Alan Titchmarsh explores Britain's great gardens. Here, he reveals how Sissinghurst in Kent was one of the first lifestyle gardens, made up of different 'rooms'.
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When it comes to designing our gardens, sometimes it's hard to know where to start.
Perhaps surprisingly, I find the best place to look for ideas is in Britain's historic estates.
In this series I'm looking at four of my favourite gardens, from four different centuries.
These are the gardens that have inspired me, and which affect the way I garden at home.
They're a perfect example of the evolution of garden design.
But in many ways, every bit as relevant today as they were in the centuries when they were first made.
My journey concludes in a garden that redefined design in the 20th century.
I'll reveal the techniques that make it so influential.
Just look all those colours which combine to make it wonderfully three-dimensional.
We'll see how it's stirred others to explore new frontiers in garden design.
It's more about shaping the land itself. To me, it's a piece of giant sculpture.
We want a plant that really turns up the voltage on...
on the colour wheel.
And I'll show how you can learn from this magical garden
and create simple but dramatic effects in your own plot.
This is plants living together for mutual benefit.
So sit back and be inspired by the gardens of Sissinghurst in Kent.
Today many of us think of our garden as an intrinsic part of our home.
It's somewhere to eat, to entertain, to relax.
It's also a reflection of our personality, an indicator of our passions and our interests.
We think that way because of gardens like this, at Sissinghurst
Gardens like this changed the way we Brits thought about our own back yards.
They influenced our approach to colour, to space, but above all to mood.
The design at Sissinghurst was the vision of two passionate amateur gardeners -
Sir Harold Nicolson,
a diarist and diplomat, and his wife, the poet, novelist and garden writer, Vita Sackville-West.
Vita and Harold were influenced by the Arts And Crafts Movement,
a group of late 19th century intellectuals who rejected the
design styles of the industrial age and promoted nature as a source of artistic inspiration.
For them, the garden was a refuge, a place for living in, not a place
for showing off with gaudy displays, as it had been in Victorian times.
When they bought Sissinghurst in 1931, Vita and Harold began applying this new philosophy
to its design, and they wanted to share their passion for the garden,
so, starting in 1937, they opened it to the public.
At the time,
four million new suburban homes were being created in Britain, all with
gardens to fill.
This new generation of gardeners found groundbreaking ideas that they could relate to.
The way the garden was laid out as a series of individual garden rooms.
The original use of colour.
A naturalistic way of planting.
And one of the first semi-wild gardens.
In the century before Sissinghurst, gardens were status symbols, places to impress your friends.
But this is a garden for living in.
It was designed to fulfil the practical needs of its owners.
Today, we look upon our area of decking or
our barbecue as ways in which
our garden can improve our lifestyle.
Well, Sissinghurst was one of the first lifestyle gardens, comprising
ten rooms, each with its own purpose and personality.
Vita and Harold needed a garden that would suit
their every mood.
So each room served a purpose.
They could start the day with breakfast in the Cottage Garden.
Dine alfresco in the White Garden.
Stroll and reflect through the Spring Garden.
Greet guests and take tea on the Tower Lawn.
And party in the Rose Garden.
When they bought Sissinghurst, it was a ramshackle ruin of an Elizabethan castle.
But they turned this to their advantage, using the disjointed
layout as a template for the design of the garden.
The writer Adam Nicolson is their grandson.
Whoo, healthy breeze!
What were their intentions in creating the different rooms?
About ten of them, a huge number.
Yes, well, they lived in an extraordinary way.
They lived completely scattered around the garden.
So they slept in there, Harold worked in there,
Vita worked downstairs here, their kitchen and dining room was over
there, their sitting room was over there, their children lived there, and their servants lived there.
They must have got very wet during the winter.
But what it meant was that the garden was not some kind
of adjunct beside the house, but completely integral to their lives.
So you're there in the evening, you've had a glass or two of wine, dusk comes down.
So there is this integration of life and garden.
I think this is perhaps a reimagining of the garden as a lovely humane space.
It's not some horticultural sort of display cabinet.
It's part of the substance of life.
Enormous consideration has also gone into how each room looks and feels when you're in it.
Today, we might put a little thought into where we put our table and chairs, but here
it's almost as if an interior designer has constructed the space.
The classic example of this is the Cottage Garden.
Every room needs walls.
And the walls of the Cottage Garden here are constructed of clipped yew.
Now, when you've got the walls of your room, you need furniture.
Four great torpedoes of yew in the centre.
And the decoration, the wallpaper and paint?
Well, there's no magnolia here, no clashing strident whites, but warm colours -
reds, oranges, yellows.
It's cosy. It's comfortable.
No other garden is more connected to their daily lives.
Harold's office and Vita's bedroom look down onto the Cottage Garden,
and Harold's favourite chair still sits by the door.
You might think, then, that it's simply a matter of getting together those classic cottage garden plants,
every one of them a dumpling, and putting them all together.
But a closer look at this shows you that's not the case.
There are strident colours here and strident shapes.
It's got a modern twist to it.
This may have been the place where
Harold and Vita socialised 60 years ago,
but today it's very much a cottage garden for the 21st century.
With so many different rooms at Sissinghurst, the Nicolsons
had the luxury of being able to give each one its own identity.
But today our outdoor spaces have shrunk.
Declan Buckley has ingeniously designed two outdoor rooms to make them multifunctional.
It's always the biggest room in the house, and people don't realise that.
It may be a mud patch to start with,
but by the time we've redesigned it, re- reinvigorated it,
it becomes something very different
and it becomes the focus of their lives for much of the year.
In South London, he's divided the garden into
four distinct areas, for dining, lounging, sunbathing and playing.
It's a long narrow space.
It's about 34 metres long. So I've...
I've used big blocks of planting to break the space up.
So this external space here, this...
This terrace area is bigger than any of their internal spaces in the house.
So the kitchen and dining area flow right out
into the garden, so it works as a fantastic entertaining space.
In Broadstairs, he's turned a tiny back yard into an outdoor kitchen/diner.
This is a tiny little coastal garden for Dan and Alex.
It's only nine metres by five metres.
Dan is a really passionate gardener, and Alex loves to cook, and they both love to entertain.
So that's what this little space is about.
We actually find we do get a lot of use out of here.
There's scarcely a weekend goes by throughout the summer when we're not out here doing something.
Even during the winter, because it's so sheltered, we can come out here and do
a roast on the barbecue without any problems really.
You can see so much of the garden from inside the house.
The very clean flooring that we have, mean that you can sort of
wander in and out without really feeling the difference
between inside and outside.
We took the same slate material we used on the floor and made a counter top out of that.
So the whole thing ties together.
The fencing material, it's all very unified and simple.
A lot of the planting here is evergreen, so it gives a lot
of good green structure for the wintertime,
which is vital in a town garden, because you...
Otherwise you're looking at a lot of brick, a lot of timber fencing and a lot of neighbours' buildings.
You know, the scent and sensuality is very
important in a city garden, so we've clad all the walls with Star jasmine.
It's a wonderful evergreen climber.
It keeps all its leaves down at the base of its legs.
And especially in the evening, it releases its scent, which is when much of the time this garden is used.
Gardens are very healing spaces, and very much so in the city as well, and I think people...
People forget that initially, but realise it as they use the garden more and more.
That it is a de-stress zone.
The outdoor dining room remains our most popular garden room,
but it can be more than a nice place to put the table,
the chairs and the barbie.
I've a novel way to make your garden furniture feel part of its surroundings.
The rain's good for the garden.
But it's also good to have somewhere to shelter.
So what I want to do is to bring alfresco dining and gardening
absolutely close together, with this cheap table,
and this pot here,
two pots here. I've drilled holes in the bottom, because compost is going to go into these.
I've marked with a pencil where the cuts need to be made.
And these then will sit inside. The cut needs to be just inside that rim so that the lip sits over the edge.
Then I need to drill the corners.
With the holes made, I can now use a jigsaw to take out evenly that rectangle.
There it goes.
I'll need to sand round that, just to make sure it's smooth.
And then to paint. Keep your fingers crossed for me.
You can paint your table any colour you want.
And then, with your trays neatly planted,
here a nasturtium for a bit of brilliance, Golden-leaf marjoram.
That then just drops in there.
This one, Variegated nasturtium, a bit of lavender for fragrance.
It'll outgrow it, but it'll stay in there for a while. Another bit of marjoram.
So you can pick your herbs and pop them in your supper.
And in the middle, well, a mixed bowl of basil, if you like.
That will sit in there quite beautifully.
Or I can offer you, to go with your gin and tonic, a drum which has been
perforated in the bottom for drainage, with either a lemon tree in it, or in this case a cumquat.
That'll sit there and you can slice them as you need them.
The first thing that
strikes you at Sissinghurst is the sheer range of colour.
Vibrant reds, rich purples and cooler shades effortlessly put together.
Many of us like to be adventurous with our gardens, when it comes to colour.
This desire to experiment and take risks began with pioneers like Vita.
Always one for flouting convention, at Sissinghurst she ripped up the rule book on colour.
The Edwardians before her championed the use of subtle pastel shades.
Nothing clashed as they strived for harmonious colour combinations.
Purple was deemed difficult, and white flowers were to be used sparingly.
It was their reaction to the garish blocks of colour so beloved of the Victorians.
Vita embraced all colours.
Her palette was sophisticated and cutting edge.
You know, there's nothing more contentious than colour in a garden.
I have friends who won't have yellow or orange flowers.
I think it's a kind of rebellion against that '60s mood, when it
was blue and white alyssum, orange French marigolds, scarlet salvias.
And so we all became very pastel-orientated in the '70s and '80s and '90s.
But now it seems to me there's a movement back towards those strident colours.
It's been picked up from the fashion catwalks of Paris and making its way into our gardens.
But Vita was one of the very first to break the mould of being careful with colour.
One of Vita's ideas was to create a single colour border.
Potentially dull and uninspiring, but her technique
was to combine a host of shades that would create a single hue.
Here in the purple border, we've knocked in a stake which is
coloured at the top with the shade of flower which sits underneath it.
Vita was very clever. She's taken the spectrum all the way through
from the bluest shades of purple and lilac, to the pale pinks.
To lilac here. Here's a slightly darker one.
This one is almost verging on the red.
And instead of it being a flat one-dimensional border, just look at all
those colours which combine to make it wonderfully three-dimensional.
Not only did it look good, but the choice of plants meant it had year-round interest as well.
But Vita's most dramatic use of single colour can be found in the legendary white garden.
At the time, the white garden was completely radical.
White was a colour more commonly associated with stark concrete
modernist architecture, not a traditional garden.
White flowers and silvery foliage had rarely been used on their own.
The white garden was actually a bit of a publicity stunt.
It was created in 1951 for the Festival of Britain,
and Vita and Harold hoped that swarms of foreign visitors
would come to Sissinghurst and pay to see it.
The white garden was to become one of the most celebrated
and influential gardens of the 20th century,
copied thousands of times all over the world.
Of course, you could say, well, I mean, anybody could create a white garden.
Just get a bit of ground and fill it with white flowers.
But it's not as simple as that.
Fill a bed or a border with white flowers, it can be very dull, very mono-chromatic.
You need to be a bit more cunning.
What sets this white garden apart from the common herd
is three things - structure, form and texture.
The structure is provided by this path network,
and the strictly-clipped box hedges which give wonderful shadow.
The form is the shape of these plants in drifts and their heights.
And the texture by the foliage.
Some of it soft and fluffy.
some of it big and bold.
This is plantsmanship at its most masterful.
After the white garden had been created,
Vita wrote about her ideas on planting for a radio broadcast in 1954.
"I believe in exaggeration in gardening.
"I believe in big groups, big masses.
"I believe that it's far more effective to concentrate
delphiniums into one big bed than to dot them about at intervals in twos and threes."
What isn't generally known is that this garden was designed
to be just as dramatic at night time.
As daylight fades into moonlight,
this garden takes on a natural luminous quality.
Vita and Harold would dine here in the evening,
so they wanted to enjoy their garden under the stars.
The arbour of rosa mulliganii glows under the moonlight,
and the silver grey foliage all around seems to sparkle.
The garden's illuminated without the need for artificial light.
Today, the tradition of experimenting with colour
continues at Sissinghurst, thanks to head gardener Alexis Datta.
Alexis, it'd be wrong to assume that all the plant
combinations here and the colour combinations are from Vita's day.
You're obviously constantly moving forward the whole time.
all the time. We look at different plants, pick out new plants.
We get new plants, a lot. We'll grow seeds that we find or out of catalogues we'll pick
out what we like the sound of, grow them on in the nursery here and then see if we like them for the garden.
And if we don't like them, well, we reject them.
It's a great treat being allowed behind the scenes
to see what you're experimenting with. What have you got here?
Well, I've got this quite nice lily.
I've been waiting for it to flower.
-Astonishingly strident orange.
Orange with little spots.
So it'll probably go out.
She'd just take it out to the garden and wander about and decide where it's going to go.
And that is another... as you mentioned, that's the way that Vita always used to do it.
In that way, the tradition continues.
Yeah. We try and keep it in the spirit of how Vita had it.
I know the garden really, really well.
So I feel like I know what fits in and what doesn't.
Sissinghurst isn't the only garden in the 20th century to have pushed the boundaries with colour.
Not far away, at Great Dixter, the late, great plantsman
Christopher Lloyd was also rewriting the rules on colour.
To Christo, nothing was taboo.
His garden is a dramatic reaction to what he considered to be the stuffy world of horticulture.
Head gardener Fergus Garrett is carrying on his ideas.
People should be absolutely free in... in what they do in a garden.
There are ecological rules you follow to put the right plant in the right place.
But other than that, it doesn't matter whether you put a...
a pink flower next to a yellow flower.
People say, "Well, it's not natural."
When you see pink campion and yellow buttercups, is that not natural?
It's about trying new things, because we're...
painting with flowers.
It gives you a great sense of adventure.
We don't plan the borders on paper at all.
We shoot from the hip.
Always we're thinking about that contrasting element.
So that your eye is made to work, so that the garden excites you.
Christopher was known as the King of Clash, if you like, or...
or the Bad Taste Gardener. The more people sneered at him, the more he sneered back.
And now, here we are, where everybody likes bright colours,
and that's become the fashion.
The whole point about a zinnia is that it should be colourful.
So we want something, a plant that really turns up the voltage on... on the colour wheel.
And so we tend to err on the side of...
of the really vibrant colours, the bright reds, the bright oranges that almost make your eyes hurt.
These are Mexican and they're full of character, aren't they?
They've got a touch of the sombreros about them.
And even though we're going to use these in the borders,
I quite like a field of them. You can lose yourself in...
in all this colour.
Freedom, that's the name of the game here.
And I know there's such a thing as a colour wheel and...
it actually gives you a great sense of freedom when you don't understand
the colour wheel, because you can just go and please...
Combining colours in your garden can be a liberating experience.
But not all of us have the confidence to just go for it.
So for those of you of a more nervous disposition,
here are a few simple rules.
Colour scheming your entire garden might be a bit excessive, but it's quite fun to do the odd border.
I want to make a Delft border.
You know, blue and white china, using grasses and border perennials.
Should be quite fun.
A blue and white colour scheme is a good starter kit for a border.
And the idea is to keep as much colour and interest as possible throughout the year.
These Echinaceas will be shown off well by those grasses that are at the back of the border.
And they're a lovely daisy that goes on flowering from midsummer right the way through to the end.
Achillea, the pearl.
Lovely white fluffy flowers.
They can go at the back.
This is another long flowering hardy perennial that's drought tolerant.
In front of them is some Perovskia,
lovely aromatic grey-leafed plant with these purple spires of flower.
Those flowers provide later summer colour,
and in winter, you're left with attractive groups of white stems.
I love this bit, where you're just sort of working out what goes where.
And there's absolutely no need to rush.
A bit of grass, I think, now. We'll have this variegated one here.
These grasses are an elegant perennial backbone to a border,
and their delicate seed heads bring interest in the winter months.
This variegated Miscanthus Sinensis will reach over two metres.
These fescue grasses are great for the front of a border.
Little blue shaving brushes that look good for most of the year.
Like a lot of the plants in here, they don't need heavily manured soil.
Just decent earth in reasonable sun will do them.
The great thing about grasses is they make good glue.
They join together bulkier plants with a sort of fine airiness.
It seems to work for me.
This is a lovely geranium called Roseanne.
It may look as if it's flopped, but this is its habit.
It sort of runs along the ground.
Over the coming seasons, these perennials and grasses will
bulk up, forming clumps and drifts of year round texture and colour.
It wasn't just through visiting Sissinghurst that Vita accrued her vast army of disciples.
Many of them read her weekly column in the Observer, from 1947 almost to her death.
Here's one written in June 1955.
"Not nearly enough use is made of that airy flower the columbine.
"I confess that I never have the heart to tear it out from wherever it's chosen to sow itself."
This is her inner sanctum in this place of seclusion,
and around all kinds of things, from the books she wrote her columns in,
to a little notebook here with notes for Pam and Sybil, her head gardeners.
"Don't cut witch hazel." Catalogues galore, packets of seeds,
a picture of the donkey, Abdul, who used to pull the mower to cut the grass.
And a photograph of Harold, taken just a year before Vita died.
That was in 1961.
As everywhere here at Sissinghurst, this is a room rich in atmosphere.
Sissinghurst is often described as a romantic garden.
The key to this is another of Vita's design tricks.
The use of naturalistic planting.
Vita's planting was inspired by nature.
She used choice garden plants in an informal way,
allowing them to interact with each other.
Plants spill over paths.
Annuals, perennials and shrubs grow side by side.
The upright spires of acanthus tower over sweet peas and roses.
It's a rich tapestry of texture that overloads the senses.
Vita shared her ideas in a series of BBC radio broadcasts.
This one is from 1938.
I can't hope to convey to you how happy a combination has been achieved in this very satisfactory garden.
You have both formality and semi-wildness.
It was so imaginative, so romantic, it wasn't too grand.
It wasn't oppressive.
It was a place in which one could have made one's home.
And then I went on...
This is, I suppose, one of the most romantic gardens in the country.
So what makes, do you think, a romantic garden?
Well, it's got to be the plants you use, the colours that are used,
and I think the very fullness of the garden, the fact you get
these little delicate things next to something rather big and strident.
Probably one of the other wonders of it, which you can't get at home,
-is the scent.
now, the thing about all these wonderful walls at Sissinghurst
is they hold onto the scent, even on a breezy day like today.
You feel as if you're almost drowning in it.
Yeah, and I think also, you say about a breezy day, the way the plants move around slightly in the breeze is...
adds to the romance somehow, doesn't it?
It is, it's all incredibly full, incredibly generous.
It's just glorious.
It's the feeling of romance and the abundant unstructured style
of Vita's planting that cemented our love of what we call the natural style.
Naturalistic planting is still a key part of garden design today.
In Devon, at his Wildside home,
the great plantsman Keith Wiley has taken it to a new level.
I've always been interested in natural landscapes, and I...
I think I try to capture some of that excitement that you see when you look at natural landscapes.
What I actually do is I look at a natural landscape and say how can I interpret it and
actually create a garden from it?
And I don't actually know anybody else who's quite doing it that way.
It's a completely different way of looking at gardening.
This style of gardening was sort of dubbed 'new naturalism'.
It's more about shaping the land itself. To me, it's a piece of giant sculpture.
The whole garden is one giant sculpture
on which I can create different planting associations.
We started with a field like this one.
Exactly the same shape, size and slope as this.
And we had a wide collection of plants
that require an incredibly different range of conditions to grow them in.
So we weren't going to be able to do it on this.
So we stripped the soil off the whole site, then shaped
the ground underneath it and brought the soil back in varying amounts,
from two inches to two metres.
Initially we needed to...
to get a digger in, obviously, to do all this work.
It's a lot to do by wheelbarrow, believe me.
And actually we've moved 50,000 tons of soil
in the process of doing all this.
It's taken six years of on and off digging to
actually create a landscape as sort of complicated as this one.
Gardening, for me, is about trying to capture some of that
pit of your stomach excitement that you get
when you look at a really good natural landscape.
It's about the emotional response that you can have to plants and they,
I mean, by throwing the plants up
on the banks like this, you know, right up by your eye level
and just look them. Absolutely gorgeous
and the smell is just overwhelming.
And you see plants in the
wild and they're...
they're just part of a community, and there's no prima donnas.
And I think it's that sort of feeling that I like to create.
Things like a foxglove, for example, with its enormous leaves.
Really they don't want to be part of a community.
They want to take over the world all by themselves.
And so they're not good community spirited. They're...
they're football hooligans really.
And they're lovely, but they don't mix very well.
I like to have plants that mix really well.
You know that wonderful feeling you used to get when we were kids
and you'd just walk into a field of oxeye daisies
and they'd be up by your face.
And yet you go back to the same field when you're adult
and they're down by your knees and the effect's never the same.
So what I try and do is actually recreate the same effect by putting flowers up higher.
And they're not moon daisies, these.
These are actually Anthemis, but they create the same effect.
This wonderful dreamy memory.
I don't water anything, except the newly planted things.
I don't spray anything. it's fairly organic
and certainly if you've got a healthy wildlife garden, the...
the birds themselves will keep lots of the pests down.
It's a very relaxed way of gardening.
If you didn't actually bite off quite as much as we have really.
So where do you start if you want a natural looking area in your garden?
How about creating your own little wildflower meadow?
You may not want to give over your entire garden to wild flowers,
but most of us can fit in a corner where we can attract butterflies,
bees, insects and all kinds of wildlife.
But don't make the mistake of thinking you can take an ordinary lawn, let it grow a bit,
sprinkle wild flower seeds among it and turn it
into a beautiful natural looking meadow. You can't.
The grass'll be too strong, it'll kill out those wild flowers,
and the result will be failure.
No, no, no. There are one or two rules that you need to follow.
For a start, you need to work out
what kind of wild flower meadow you want.
If you want it full of annual cornfield weeds like yellow
corn marigold, blue cornflowers, scarlet field poppies, remember
the soil will have to be disturbed again every autumn so that the new generation of seeds can germinate.
But if you'd rather have a meadow that you didn't have to do anything
except cut every year, then you sow a different mixture.
The technique of sowing is exactly the same for both.
If you strip the turf off in spring or early summer,
you'll notice a rash of weed seedlings coming.
You don't necessarily want these.
So hoe them off, just to make sure that they perish in the sun.
With the plants that you don't want killed off,
you can set about sowing the seeds of the plants that you do want.
The best time, late summer, early autumn.
That way they go through a winter of continuous freezing and thawing,
which stimulates those seeds into growth.
Here I'm sowing a perennial wild flower meadow.
Quite a lot of grasses in this mixture, but also moon daisies,
knapweed, scabious, all kinds of vetches that butterflies and bees will love.
Sprinkle the seed quite thinly.
How much? Well, a tiny clenched fistful to a square metre.
As though you were putting salt on your fish and chips.
And sprinkle it over the surface of the soil.
There's absolutely no need to rake it in.
Nature doesn't use a rake.
The wind and the rain will take that down and in.
It will come up and germinate the spring after you sow it,
and as the years go by it will get better and better, with the flora appearing to change year on year.
To make sure the grasses never get a real foothold in there and overpower the wild flowers,
make sure there's some yellow rattle in your mixture.
This is a semi-parasite that keeps the grass in check, weakening it a bit,
and letting all those wonderful wild flowers come up through it.
If, as the years go by there are certain wild flowers that you're not getting much of in your meadow
and you want to include them and enrich their numbers, then you can buy plug plants in trays like this.
Each row a different seedling.
And they come in these little plugs with well-established roots here.
These'll be, I should think, about six months old.
And you can get your trowel out, make divots in your meadow and pop those in.
But if all this seems like too much hard work and you just want an instant wild flower meadow
that you can unroll like a carpet, then you can buy just that.
This is one such.
About £20 a square metre.
It comes like this. You can see the root system on this mat.
You lay it down on your raked and levelled soil, pat it in, water it, instant meadow.
I think I'd rather be patient and get myself a packet of seeds.
The reason why there are so many ideas that work in the garden at Sissinghurst,
is because it reflects the meeting of two minds.
Vita and Harold had a strong influence on each other's designs.
Here at Sissinghurst, you can feel those two gardeners working together.
For them, gardening wasn't about wealth and power, it was about romance, emotion, intimacy.
Vita's passion and creativity
worked hand in hand with Harold's knowledge of structure and design.
Adam, this must be one of the most dissected and closely examined
husband and wife relationships in history.
If we just boiled it down to the garden there is this idea that he did the layout
and she did the planting. Was it as simple as that?
No, definitely not.
That everyone thinks that Harold had this lovely clear, classical view
of how this space should be, and that she somehow then poured rich, romantic profusion into it.
In fact, if you look at their letters...
and they were always writing to each other,
he wants to make it much grander than she does.
So in the rondel, this famous clear space in the rose garden there,
he wanted a giant Versailles-style fountain.
And then in the upper courtyard on the other side here,
he wanted along the wall, the top of that very nice plain, dignified wall,
a whole row of statues and busts of him and his friends.
-A kind of temple of worthies.
-This is a temple of worthies at Stowe.
Everyone comes and... and people think of it as somehow a monument to the last of fine Englishness.
What they don't know is that when the lime walk, the spring garden was laid out, by Harold,
and this was another of Harold's great schemes,
which is now paved in beautiful National Trust York stone.
Harold paved it in a lovely mixture of red, yellow and green concrete slabs.
-As was then copied in most gardens in the 1950s and '60s.
Thank god, the colour's faded.
You can still see some of the concrete slabs there, but the colour has drained away.
It was the very tension between the two of them that created this garden which is so full of energy.
And if you think about it, it's probably just the same in your household.
He does the hedges and the lawns and the lines.
She does the overflowing flower beds and the colour scheme.
There may be moments when there's a bit of a domestic, but between them
they create something bigger then both of them.
# I'll find a romance
# With no kisses
# I'll find romance
# My friend, this is...#
The point is, this garden reflects a passionate exchanging of ideas,
many of which can be applied to our own gardens.
There's something strange going on in your rose beds here.
This is Ulrich Brunner, but he...
he's bent double. What's happening here?
Well, this is the traditional way of training roses that you don't see very often any more, and we...
what we do is we put these, what we call benders of hazel, so those
arched pieces of wood are poked into the ground and then you tie the rose to it.
And then as you get higher you tie the rose to itself as well.
And that gives you that look, but it also puts the plant under pressure,
puts the actual stem of the rose under pressure, which makes it flower more.
So it flowers right along that stem rather?
Exactly, yeah. And so you're not kind of floating around up there,
you've got it at eye and nose level. And it's quite nice.
It's extraordinarily nice and very effective.
You know the problem. You've got an old fruit tree in your garden, an apple, a pear or a cherry.
It gives you lovely stature but it's on its last legs.
It's dying out. If you chop it down there'll be nothing there.
Don't worry. Do what Vita did.
Plant a rambling rose at the foot of it,
and over the next two or three years it'll shoot its stems up through the branches of its host
and give you a whole new view.
Tucked away on the south side of Sissinghurst is a part of the garden quite different to the others.
This semi-wild woodland garden became symbolic of a new type of gardening.
In the 1930s, this neglected woodland area was the catalyst
in Vita and Harold's decision to buy Sissinghurst.
It was an overgrown plantation of hazelnut trees, but offered enchanting possibilities.
Not only did they restore its natural beauty, but they enhanced it by adding other woodland plants,
like foxgloves, ferns, orchids and primroses that carpeted the ground.
It required a different mindset to the rest of the garden,
to plant and grow as if nature had created it herself.
But maintaining it is a huge challenge, as head gardener Alexis Datta explains.
There's quite an art in making something look completely natural.
And yet it's... it's totally managed.
So clearly you're quite careful about what goes where.
Oh, we are. And the plants most of these plants aren't.
So they either seed themselves of run.
-And so we're forever sort of moving, taking things back.
Lovely stand of orchids, though.
-Yeah, they... yeah, they are fantastic, aren't they?
They are planted, those aren't completely natural either.
But again, if they seed we'll let them go.
But you have to be able to recognise the little seedlings and the mask and lily seedlings in everything else.
Vita and Harold weren't concerned with ecology or biodiversity.
They weren't wild gardeners.
But I believe that in creating the nuttery, they taught us a different gardening aesthetic.
80 years since its creation, wild gardening has changed.
Today, we expect our gardens to look good and be ecologically sound.
In Hampshire is a third of an acre garden based on permaculture principles, where its natural beauty
comes from the gardening practise of its creators Tim and Maddy Harland.
Permaculture is a totally sustainable form of organic gardening, taking inspiration
from natural growing environments like woodlands and wild meadows.
The garden provides itself with everything it needs to flourish.
You don't have to be an expert or have a PhD to do permaculture.
Its utterly intuitive.
Most things produced within the garden are edible.
Flowers are grown for the benefit of insects,
and rain water is used to create a totally self-sustaining ecosystem.
When we first started this garden, almost 20 years ago, at that time wildlife gardening
was beginning to sort of make an appearance on the scene.
But it wasn't the usual.
And we were regarded as somewhat eccentric in what we were doing.
We now have a garden with wild-flower meadows,
very diverse hedgerows,
over 60 fruit and nut trees.
Herb gardens, all kinds of things.
When I was younger, when I used to go round people's houses and they'd just have
really plain, flat, open lawns, and you'd think, "Yeah, you can
"run around on those, but where's the adventure?"
There's no place to go hiding,
there's no long grass to go be a tiger in. There's nothing like that.
So this place in itself was just a wonderland.
This garden, to some people, looks very random and very wild.
But it is actually a design.
And it's very deliberate.
Just outside the back door
are the vegetables that need regular harvesting,
like salads and herbs.
Further away is the veg plot proper.
Beyond that is the forest garden, a small edible woodland.
We use the principles and structure of a natural woodland.
In a natural woodland you'd have beech, an oak, as the top storey.
So here we have a top storey of apples and pears,
Below that we have gooseberries and currants.
Underneath that we have a ground cover of things like mints.
So exactly the same as a native woodland,
except in this case we're replacing them all with edibles.
Beyond the forest garden or orchard,
we do have enough room for our wilderness.
A place that is secret.
A place that I don't actually know what is going on.
To me, that is invaluable.
In a way, this kind of gardening is very empowering, because it makes you feel...feel
that you are making a difference, a personal contribution to wildlife.
You don't have to turn over your entire plot to enjoy the benefits of wild gardening.
You can start on a smaller scale.
Here's my scheme for a manageable forest garden.
Funny, isn't it, how we all get it into our heads
that veg belong on the veg plot,
fruit belongs in the fruit cage, flowers in the borders
and shrubs in the shrubbery?
It's quite fun to have a corner of your garden
which has this kind of forest feel to it,
where every different kind of plant is mixed together,
all of them are either edible or providing something for one of the other plants to help them grow.
So I'm taking this little corner of garden here
and trying to do something similar which, over the months and years ahead, will help each other grow,
and help you thrive by giving you something to eat.
These shrubby things here are hazels.
We used to call them cobnuts and filberts.
Lovely old English names.
They're great for autumn, if you can get to them before the squirrels.
This is a lovely golden hop,
which will scramble over this bit of trellis here.
You can see I'm starting to build up layers here.
This hazel is quite tall, it's a...
it's a forest tree, you know, 15-20 feet high, but you can keep cutting it down and stooling it.
using the stakes within the garden as beanpoles.
I've got two hazels, wind pollinated. That'll make sure you get a good crop of nuts.
So that's fairly high.
The middle storey here, we'll use currant bushes,
a blackcurrant and a whitecurrant on this side.
They'll be about waist-to-chest height.
And on the other side, we'll have an autumn-fruiting raspberry.
This'll keep coming up, offering you fruit even in its first year.
It's always nice to plant autumn-fruiting raspberries.
You get a crop the year you plant them.
This is a variety called Autumn Bliss.
And then we can start looking at this lower layer, fitting in a bit of colour.
Flowers can start appearing now.
Hemerocallis here, the daylily.
With these flowers which individually only last a day,
but it keeps producing them week after week after week, and they are,
believe it or not...
Not exactly like a Mars bar,
but a pretty colourful decoration for your salad.
Now, it may look like a bit of a jumble, and that's because it is.
It's meant to look wild and woolly,
but give your plants room to grow.
And you'll notice that, because it's all mixed,
there's no concentration of any one crop in any one area.
And that's a practical way of helping to avoid pests and diseases.
If you've got a great bed of carrots that fills this entire area,
carrot fly just hone in on it.
If, on the other hand, you mix up everything, there's no concentration which attracts them.
Popping in plants like mint and lemon balm...
It adds another dimension to your garden, with fragrance,
but also it masks the scent of other crops
which are prone to pest and disease attack.
Now you're probably looking at this now and thinking,
"Cor, that must have cost a fortune, all those plants there."
How much do you think?
This whole little lot here.
Total bill at the garden centre of £92.
So for 92 quid in this scenario,
you're getting a little garden which will mature to be there each year,
every year you'll be getting nuts, currants,
all kinds of different things that just keep coming.
Smelly herbs, little fruits stands, for under £100.
There's no reason why, in the tiniest corner,
you shouldn't do it with one nut tree, one currant bush and a few strawberries.
We owe a huge debt to Sissinghurst.
It taught us to invest in our gardens emotionally as well as practically.
Whether it's using our gardens as living spaces,
being bold and brave with colour,
embracing naturalistic planting,
or creating a natural woodland space
that can be functional and beautiful,
Sissinghurst, perhaps more than any other,
teaches us to love our gardens.
All the places I've visited in this series
show how four centuries of taste and design,
combined with social change, have shaped the British back garden.
The people behind these gardens can never have imagined the enduring impact their ideas would have.
But because gardening never stands still,
I like to think they'd approve of how we've taken their ideas
and made them a vital part of 21st-century gardening.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Alan Titchmarsh presents a stunning series that reveals the amazing secrets behind Britain's great gardens, examining how they continue to influence gardeners, including himself, today.
Alan reveals how Sissinghurst gardens in Kent is one of the most influential of the 20th century. Created by two passionate gardeners, Vita Sackville-West and her husband, Sir Harold Nicholson, its development coincided with key social changes in the British garden.
There was a pre- and post-war boom in surburban housing, creating a generation of domestic gardeners. Despite its size, Sissinghurst appealed to the public because it was a warm and intimate garden and had been designed with a great many practical uses. Alan reveals that it was one of the first lifestyle gardens, made up of different 'rooms' designed for eating, relaxing and entertaining. Ideas that would lead to today's barbecue areas and day-bed chillout zones in the garden began here.
Alan shows his own take on the garden room, designing an outdoor dining table filled with herb and fruit plants.
Vita Sackville West was also hugely influential in her use of colour. She used many colours to create a single hue and Alan reveals the myriad of colours in her famous purple border. She was also the first to create an all-white garden.
Sissinghurst is also famous for its naturalistic planting and Alan discusses how it works with head gardener Alexis Data. He also shows us how to create a wild flower meadow.
And finally we learn that one part of Sissinghurst, the nuttery, would become famous as one of the first wild gardens. This new philosophy would ultimately lead to today's permaculture gardens. Alan shows you how to create one in your own garden.