Monday, March 2, 2009


Has anyone been watching the Sissinghurst series on BBC 4? It follows Adam Nicolson (Vita Sackville-West's grandson) and his wife Sarah Raven as they attempt to make their mark on this iconic garden. I caught up with it last night, and I thought it was fascinating.
I'd expected (I'm not quite sure why) to be on the side of the National Trust staff, who were having their ideas questioned by the incomers. The Nicolsons gave the property to the National Trust decades ago, but members of the family are allowed to live there in perpetuity and Adam and Sarah moved back in 2004. Because they are family, they have strong views about how the place should be run, but in no real power to do anything about it.
In the end, I found myself feeling quite sympathetic towards the Nicolson faction. For a start, Adam Nicolson looks so like his grandmother. He and his memories of life at Sissinghurst are a real link to the past, and the idea that he finds himself feeling rather unwelcome there seems a bit odd. It's as if everything Vita touched (books, desk, bedroom etc) are treasured, polished, hallowed relics - apart from her grandson.
When Sarah Raven is not writing books, or appearing on television, she runs gardening and cookery courses at her former home, Perch Hill, so it's not surprising that one of the changes she wants to make at Sissinghurst is to the catering.
I'm with her all the way. The last time I went to Sissinghurst, I was very disappointed by the restaurant. There was something a bit soulless about it (our canteen has more ambience) and the food wasn't terribly inspiring either. I'd been hoping for a nice bowl of hot soup and some crusty bread, but nothing like that seemed to be available that day. (Maybe they'd run out.) The choice seemed to be either meat and two veg, or cake.
I don't know about you, but I don't want to eat a huge three-course meal when I go to see a garden. If you've got a two-hour drive ahead of you in order to get home, the last thing you want is to feel full and sleepy. On the other hand, neither do I want an icy sandwich straight from the chiller cabinet. 
There must be a middle way (goat's cheese salad! Welsh rarebit! Spinach soup!). But they don't seem to have found it at Sissinghurst yet. Go, Sarah!