The regard for Vita Sackville-West's (1892-1962) garden writing seems to have mirrored the increasing popularity of the gardens she and her husband, Harold Nicolson, created at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent. Already famous as a novelist, poet and Virginia Woolf's lover, in 1937 she wrote Some Flowers, a collection of plant portraits. Apart from that one volume, most of what's available in print today are compilations of the articles she wrote for the Sunday Observer newspaper from 1951 to 1961. Never pretending to be more than an enthusiastic amateur, after being awarded the prestigious Veitch Memorial Medal by the RHS in 1955, she decided to embark on a correspondence course in horticulture. Claiming that she only wrote for the Observer for the money (15 guineas per week—a princely sum in post-war Britain), she naturally wanted to be remembered chiefly for her novels and poetry collections. Nevertheless, her love of gardening, her unerring taste and her passion for plants shine through, despite her protestations.
Adam Nicolson, who is Vita's talented grandson, recently wrote a book about Sissinghurst (Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History, 2009)—the best to date—as well as another of my favourite "mashed potato" tomes, Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides. So sit back and relax; spring will arrive soon enough.
Stephen's top 10 garden writers
- E. A. Bowles (1865-1954)
- Nan Fairbrother (1913-1971)
- Margery Fish (1892-1969)
- Miles Hadfield (1903-1982)
- Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932)
- Beverley Nichols (1898-1983)
- Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962)
- Lady Anne Scott-James (1913-2009)
- Sir Sacheverell Sitwell (1897-1988)
- Sir Roy Strong (b. 1935)