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Sissinghurst gardens just a day trip from London
Ten separate gardens were carved out of the space at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, outside of London. (Kathryn Cates Moore)

KATHRYN CATES MOORE/Lincoln Journal Star

ONE HOUR SOUTH OF LONDON — Vita Sackville-West was a novelist and poet. Her husband, Harold Nicolson, was a diplomat.

Those legacies are intertwined with their residence and plantings.

Or should I say castle and 10 separate gardens over five acres?

Sissinghurst was originally built about 1560. It has had many lives — a castle, a prison camp and partially demolished home.

In 1930, Sackville-West and her husband decided to purchase what was left of the neglected property and plant themselves and the garden they had dreamed of for years.

For 30 years, the two designed, planted, coaxed and replanted the spaces while continuing their professional careers and raising two sons.

Now open five days a week during most of the year, the gardens are a destination for visitors who want to see a variety of different areas, styles and plants.

Here are some of the highlights:

* Climbing roses that wind over crumbling bricks and give color to formal gardens. They are huge and fragrant and plentiful.

* A white garden that Vita Sackville-West designed with crossing paths, low box hedges, calla lilies, clouds of daisies and silver-foliaged groundcovers.

* One hundred varieties of herbs are grown in what is called the “most complete herbarium in England,” which supplies herbs for the kitchen/restaurant on site. The scents in the rectangular garden are overwhelming.

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* What castle would be complete without a cottage garden? This property has two separate cottages and sticks to yellows, reds and oranges for its color palette in the gardens.

* Ferns, ferns and more ferns. Dozens of varieties of ferns unfurl in the shade all over the property.

Great Britain’s garden history is everywhere you look. There are castles, botanical gardens and even backyards that are centuries old.

Part of the reason they still exist is the National Trust, which sets up the properties for public viewing and continues the upkeep in the tradition of British gardening styles.

After Sackville-West’s death, the National Trust took over ownership, but family members still live on the grounds.

Reach Kathryn Cates Moore at 473-7214 or kmoore@journalstar.com.

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