top: "There should be the strictest formality of design, with the maximum informality in planting." -VSW

above: this simple charming display greets you with some of the day's featured flowers, and hints at the recurring theme of contained abundance awaiting inside.

above: a juxtaposition of bold oversized discs (Helianthus annuus) and buttery spires (Verbascum sp.) towering in the South Cottage Garden.

above: blushing clematis broaden the definition of white in the White Garden.

above: the palest versions of Echinops, Veronicastrum and Lathrys tint a corner of the White Garden.

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On Day 2 of my Summer tour of British and Dutch gardens, I had my second casualty of the trip: the view screen on my camera. I dropped it within five minutes of stepping into Britain's most celebrated garden, Sissinghurst. Well, I just kept taking pictures and hoped for the best; when you're experiencing something on your bucket list, a damaged camera is just so much spilled milk. Plus, the other gardeners in the group, Jeannine Zenti, Mike Collins and Frank Eddy, were shooting pictures with their phones.

above: even with a cracked view screen, how could you not marvel at the wildflower meadow at the entrance to Sissinghurst?

Much has been written about this garden and its creators, Harold Nicholson and Vita Sackville-West. All I'll say is that the iconic garden is a collaboration of two very colorful characters whose combined talents produced an inspiration for generations of gardeners worldwide. Basically, classicist Nicholson provided the structure and order, and the bohemian Sackville West filled it to the brim, and then some, with sumptuous romance. Whenever you hear the phrase 'contolled wildness', credit Sissinghurt.

above:  a view of the sunset colored South Cottage Garden .

The couple bought the derelict property in 1930, and began their life at Sissinghurst living out of the South Cottage, which became one of the first areas of the estate converted to garden. The couple gradually built the garden between the remaining walls and buildings, and opened it to the public in 1938.

Part of a collection of themed garden rooms, the South Cottage Garden features flowers and foliage in sunset colors. Besides being the couple's living quarters, this was also where Nicholson wrote, and given the sometimes somber British climate, perhaps the warm palette provided a welcome morning jolt.

above: at the time, mixing colors of such intensity as these in The Purple Border was considered a daring departure.

Innovations at Sissinghurst were not so much the creation of new ideas as they were new applications of existing ones: intensifying colors, occasionally skewing sight lines to draw in the observer. The best known example being the world famous White Garden.

above: detail of a frothy bed in the White Garden, where Verbascum, Cosmos, Malva, and Eryngium display various white, grey and green shades.

Originally planted as a rose garden in 1931, it was converted after the Second World War; that timing, as well as the execution, put the White Garden, or as Sackville-West called it, the Grey, Green and White Garden, at the top of many gardeners lists. The concept continues to be adopted, adapted, and referenced today.

Head Gardener Troy Scott Smith is currently steering the garden back toward its original version, as over the years small changes were made to accomodate the large number of visitors. New projects include swapping out failing almonds for quince, re-establishing primulas in The Nuttery, and letting the soft plantings overflow outside the lines more than previously allowed.

While the plants largely are off-limits for the Bay Area climate, that exuberance, combined with thought-out structure, is the defining character of Sissinghurst that appeals to me and many others.

Dean Ouellette   415-820-1623