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Delos at Sissinghurst

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The place

In 1930 writer and poet, Vita Sackville-West, and her diplomat husband, Harold Nicolson made Sissinghurst Castle their home. During the course of over 30 years they created there what was to become one of the most influential gardens in the world. In 1935, while on a cruise of the Mediterranean, they visited the Greek island of Delos. So inspired were they that, on their return to Sissinghurst, they created a new garden, a landscape of ruined stone fragments and Mediterranean plants, which they named Delos in homage.

The brief

The Kent climate, heavy Wealden clay and north-facing aspect of the Delos site, combined with Vita and Harold’s inexperience with Mediterranean plants meant that the garden never became what they had dreamed of. It lost its way and became a spring, woodland garden filled with ferns, hellebores, geraniums and sheets of scilla and narcissus. It became much-loved in this incarnation, but was very far from what Vita and Harold had envisaged. We have been charged with remaking Delos to more truly reflect their aspirations.

The design

To understand Vita and Harold’s original vision we have drawn extensively on archival research and worked closely with the property team, especially Head Gardener, Troy Scott-Smith. To enable drought tolerant Mediterranean species to thrive here we have had to radically rethink the layout of Delos. A series of dry stone walls will create new, gently raised beds, oriented to catch the southern sun and contain a new, free-draining soil mix. Inappropriate planting will be removed and replaced with plants that are primarily of Greek origin, augmented with others from the wider Mediterranean basin. Mediterranean plant specialist, Olivier Filippi of Pépinière Filippi, is advising on appropriate species selections.

Work will be completed in Spring 2020.

 

“Personally I like to see her (Tulipa clusiana) springing up amongst grey stones, with a few rather stunted shrubs of Mediterranean character to keep her company: some dwarf lavender, and the grey-green cistus making a kind of amphitheatre behind her while some creeping rosemary spreads a green mat at her feet. A few neighbouring clumps of the blue Anemone apennina would associate perfectly, both as to colour and to quality, with the small pale bluish-lilac flowers of the rosemary. A grouping of this kind has the practical advantage that all its members enjoy the same treatment as to soil and aspect, and being regional compatriots, have the air of understanding one another and speaking the same language. Nothing has forced them into an ill-assorted companionship.” 

Vita Sackville-West | Some Flowers | 1937

client
The National Trust

collaborators
Olivier Filippi

duration
2018-

status
Construction

photography
Country Life Magazine

Dan Pearson Studio