Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History

Adam Nicolson

Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History

Sissinghurst is world famous as a place of calm and beauty, a garden slipped into the ruins of a rose-pink Elizabethan palace. But is it entirely what its creators intended? Has its success over the last thirty years come at a price? Is Sissinghurst everything it could be? The story of this piece of land, an estate in the Weald of Kent, is told here for the first time from the very beginning. Adam Nicolson, who now lives there, has uncovered remarkable new findings about its history as a medieval manor and great sixteenth-century house, from the days of its decline as an eighteenth-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. Alongside his recovery of the past, Adam Nicolson wanted something else: for the land at Sissinghurst to live again, to become the landscape of orchards, cattle, fruit and sheep he remembered from his boyhood.Could that living frame of a mixed farm be brought back to what had turned into monochrome fields of chemicalised wheat and oilseed rape? Against the odds, he was going to try. Adam Nicolson has always been a passionate writer about landscape and buildings, but this is different. This is the place he wanted to make good again, reconnecting garden, farm and land. More than just a personal biography of a place, this book is the story of taking an inheritance and steering it in a new direction, just as an entrepreneur might take hold of a company, or just as all of us might want to take our dreams and make them real. 4.7 out of 5 based on 5 reviews
Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre History
Format Hardback
Pages 400
RRP £20.00
Date of Publication September 2008
ISBN 978-0007240548
Publisher HarperPress
 

Sissinghurst is world famous as a place of calm and beauty, a garden slipped into the ruins of a rose-pink Elizabethan palace. But is it entirely what its creators intended? Has its success over the last thirty years come at a price? Is Sissinghurst everything it could be? The story of this piece of land, an estate in the Weald of Kent, is told here for the first time from the very beginning. Adam Nicolson, who now lives there, has uncovered remarkable new findings about its history as a medieval manor and great sixteenth-century house, from the days of its decline as an eighteenth-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. Alongside his recovery of the past, Adam Nicolson wanted something else: for the land at Sissinghurst to live again, to become the landscape of orchards, cattle, fruit and sheep he remembered from his boyhood.Could that living frame of a mixed farm be brought back to what had turned into monochrome fields of chemicalised wheat and oilseed rape? Against the odds, he was going to try. Adam Nicolson has always been a passionate writer about landscape and buildings, but this is different. This is the place he wanted to make good again, reconnecting garden, farm and land. More than just a personal biography of a place, this book is the story of taking an inheritance and steering it in a new direction, just as an entrepreneur might take hold of a company, or just as all of us might want to take our dreams and make them real.

Reviews

The Scotsman

Lesley McDowell

Family histories have been dominated by the misery memoir of late, highlighting the kind of emotional legacy nobody in their right mind wants to inherit. Adam Nicolson's account of his struggle to improve his boyhood home is also an account of his love for his unusual, conflicted, difficult, yet sympathetic father, who was the first to show him how to enjoy the land around him. It's a beautiful, fascinating, touching account.

13/09/2008

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The Spectator

Mary Keen

This is a remarkable story of adjusting to other people, of accepting that the inheritance from the past involves ‘many beautiful and varied ways of being’... It is a book about loss and change, but it is also a hymn to un-change. He can sing the song of England and its places with what he calls ‘the wrinkled suggestions of things’ like no other writer, and although he writes in prose, it comes, as Keats thought that poetry should come, ‘as naturally as leaves to a tree’.

22/10/2008

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The Daily Telegraph

Aileen Reid

So what does her grandson Adam, the new tenant of Sissinghurst, have to add to the story? A very great deal, as it turns out in this unusual, impassioned and lucently written book.

29/09/2008

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The Sunday Times

Simon Jenkins

Yet all is warmed by Nicolson's evocation of Sissinghurst's natural history and his determination to honour it in word and deed. He ends with the return of a nightin-gale to the “ever constant oaks” of Hammer Brook, with “its hymn to the sense of possibility, with the past buried inside”.

14/09/2008

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The Guardian

Kathryn Hughes

Sissinghurst: An Unfinished Story is written with that heightened lyricism which seems to have become the default mode for the new nature writing. Beautiful in small portions, it can become too rich when poured over page after page, like one cream tea too many. Also unsettling is Nicolson's decision to follow the example of many memoirists and keep his living loved ones out of the story.

27/09/2008

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