rinda's blog
I just got back from a week in England (ok, and a week in the south of France), where I was able to visit Sissinghurst, the garden developed by Vita Sackville-West in the county of Kent. Although I visited in October, when the garden is going into dormancy, it was still gorgeous, with the amber tones of autumn mixed with fiery reds and lovely seedheads allowed to play out their lives.

The first thing I noticed at Sissinghurst is the interaction of a very formal design with a kind of wildness. Formal hedges of boxwood create the edges of the gardens, but within those very carefully pruned gardens, perennials and flowering shrubs, vines and annuals grow exuberantly, overflowing the clipped boxwoods and looking like a party in full swing.

Sissinghurst is famous for the white garden, a section of the garden in which all the blooms, and much of the foliage, is white or silvery. There's a photo here of the white garden with a burst of red from some autumn foliage. You can see how the plants overgrow their boundaries and just look happy!

Sissinghurst makes ample use of garden structures and ornaments as well. In the white garden photo you can see the arbors. Some support vines, and others are there just as focal points. In the other photo, you can barely make out at the end of the border a bench which acts as a focal point. Throughout Sissinghurst there are long vistas with something at the end - a statue, a bench, a magnificent plant. Everywhere you turn, there's something new to see.

Of course, if you had acreage, staff, and volunteers, your garden would look a whole lot grander too, and you could probably charge people to come visit, at least after the first 50 years of garden development. In our area we're lucky to have both the Chicago Botanic Garden and Millennium Park to visit, as examples of how gardens can grow.

What I learn from Sissinghurst is the compatibility of the formal and the wild. As I lay out plans for your garden, I take into account the value of order and geometry as well as the need for abundance and color. I also learn from Sissinghurst the beauty of the garden in decay: seeds, autumn color, even the fading leaves of hostas and the brown stems of coneflowers, are part of nature. Birds need the seeds to survive, and the pleasure of spying a goldfinch on a coneflower seedhead makes the brown leaves worth it. Planting native species within an orderly garden allows us to contribute to the biological diversity of our area and enjoy plants that evolved to thrive in the mdiwest climate. If we expand our ideas of beauty to embrace all of nature's seasons and moods, we'll enjoy our gardens that much the more.
Sissinghurst Arbors
click to enlarge