was there, as the last flower was hidden deep in the foliage. Described as ‘armed with thorns’, it should be better known all the same- how many other roses tolerate, let alone enjoy, living in shade?
Enough for now, but I feel I have worked my way in to the Sissinghurst hang-up…