Thursday, 15 October 2009

Sissinghurst in Autumn

There is only one thing worse than going on holiday and running out of books to read: visiting a scene of beauty, in an out of the way place, and finding your camera has run out of battery.

On Tuesday I visited Sissinghurst, the famous garden created by Vita Sackville-West. It was a glorious day, the sun shone, there was no wind, not a cloud to mar the cerulean sky. Amazingly there were lots of perennials in bloom – delicate Japanese anemones, asters, jolly orange and pink coneflowers - and so many grasses and leaves in rich autumn hues that it was as colourful as a summer bed.

I photographed what strikes the visitor first: the architecture. What an entrance! A wide arched opening between twin gabled buildings, all mellow rusty brick and buttery stone. From it stretched a vista through a tall, stately and impressive gate tower. Between the two a walled courtyard, green turf, clipped yew and, along the walls, stone sinks set on brick pillars under leaded light windows. Absolutely gorgeous

I was in my element: this was going to be a lovely visit. I would have such fun and afterwards thrill (bore) everyone with my photos of the plantings. I composed the perfect picture of the colourful border. I tried it from all the angles and when I had it just right I took a snap. Nothing happened. Was it turned off? No. Was it in the wrong mode? No. The b***** thing had run out of battery.

How could I have been so stupid not to have brought the spare battery. Why had I taken the old camera I keep in the car for emergencies out of the glove compartment. What an idiot. What a wasted opportunity. It was going to spoil the whole trip. And then in the middle of beating myself up about it, I took a deep breath. Hold it, hold it, I told myself. It’s not as if this is my one and only trip to Timbuktu. Get a grip, girl. Enjoy.

And that’s just what I did. I sauntered, I gazed, loitered and lingered. Unhampered by composing shots I actually savoured each garden room, absorbed the atmosphere and admired the plantings. As so many of the beds in the individual garden rooms are contained by low clipped box hedges it still looked surprisingly tidy.

Garden maintenance was underway. The tall yew hedges were being clipped and that in itself was interesting to watch. At the same time they are scarifying the grass and broadcasting grass seed in an attempt to fill in the worn patches before the weather gets too cold. A little reminder that every season has its task. And beautiful gardens don't just happen.

I wandered into the library – a lovely long room with deep, rich, old oak furnishings. But such a musty smell that it can’t be used much. Then I climbed up into the tower in search of Vita’s writing room. Half way up, there was the room, the walls lined with books and paintings, the surfaces covered in colourful glass and favourite objects.

The desk was large but the fireplace was small. No matter how romantic the setting, endurance and fortitude would have been required (and lots of winter woollies). It must have been absolutely freezing to sit and write there. But then that generation hadn’t been mollycoddled and gardeners are, on the whole, a hardy bunch. True ones don’t get upset by little things like camera’s not working.


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