For a good bathtub read!

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.

11 thoughts on “For a good bathtub read!

  1. A lovely post, C. Sissinghurst is wonderful. I went there when I was young… many moons ago.S

  2. Hi Kate, Your excellent review and thoughts of Vita’s book has really interested me. I’m going to find a copy of it this weekend. Her writing is so enjoyable and almost homey. Yes, pinks are wonderful. I’ve started several different kinds this spring and have 3 other types in different gardens. They are so hardy and beautiful as well. Thank you for the informational and fun recommendation. Alyssa

  3. Hi Kate,it´s so funny that you made an entry about Sissinghurst Castle. About one month ago my Mum gives me a small book about the history of Sissinghurst. Do you remember my painted garden plan? I made it after reading this book :-)! Hopefully I can visit Vita Sackvill-Wests famous garden one day!

  4. A beautiful post. Your baths sound luxurious!There is a special quality in a sketch of a plant, rather than a photo. A sketch picks out the features for us to attend to so much better, and her writing is filled with personality. It reminds me of how my mother used to speak about the flowers in her still lifes (as though they had personalities of their own). She was a tonal painter.

  5. Sissinghurst is beautiful, I went there 2 years ago. I have many of Vita’s books, this one too. It’s wonderful, isn’t it? Glad you found it!And of course my Maine Coon Vita is named after her. I thought it might be fun being ordered about by my own aristocratic lady. ;-)BTW on Bliss today Surprise’s story.

  6. Wonderful post. I love your book review. My Grandmother used to grow pinks. Unfortunately, reading in the bathtub is something I rarely get to do. There is always a child or a large dog trying to climb in with me. Or some one banging on the door for something…you get the picture.

  7. Enjoy the soak while you dream of pinks, Kate. It’s been years since I read Vita’s garden writing – but I used to take her books out regularly from the library back in Illinois, and liked her style.Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  8. I,too, have all Vita Sackville West’s gardening books and have had them for many years. I’ve visited Sissinghurst twice and have several books about the garden as well. It’s a beautiful garden especially the purple border which is quite stunning.

  9. Thank you so much, Kate, for the links! I do appreciate it…and now I MUST finish the Sissinghurst post! I think, though, that it will wait until after this weekend as the kids are home…and then with DH on a trip, I will be all alone and can take your prescription…lol…a long soak with good reading! I’m also a Dianthus fan. It would be hard to pick a favorite, so I won’t…lol! But, (famous but) I do like that Siberian Blues (more purple-ish to me)…mixes so well with either pinks or yellows! I suppose because I grew it from seed (feeling maternal…lol), it has a special place! This was a lovely and thoughtful post (as yours always are!).Okay, enough from me! Thanks again!

  10. Of course, now I must have this book! I’m not familiar with Vita and I feel like this is a crime. But know that you are the one who introduced me to her. 🙂

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