Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History
by Adam Nicolson,
There are some places that have an extraordinary ability to get inside one’s mind and heart. Sissinghurst is one such place. I have only visited once, nearly 30 years ago – a day trip out of London. I still remember its charm, the gardens and the evocative history of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson
So this book captured my attention, partly by its cover and partly by the tempting half-price offer from a leading book store. And what a good by it was – Adam Nicolson is a rare writer of exceptional skill – his prose is clear, descriptive, careful, evocative and very insightful. He takes his reader on a journey that is enriching beyond expectation.
The reader is reminded that Sissinghurst is world famous. Adam Nicolson lives there as a tenant of the National Trust and unfolds the history of this place – that is full of both happy and painful memories for him and his family. This is the story of a piece of land, an estate in the Weald of Kent and is told from the very beginning. Adam Nicolson has carefully researched this place as a mediaeval manor and a great 16th century house, from the days of its decline as an 18th century prison to a flourishing Victorian farm and on to the
creation, by his grandparents, Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, of a garden in a weed-strewn wreck.
Like most writing, this history is written as part therapy – a working out of some of the contradictions of the Nicolson family and its history of broken relationships and acute grief. Nicolson explains his plan to rebuild this place so that the land might live again. His vision is to re-connect garden, farm and land which has required from him energy, persistence and a great deal of persuasion.
The quality of this writing is quite breathtaking. The text is much more than a personal, family history. It is testimony to what all of us must find a way of doing – taking what inheritance we are given and using it – Nicolson shows us how we should take our dreams and make them real.