Approaching Sissinghurst part 2

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Rosa ‘Meg’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Sometimes, as with Hidcote, the National Trust marketing bods go far too overboard with trying to introduce you to ‘the person’ that they have identified as the ‘key person- attractor’ for their property.  As Robin Lane Fox rather acidly remarked in a recent article about Hidcote in the FT, this can lead to patent nonsense, such as your ticket apparently being a personal invitation from Lawrence Johnston. (I can’t link to this article because of the FT paywall, but I must have found it somewhere as I don’t subscribe.)   My understanding of Lawrence Johnston is that he was an intensely private person who would probably have undergone fingernail extraction than take part in such flummery.

However, in the case of Sissinghurst, this approach is far less ridiculous.  First of all, Vita Sackville-West was herself a columnist for ‘The Guardian’ from 1946-61, and she wrote ceaselessly of her successes and failures in her own garden- so this makes Sissinghurst almost a well-kent space for gardeners.  And secondly, the Nicolson family, including the author, Adam Nicolson, her grandson and his wife, Sarah Raven, the well-known garden and food writer, live in the property and are very connected to the ways in which the house and the garden are made available to visitors.

So, I really enjoyed the feeling of intimacy and connection with Vita as a woman, a lover, a wife, a mother, a writer and a great gardener that was opened to you as a visitor at every turn.

Another great rose, perhaps selected by Vita, was looking breathtaking when we visited.  Rosa ‘Meg’ was bred in 1954 in the UK but yet seems to hail from an earlier era. A truly gorgeous apricot rose, a climber/hybrid tea, once-flowering and thereafter the odd bloom, is really worth the space in the garden.  Set against the warm brick of the Sissinghurst walls, and it prefers the warmth of a wall behind it, it was sublime.

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Rosa ‘Princess Marie’, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Right above my head, a huge swag of this very pretty ivory-pink rose, was doing its best against the rain and wind.  Rosa ‘Princess Marie’ was bred in France in 1829 by Antoine A. Jacques and climbs well, although classified as a Hybrid Sempervirens.  Apparently the rose has a strong fragrance, but was too high above me to be able to tell.   Peter Beales, see the link, does describe it as a rambler.

And, finally on the rose front, I loved this little display in the entrance arch to the garden, introducing visitors to some of the roses flowering at that moment.

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Introduction to the roses in flower, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Now to other splendid plants.  There was a mouthwatering spread of absolutely beautiful opium poppies, some of which had taken a pounding in the rain the day before, but other of which had come through very well.   Somehow the rain accentuated the layers of the petals in the crimson one.

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Allium cernuum, Sissinghurst, June 2017

I loved the nodding heads of this little allium, it is commonly called ‘nodding onions’- a very pretty mauve-blue with such spirit and delicacy.  It wants full sun, well-drained soil but otherwise is not fussy it would seem, and is a good spreader, bulbs are available via Sarah Raven.

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Clematis ‘Hagley Hybrid’, Sissinghurst, June 2017 fresh as a daisy

Staying with the mauve theme, a clematis that would struggle with us, was looking fresh as a daisy.  Clematis ‘Hagley Hybrid’ was growing strongly in a corner of the White Garden if I recall correctly.  The International Clematis Society recommends HH as a star for a shady corner, so that’s quite a recommendation.

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Viburnum erubescens, Sissinghurst, June 2017

I was struck by the shining red berries on Viburnum erubescens, but we had missed the apparently gorgeous snowball-white flowers that adorn this small tree in May.  If you have the space, and a moist, semi-shady position, this would be a really attractive small tree/shrub to go for. The berries are only the second act, I would love to have seen the first.

And lastly, a plant that I had not realised I had grown, Digitalis ferruginea.  You know the way it is, a pot that loses the marker, a rosette of green, and a chance identification at le Jardin Champêtre. And then an ‘aha’…I did buy that seed once.  Such a strange and mysterious plant, I can quite see why Vita might well have chosen it, blooming out of time with other foxgloves, rusty brown flowers that have creamy centres, and a good rosette of leaves.  Easy from seed, as long as you remember you planted it!

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Digitalis ferruginea, Sissinghurst, June 2017

Unknown women and well-known roses…

Madame Alfred Carrière, Tostat, May 2015
Frosted Madame Alfred Carrière, Tostat, January 2017

A dull winters day, and I turned to thinking about names of plants, and, remembering that I had explored the story of Madame Legrelle in a blog in 2015, I was wondering about Rosa Madame Alfred Carrière.

MAC as she is fondly called in the press, is one of my favourites, and is a total workhorse, growing stoutly in dry, stony soil and throwing herself over the wall with abandon- especially when I remember to tie down the new growth.  And she flowers from late spring till just before Christmas.  What a goer.

But, strangely, and this may be the way with plants that achieve workhorse status, the only photograph I have is this one from nearly two years ago.  So I set out to repair the damage of being too well-loved and hence ignored, by trying to find out about the origins of the rose and the woman it was named after.

MAC was bred by a roseriste in his prime, Joseph Schwartz, and was first made available to the world in 1879.  His story bgan earlier, when he shot to fame as the chosen successor to Jean-Baptiste Guillot-Père, one of the most important rose-growers in the rose capitol of France, Lyon.  Born in 1846, Schwartz moved to Lyon as a very young man to be apprenticed to Guillot-Père, and he must have greatly impressed the older man with his dedication for him to have been chosen as the new owner of the nursery.  He must also have been able to raise the money for the purchase- no mean feat.

Almost immediately the roll-call of famous Schwartz roses produced by his nursery attracted international attention, including the release in 1872 of the ‘Reine Victoria’ rose, which was hugely admired throughout the rose world.  A few years later, in 1879, he exhibited ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’.  When first launched, MAC was described as ‘worthless’ and so, during his lifetime, it was not regarded as one of Shwartz’ successes.

Rosa Reine Victoria, Schwartz 1872. Photo credit:

By the early 1880s, Joseph had married Séraphine Riggotard and was the proud father of two very young children, Louise and André, when Séraphine died. Marrying again to Marie-Louise Trievoz, his professional career triumphed with honours bestowed on him in France, and an invitation to a prestigious horticultural event in St Petersburg followed.   It is said that the travel back in the winter created the conditions for the illness that followed, and at the age of 39 in 1885 , he died.  He left the business to the young Marie-Louise, newly a mother herself to Joseph’s third child.

Marie- Louise had grit, determination and talent.  She continued to grow the reputation of the nursery with roses of her own, including the reknowned ‘Madame Ernest Calvat’, and at the age of 48 in 1900, she herself handed the nursery on to her stepson, André.  She held her own in the male-dominated world of rose-growing and is to be admired as a person of courage and energy who became as famous as her husband, although, a modern indignity, she remains known almost entirely as Widow Schwartz, ‘Veuve Schwartz’.

It took me hours to uncover her own name.

From left to right, Marie-Louise Trievoz, before marrying Joseph Schwartz, Joseph Schwartz, and Marie-Louise in later life known as ‘Veuve Schwartz’.  Photo credits:,

It would be not until 1908 that the National Rose Society proclaimed MAC to be the best white climbing rose and it was not until 1993 that the RHS awarded MAC its Award of Garden Merit, more than 120 years after release.  She had a slow birth as a celebrity, you could say.

‘Madame Ernest Calvat’, produced by Marie-Louise Schwartz, Lyon, 1888 photo credit:

But my original quest was to discover who ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’ was. Who was she?   There is, unfortunately, no trace that I could find of her, or even a name of her own.  Her husband, Alfred, was the editor-in-chief of the important gardening journal, Revue Horticole, in France and was apparently a keen amateur rose-grower, though, only amateur in the money-making sense as he was a well-known botanist by profession.  But she remains unknown and lost to history.

Pruning MAC, South Cottage, Sissinghurst photo credit:

But another woman was to really make the name of Rosa ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’. Vita Sackville West immortalised MAC when she chose her as the first rose she planted in her new garden at Sissinghurst Castle.  She and Harold Nicholson planted the rose on the day that their offer to buy Sissinghurst was accepted in 1930, and it still flowers today.  The last words on growing and pruning roses belong to Vita.  Read them here.





Doctor, doctor, I keep talking to my plants…

It’s like this, you see. I find myself in the garden, looking closely at plants, and then I hear myself talking to them. Mostly, I am saying congratulatory or encouraging things, or passing on a compliment. Occasionally, there is the pep talk, something like ‘Now look, you’ve got all you need, so up and at it’. Actually, come to think of it, that’s got quite a parental feel about it, a bit too Critical Parent, if you remember Transactional Analysis. But there is also the serious telling-off to the last-chance saloon plant, the one that’s had two strikes and is on the last one. After which, the compost heap is the destination. I have to say, it’s taken me a while to not keep trying to save plants from the compost heap. I have learnt to admit that I change my mind about liking plants, and that is my prerogative.

No less a gardener than Vita Sackville West says so too, in 1968,

“…I feel that one of the secrets of good gardening in always to remove, ruthlessly, any plant one doesn’t like… Scrap what does not satisfy and replace it by something that will.”

And, for more moral support on this matter of liking, idea, taste and follow-through, Anne Wareham, a fiery gardener who famously hates gardening, whom I would love and dread to meet, nevertheless speaks the kind of sense I like when she says this of what a garden is,

“…A garden, designed and planted to give delight to the eye and the realisation of a fantasy about what could possibly be made with the shape of the land, with plants, with the work of the seasons and the weather. This is the point of it all and it is worth all the rest – just. I think. Maybe. Yes…”

Mind you, for all that Anne Wareham is fiery, her garden at Veddw is absolutely on my list to visit, and I love the fact that she isn’t afraid to take a tilt at accepted ‘wisdoms’…

And I came across a post from another blogger, Tepilo, who had a sharp piece entitled ‘Being ruthless in your garden’

So, these are the plants in my garden that were being talked-to this week by me…

Wild violets, Viola papilonacea, growing in the paths, March 2015. I am saying, 'You look lovely, but this is FAR enough. I will take you out..'. Apologies to Liam Neeson.
Wild violets, Viola papilonacea, growing in the paths, March 2015. I am saying, ‘You look lovely, but this is FAR enough. I will take you out..’. Apologies to Liam Neeson.
Euphorbia characias subsp.wulfenii flowers emerging, March 2015.  I am saying, 'Love the way you look as if you are praying...'
Euphorbia characias subsp.wulfenii flowers emerging, March 2015. I am saying, ‘Love the way you look as if you are praying…’
Unknown single Helleborus orientalis, white and pink March 2015. I am saying, ' Stay messing'
Unknown single Helleborus orientalis, white and pink March 2015. I am saying, ‘ Stay apart…no messing’
Iris reticulata, Feb 2015.  I am saying, 'Doing beautifully, not to self, put some more in there in the Autumn'
Iris reticulata, Feb 2015. I am saying, ‘Doing beautifully, note to self, put some more in there in the Autumn’
Euphorbia March 2015. I am saying, 'I think you're mutants, what's going on in there?'
Euphorbia March 2015. I am saying, ‘I think you’re mutants, what’s going on in there?’

The iris that thrives on sun and poverty…

This is the Iris for me. Iris unguicularis. Tough, obliging, very pretty and the only thing braving the snow today and deciding to flower.  This is the story of a ‘hit’ and a ‘miss’. I was moving some kniphofia last October, and I though that this was a baby kniphofia, odd that there weren’t any flower remnants, but well..Today I found out what it was.  All the books tell you NOT to move them, apparently they hate it. But, and this might be the upside of the mistake, late autumn is a window for moving, if you have to. So that probably saved the bacon.  As you can see from my picture, it is blooming in the snow.  My ground is pretty free-draining and that is also good for it.  It’s used to tough, hot Greek hillsides, so no pampering.

Iris unguicularis Tostat Feb 15
Iris unguicularis Tostat Feb 15

On the ‘hit’ side of things, it is really pretty and I would have missed it as it had chosen to tuck itself away at the back of this not very inspiring clump of leaves, but I was looking for something else, and there it was. I consider that a ‘hit’.  Vita Sackville West was very partial to what she called the Algerian Iris, and wrote a piece for ‘The Guardian’ about it, and Noel Kingsbury, another great garden writer that I enjoy, also has a soft spot for it- his picture looks more like mine, unlike Vita’s more exotic looking one. Come to think of it, I think that I got this in a job lot of bulbs once, so I really have put no effort into it. What a result.