Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

An Instinctive Bond with the Land

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

An Instinctive Bond with the Land

Article excerpt


THE SMELL OF SUMMER GRASS: PURSUING HAPPINESS -- PERCH HILL 1994-2011 by Adam Nicolson (Harper Press, [pounds sterling]20)

"ENGLAND is a wonderful land," Rudyard Kipling wrote to a friend. "It is the most marvellous of all foreign countries I have ever been in." Adam Nicolson, who quotes these lines in his account of restoring Perch Hill, a semiderelict Sussex farm, to successful organic productivity, felt a powerful sense of identification with Kipling. Bateman's, Kipling's Sussex house, lies a mile from Perch Hill and is run -- like Sissinghurst, the Elizabethan castle that Nicolson inherited from his father in 2004 -- by the National Trust.

He asked the trust if he might write the text to a new guidebook for Bateman's.

"I didn't tell them how much I had come to see Kipling's own position as parallel to mine: he was almost exactly my age, 36, when he came here, in retreat from the world, and we were both in grief over lost children -- his six-year-old daughter Josephine dead from pneumonia, my sons severed from me, or part-severed anyway, by divorce -- and looking for the sustenance an ancient landscape can provide."

Nicolson's last book, Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History, told of the remaking of the home farm at the Kentish castle where Nicolson grew up, and where his grandmother, Vita Sackville-West, created a famous garden. The present book begins in 1992, at a moment of dire crisis. Nicolson was tormented with guilt over the failure of his first marriage and its effect on his three young sons. He had abandoned a business and failed to finish a book. "If I had been a horse I would have been shot. I had broken down."

On a summer night he set out to walk from Mayfair to Hammersmith where he was living with Sarah Raven, who would become his second wife. Halfway home he was mugged by three youths who squirted bleach into his eyes. It was the end point of a "long and hopeless trajectory". …

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