I have been to Sissinghurst many times, but it is always more fun to go back with someone for whom it is a first visit. My friend Jane shares my passion for plants. I have been with friends who like gardens, who stop and admire the larger view, but this was the first time I felt my passion for examining each plant in minute detail was properly matched.
We spent the entire day inching through the garden, exclaiming over each bloom, making notes, taking photographs, and went home determined to order a vitex negundo, until we realised it would mean a plant hunting expedition to South East Asia, rather than a swift order over the internet. Sissinghurst is somewhere you can learn everything you need to know about gardening. When I was fortunate enough to be allowed to rummage through a collection of albums at Sissinghurst on a wet February afternoon, looking for a particular photograph of Virginia to include in my book, Virginia Woolf’s Garden, I had the opportunity to walk around the garden. It was closed, wet and February-ish and yet it was the most illuminating of visits. I could see how carefully the brushwood staking had been constructed, ready to host the perennials during the following season. Along the walls and fences, the clever ways in which they tie in the clematis and roses were clearly visible. In the beds the different layouts for planting groups of perennials were easy to see. Yes, we should plant in 5s and 7s, but how to lay them out: in circles, blocks, or a curvy line waving between other plants, broken to allow a clump of something different, creating a natural drift. That swathe of perovskia between the stone sinks requires no fewer than 11 plants. It was a privilege I shall always treasure, sitting entirely alone and undisturbed at the oak table under the pergola at the foot of the White Garden, not caring about a damp bottom, enjoying the peace of the garden in the rain, conjuring Vita and Virginia sitting at the same table almost a century earlier.