Magazine article The Spectator

Round and Round the Garden, Again

Magazine article The Spectator

Round and Round the Garden, Again

Article excerpt

Vita Sackville-West�s Sissinghurst: The Creation of a Garden

by Vita Sackville-West and Sarah Raven

Virago, �30, pp. 382,

ISBN 9781844088988

Spectator Bookshop, �24

Here's a book co-authored by one dead woman and one living one. Sarah Raven is the second wife of Adam Nicolson, grandson of Vita Sackville-West. In 1930 Vita bought Sissinghurst, the ruins of a great 16th century house, and with her husband Harold Nicolson created the world-famous garden.

Tell me the old, old story. Vita died in 1970, and in 1983 Adam's mother published a similar volume, co-authored 'by Vita Sackville-West and Philippa Nicolson'; and there are several other good books about the making of this garden.

So here is yet another well-illustrated hommage, from an intimate perspective, to Vita and to her gardening style. It is basically a compilation of large chunks from Vita's gardening articles written for the Observer between 1946 and 1961. These were collected in several volumes, most of them reissued in recent years. The linking commentary by Sarah also incorporates extracts from other writers' books about the garden.

The volume is given structure by grouping the articles according to theme or topic, and there is quite a lot of Sarah's own autobiography included in passing, with accounts of her planting choices and preferences. (I am calling her Sarah because that is what she calls herself in publicity for Perch Hill in Sussex, where she runs a cookery and gardening business, a shop, and a considerable garden, as well as appearing on TV and writing books. ) The dead gardener and the living one could hardly be more different as characters, though both are opinionated, and with a right to be so. Sarah is happy to be in the public eye and has a flair for marketing. Vita was complicated and reclusive -and, by the way, her love-life extended into old age, and was not restricted, as suggested here, to her thirties and forties; nor were her lovers l argely 'a series of beautiful young women writers'.

Never mind. It is Vita the plantswoman and garden visionary who concerns Sarah.

Her assessment of Vita's achievement is respectful but not subservient. Her cleareyed confidence is contagious. She makes no criticism at all of Vita's interior decor, but for the first time, reading about Sissinghurst here, I felt less than charmed by Vita's fixation on the old, battered and time-worn. …

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