Plants to me are another girl’s shoes. A David Austin rose is my equivalent of a pair of Jimmy Choo’s (with a much more modest price tag I hope my other half appreciates) and I would much rather spend a day getting grubby in the garden than mooching around the shops! So when I found myself down the road from one of most renowned gardens in England whilst on holiday at Haremere Hall, I was there like a shot – husband and toddler in tow!
Sissinghurst Castle in Kent is a magical spot and a garden lover’s dream. Sissinghurst Castle itself dates back to the 13th century although apart from two sides of the ancient moat, the remaining buildings and courtyards visible today date back to Tudor times. What Sissinghurst is most famous for though is its spectacular gardens. From the perfect lawned walks and rambling cottage gardens, to dreamy orchards and meadows and blazes of glorious colour, this fusion of gardening with art and imagination is something even the less green-fingered can’t fail to appreciate.
The work of writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson, Sissinghurst’s gardens were a labour of love and precise planning. Created as a series of outdoor ‘rooms’, each new section of the garden reveals a new theme or colour scheme with an archway or hedged exit providing tantalising glimpses of the next mini-garden beyond.
Today, Sissinghurst Castle is managed by the National Trust. Entrance to the whole property costs £10.80 for & £5.20 for a child (over 5’s) whilst those smugly flashing their green National Trust members’ cards (that’s me!) get in for free. Parking also costs £2 for non-National Trust members.
The gardens at Sissinghurst are part of a much larger estate and those wishing to explore the trails around the grounds do not have to pay for privelege, including the Baby Routes recommended Sissinghurst Castle Lake Walk. The gardens are truly worth a visit though and to miss out on their summer splendour would be a real shame.
As National Trust properties go, Sissinghurst is not as child-friendly as some. There is plenty of picnic space and the walks down by the lake and through the estate are all suitable for younger walkers, with options for pushchairs but don’t expect the purpose-built playgrounds or other entertainment some of the larger properties now provide. Pushchairs are also not permitted in the formal gardens (just as well, as the paths are quite narrow) but baby carriers are available to borrow and you can leave your pushchair outside.
Older children will enjoy climbing the Elizabethan tower, from the top of which there are long-ranging views across the surrounding countryside and a birds-eye view of the garden below. Just take care if climbing with a baby in a backpack as we did – the spiral staircase is quite steep and the doorways don’t leave much room for head clearance! The planning of the garden into different ‘rooms’ makes this a more interesting garden than most for children as they can explore the different areas and the tall hedging in places doesn’t feel dissimilar to an elaborate maze! The moat with its large fish and resident ducks is also a good point of interest for younger visitors.
For those in need of refreshment there is a cafe near the visitor centre outside the main gardens (you don’t need to pay entry to access it) and best of all for me, there is a separate garden shop packed with plants to fulfil all your garden dreams after having your imagination fuelled by your visit. Surprisingly I managed to be quite restrained and only left with two plants!
Overall, if you find yourself in the area and have even the slightest appreciation of a pretty garden then I would recommend a visit to Sissinghurst Castle. The gardens whilst beautiful are not endless and there is enough to keep children interested for shorter visits. The walks through the estate, particularly in spring when the bluebells are out, are lovely.