Some American “scones” may be delicious in their own way, but they aren’t scones. Now that we’ve got that clear, let’s move on.
Scone + clotted cream + strawberry jam.
I had at least one a day. The scones they made at the restaurant across from the gift shop were seriously good. I had one or two there, but more often than not we would get them to go so we could sit out in “our” garden. This would mean that I was eating them at 5:30 pm most evenings, but hey, when the sun doesn’t disappear until almost 10, why not?
I’m a big fan of rooms that are frozen in time, especially if they feature papers, or maps, or books, or push pins, or typewriters (Cabinet War Room anyone…). When you add Vita Sackville-West to this equation, and factor in the idyllic setting at Sissinghurst and the fact that her study is up in a tower, the whole concept starts to reach a ridiculous level of perfection. A room frozen in 1962, chock full of books, art, and a cozy chaise-longue.
During our week-long stay at Sissinghurst I visited Vita’s study in the tower on three separate occasions. Happily, each time I went it was late enough in the day that no other visitor was blocking the view and no one was waiting to see the view so I could stare to my heart’s content. Since you can’t actually walk into the room, my only regret is that I didn’t have binoculars to get a better look at the titles on the shelves. But I did stand there, probably with my mouth open, fantasizing about the space being mine. I would have settled for a couple of hours inside to browse the shelves and take a closer look at everything.
Bottom line is that it is the perfect room for me. I will let the pictures speak for themselves, with one exception. They keep the curtains drawn to preserve the books, art, and textiles, but the room has large banks of windows on both sides of the tower, which would make it a very light room–and one with cross breezes.
Day four of our Sissinghurst adventure started with sun and ended with sun…well, and then a bit of lightning.
When my eyes popped open around 5:00 am with sunlight flooding our room, I decided not to fight it and went for a walk across the fields. The weather was gorgeously cool in the low sixties (he says as he types in hot, humid, DC) and it was fantastically peaceful.
Just after lunch our young, charismatic, fun, smart, bookish, telejournalist, British friends, William and Lorna, who Simon Thomas virtually introduced us to several years ago when they moved to DC, arrived for an overnight stay. After a very brief orientation, I sent them out into the gardens before it started to rain and so they would have plenty of time to see Vita’s study and the library before they closed. In the true spirit of the setting, I was pleased when they came back to the house and said they wanted to just chill out and read while it spitted rain.
When drinks time rolled around, the light rain had stopped, the sun was coming out, the garden was closed for the day, Lorna made Pimms Cups, and we went and sat in the boat house pavilion. After a bit we heard applause in the near distance. Something of some sort was going on in our garden.
A few minutes later a tall man carrying a champagne flute and bearing the visage of a Nicolson/Sackville-West appeared, introduced himself as Adam Nicolson and explained they were having a little event and that he hoped we weren’t inconvenienced. We assured him there was no problem at all, John fanboy’d for a bit, and I asked if there was any part of the garden he would like us to avoid. All of this was significant for a couple of reasons. First, this was the author Adam Nicolson–grandson of Vita and Harold–coming over to make sure we were okay with him using his ancestral home for a small event. Second, even though by this time in our stay we were pretty comfortable roaming the property at all hours, it was a whole new level of comfort to have Adam Nicolson welcome us and reassure us that his garden was our garden. Third, the event included Adam’s wife Sarah Raven who is a garden maven herself and John tells me has Martha Stewart level cache in the UK. Again John fanboy’d, albeit from a distance this time, when we walked by while she was chatting with some guests in the White Garden.
I wish I had a some sort of picture to represent this, but alas, I don’t.
For dinner we went to the nearby Three Chimney’s gastro pub for dinner where they happily still had the smoked haddock with creamy leeks on the menu that I had had about six years previously. Then it was back to the house where we strolled in the garden as it got dark and the sky started to fill with lightning. By the time we all trundled off to bed we were in the middle of a proper storm with lightning, rain, and thunder–or at least what passes for thunder in the UK.
What do you do for a day trip when you are spending the week at a world-famous garden? Why, visit another world-famous garden of course. John has always wanted to attend a study day at Great Dixter. As luck would have it, they were offering a full-day workshop on succession planting while we are staying at Sissinghurst, and since the two gardens are only about 30 minutes from each other, it seemed like a no-brainer. I decided to be a good sport and go along with John, but I ended up really enjoying myself. First off, we had been to Great Dixter once before and I knew it was beautiful. Second we had perfect weather. Third, we met very nice like minded people. Fourth, since it was a Monday, the garden was closed to visitors. Fifth, I really learned a lot and feel like I have graduated from Assistant to the Gardener to Assistant Gardener.
I thought you might want a bookish change of pace in the midst of all the Sissinghurst photos. So what better than a run down of book purchases from our trip. The majority of them were purchased on our one day in London. I had sent out an SOS on Twitter hoping for recommendations for used bookstores in London. I know where pretty much all the new bookstores are, and I knew there are used stores along and near Charing Cross Road, but for all the times I have been to London, I have never really explored the second shops there and realized that I didn’t know where to start. Happily the Twitterverse crowdsourcing paid off and I had a great day running around London with John popping into many stores.
I should mention that near the car park at Sissinghurst there is a little cafe/plant shop that also had a charity secondhand book stall inside. It would have been perfect if I had run out of reading material (I didn’t) as the books in the snug in our cottage didn’t really excite me too much. But more on that in a future post.
After a very good night’s sleep, woke up to bright sunshine around 6:00 am. Nothing ahead of us for the day except for friends arriving from London for the day. By the time they arrived around 11:00, it was starting to spit rain. So we sat under a market umbrella outside the restaurant and had tea. Then a wander through the woods followed by lunch at the Milk House pub nearby in the tiny blip in the road known as Sissinghurst Village.
Still getting used to the fact that we had the place to ourselves, we decided to stay in for dinner. And not having a ton of energy after not getting much sleep on our overnight flight, we decided a simple meal was in order. We relished our bread and cheese dinner with some hummus and olives thrown in, followed by fresh strawberries with vanilla custard.
They had a very nice digital radio in the kitchen/dining room which meant we could double down on the English-ness of the moment with the BBC. I’m not sure what I expected, but I was a little disappointed in what was available. Instead of classical music on Radio 3 they were playing a dramatization of something. But this was no Day of the Triffids or Cranford, it was some modern thing with lots of s***s and f***s. And Radio 4 didn’t provide something homey like Barbara Pym on Desert Island Discs or the shipping forecast, it was some news programming with too many American accents. It wasn’t always like this during our stay, but that first night it was kind of disappointing that the radio was in 2019 not 1949.
We did manage to stay up until about 10 pm. And then, what I like to call, the sleep of the ages. That feeling of total, beautiful, exhaustion after having been up for over 24 hours. It feels so good. And to be able to sleep with the windows open, cool air flowing in, snuggled under a cozy duvet. Bliss.