Ever since spending some delightful moments looking through Gotta garden’s pictures of Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, England, I have found myself reading some of Vita Sackville-West’s books again.
Although she was a prolific novelist and poet, Vita Sackville-West is best remembered now for the famous gardens she and her husband, Harold Nicolson, created at Sissinghurst. For a glimpse of the incredible size and beauty of these gardens, have a peek at Gotta garden’s blog.
In addition to her literary works and her phenomenal gardening skills, Vita Sackville-West also wrote gardening articles for The New Statesmen and several other publications. These were published in 1938 as Country Notes.
Following World War II, Vita began writing a weekly garden column for The Observer. In 1951, a collection of these articels was published in the book, In Your Garden.
In the Garden also showcased several of Vita’s short sketches of her favourite flowers which had appeared in an earlier book entitled, Some Flowers.
When the book was published originally in 1937, Vita had expressed her dissatisfaction with the black-and-white photographs of these flowers.
Many decades later, watercolourist Graham Rust was commissioned to paint the twenty-five flowers that Vita had portrayed with great affection in Some Flowers. On completion of his paintings, this book was republished in 1993.
I happened upon Some Flowers in the remainder section of a bookstore several years ago and immediately purchased. it. How could I not? The watercolour illustrations are beautiful and the text is brilliantly written.
In her introduction to Some Flowers, Vita Sackville-West speaks of her desire to introduce gardeners to selected flowers that were not commonly seen in English gardens and that also had a special quality about them. She likened this quality to “a painter’s flower”.
That is to say, its beauty, neither garish nor effective at first sight, requires to be looked into and esteemed….The flowers I have chosen depend chiefly on their loveliness of shape, colouring, marking or textures…. They are flowers which painters have delighted, or should delight, to paint.
A beautiful painting of Rosa Mundi graces the cover of this book and invites one to dive in. These past weeks, I have had several long bubblebaths where I have savoured the especially wonderful descriptions and stories accompanying the delightful paintings of flowers as diverse as Fritillaria meleagris, Primula littoniana, Lilium giganteum, Tigridias and Gerbera jamesonii . (What else can a gardener do but read about flowers whilst taking long baths, when the ground remains stubbornly frozen?)
Of course, my favourite is, as always, Dianthus caesius (Dianthus gratianopolitanus) or Cheddar Pinks. Vita Sackville-West describes her visit with the poet, Robert Bridges, and her introduction to Pinks in the garden thus:
Dressed in the true Tennysonian tradition in a sort of shepherd’s cloak and large black hat, he had already emerged startlingly from among the rhododendrons – or were they laurels? – to open the gate for me on my arrival … I was charmed, alarmed, and rather overwhelmed. He was so old, so tall, so handsome, so untidy, so noble. And so childishly pleased with his pinks.
Following her visit, Vita Sackville-West was so impressed with the wonderful scent of Pinks and their beautiful grey-green foliage that she grew them from seed and lined a garden path with them, just as Bridges had done.
When her Pinks died out after two seasons, she realized these flowers were only happy if they could, “live in starvation in the crack of a a wall, where it may flourish happily year after year.”
I am so looking forward to those warm summer nights when I can sit out in my back garden and breathe in the delicately haunting scents of the various Pinks that seem to thrive in the hot prairie sun.