Vita - The 1930s Garden Influencer – Leah Nikolaou

Vita - The 1930s Garden Influencer


Vita - The 1930s Garden Design Influencer

Throwing caution to the wind, Victoria ‘Vita’ Sackville-West lived many happy years writing, gardening and no doubt plotting her scandalous affairs from her tower at Sissinghurst Castle now owned by the National Trust.  I was lucky enough to visit Sissinghurst earlier this year and I was absolutely captivated by its beauty, style and quintessential English charm.  Vita was without doubt an influencer of her day!  My curiosity led me to read up a little more about Vita and her foray into Garden Design and discuss her top 3 gardening achievements in my opinion:

Who is Vita Sackville-West?

Not having made her name originally as a garden designer Vita was an highly regarded poet and novelist publishing over a dozen collection of poems and 13 novels in her lifetime. The Elizabethan ruin of Sissinghurst was a project of deep passion and joy that her and her husband Sir Harold Nicolson took on when they acquired it in 1930.  Academics have remarked on how Sissinghurst began to reflect the romance and intimacy of her literature most notably in her works titled “The Land” and “The Garden.” 

In 1937 Sissinghurst was first opened to the public and Vita continued to write to make money for it’s upkeep and that of her sons.  Despite having no training in horticulture she soon landed a weekly column in The Observer called “In Your Garden.”  This put a spotlight on Sissinghurst and it to became one of most visited gardens in England.

There is so much design inspiration to take from Sissinghurst, here’s what inspired me:

Creating Garden ‘Rooms:’

Probably Vita’s biggest acclaim in garden design was her imaginative concept of creating lots of little gardens reminiscent of rooms.  She had a white garden, rose garden, cottage garden and nuttery.  The nuttery was fascinating, I mean who has their own nuttery?  The white garden inspired gardeners across the globe to create single colour scheme gardens as did her quintessential english charm.  One American journalist famously labelled her England’s ‘Rose Queen.’ 

Informal Planting:

Her planting style was very informal with self seeding playing an important role. I think it was that informal abundance of form & colour which I fell in love with when I visited.  My favourite image I took away was that of the sea of burgundy poppies dominating a huge flower bed of abundant planting. 

Using Windows Outdoors:

My daughter of course fell in love with the little garden rooms where she could run and hide as well as the little windows perfectly placed within beautifully eroded walls.


The Legacy Of Vita Sackville-West

On her death Sissinghurst was passed to her son who gave the property to the National Trust.  Her grandson Adam Nicolson lived there with his second wife Sarah Raven for a number of years despite it being managed by the National Trust.  Much animosity ensured about how it was managed and over Vita’s spirit being kept alive.  I hope Vita would approve of how it looks and feels today because I for one fell in love with the place.  




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