bulb order II


Galanthus nivalis – Snowdrops  bloom in my garden 22 February 2012

I grow species bulbs, sometimes called minor bulbs, a reference to their size not their importance in the garden.  A large and diverse group, the minor bulbs include species Crocus, Cyclamen, Eranthus (winter aconite), Galanthus (snowdrops), Hyacinthoides (bluebells), Muscari (grape hyacinth), Scilla; and the diminutive species of Iris, Narcissus and Tulipa; as well as less familiar bulbs such as Camassia, Chionodoxa, Ipheion, Leucojum and Puschkinia, among many othersand the autumn flowering bulbs, Colchicum and Sternbergia.

Species of Crocus, Cyclamen, Eranthus, Galanthus, Hyacinthoides, Narcissus and Scilla are perennial for me, so I’ve been reluctant to plant or replant the others.

 lauras  meadow 048 (2)Muscari armeniacum, 22 April 2014

But I love Muscari and cannot resist ordering a fresh crop of bulbs each autumn.  At $15.50/100, from Van Engelen, minor bulbs like the wild Muscari armeniacum are inexpensive annuals. I split the grape hyacinths with Kevin and Mollie, so the bulbs do double duty to brighten two gardens with their vivid blue spikes.

March 2014 171Crocus tommasinianus ‘Lilac Beauty’ blooming in my meadow 23 March 2014

When I moved into my house on Labor Day 2007, I did not know what spring bulbs I’d inherited, but I figured it unlikely that the turf in the back garden concealed hundreds of snow crocus that would burst into bloom in purple drifts to herald the spring of 2008, unless I planted them.  And so I planted 500 Crocus tommasinianus bulbs; 250 each of ‘Barr’s Purple’ and ‘Ruby Giant.’  Since then I’ve added a hundred more of each of my favorite tommies as well as a few hundred each of ‘Roseus’ and ‘Lilac Beauty.’

late tommies and Feb Gold 209Crocus tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’ blooming in my meadow 9 March 2013

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Crocus tommasinianus ‘Barr’s Purple’ blooming in my meadow 9 March 2013


 ‘Roseus’ is the first of the tommies to bloom in my meadow, about the same time as the species: 6 February 2012

A bargain at $11.25/100,species bulbs like Crocus tommasinianus perennialize and increase in the garden.

As I mentioned in part I (Bulb Order I), I dug up the large trumpet daffodils crammed into the narrow side bed along the house, filled with messy foliage and few flowers, and I replaced them with drifts of early blooming winter aconite and snowdrops.

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Eranthus hymenals – winter aconite blooming in my garden 25 February 2012

I banished the large-flowered ‘King Alfred’ daffodil bulbs to the rough beyond the meadow where they belong, and where they look amazing naturalized and viewed from the  deck and upper story windows; in the middle distance between the meadow and the rough, the little Narcissus thrive: early cyclamineus ‘February Gold’ and later blooming triandrus ‘Hawera’ open and close the spring bulb season.

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Narcissus ‘February Gold’ blooming between the meadow and the rough 3 March 2012

This autumn I ordered Narcissus bulbocodium ‘Golden Bells,’ a tiny daffodil species to add to the dwarf bulb display and fill the rather wide bloom gap between ‘February Gold’ and ‘Hawer.’


 Narcissus bulbocodium ‘Golden Bells’ ($19.00/100), Hudson NY 16 April 2014

I recently tweeted Vita Sackville-West on bulbocodium: The bulbocodium or hoop-petticoat daffodil is an easy one, which you may have seen naturalized in the grass almost by the acre at Wisley, and very pretty it is, small and tight-waisted, springing out into a crinoline.

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANarcisus bulbocodium naturalized at Wisley, RHS Garden England, UK

“Oh, those red tulips.”

In  2009 I removed a privet hedge from the narrow bed  along the front of the house.

Jan snow 007 (3)     cropped-garden-roses1.jpg I planted Rosa ‘New Dawn’ climber and Clematis x jackmani to duke it out on the fence

And I ordered spring bulbs. The spring bulb display must be bold: Red Gregii tulips,with handsome striped foliage, interplanted with vivid blue spikes of Muscari.

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Tulipa ‘Red Ridng Hood’ ($22.50/50) and Muscari armeniacum 19 April 2013

This is a tough spot and although Gregii tulips often perennialize, not in this bed.  So, next I interplanted a red species tulip that Jane grows, Tulipa praestans ‘Fuselier’ with ‘Red Riding Hood,’  These two do not bloom together; one tulip variety is best for a bold display.   lauras  meadow 049 Rosa Morning Magic 050 (2)

Tulipa praestans ‘Fuselier’ ($26.50/50) and Muscari armeniacum 22 April 2014

This autumn I ordered  another red tulip species that we grew in the red borders, now gone, at the Arboretum: tul_species_linifolia_main

Tulipa linifolia ($11.50/100)

VSW collected Tulipa linifolia on her second trip to Persia in 1927 and proudly reported in her book Twelve Days, which recounts her exploration of wild Persia:

and on a slope I found to my joy the little scarlet tulip for which I had looked in vain in other parts of Persia.

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She dug it up and took it back to England. Today we know better; we’re aware of our ecological responsibility to the planet.  Always buy bulb species from reputable growers.

I’m also trying another Muscari for the front bed.


Muscari botyroides ‘Superstar’ ($12.25/50)

You can never have too many bulbs, especially drifts of the little gems

Sources Van Engelen McClure & Zimmerman Brent and Becky’s 

More on Speices Bulbs Conserving Turkey’s wild bulbs Minor Bulbs Are Anything But No So Minor Bulbs

lauras  meadow 133 (2) Colchicum autumnale ‘Lilac Wonder’ blooming in Laura’s garden 25 September 2014


wild tulips

I’ve been reading about tulips in the wild.

   scan0005wild tulips blooming in the Kazakhstan mountains

If you want to go treking through the wild tulip country of Central Asia, the Middle East and Turkey, follow the old Silk Road. No. Better not. However, you can avoid the hotspots. Just follow the Dutch bulb hunters.

The Dutch bulb hunters I’m following begin their trek in eastern Kazakhstan, as you will see if you click on the handy interactive map, to which I’ve linked the excellent tulipsinthewild website.


Following the tulips, the plant hunters track the spread of the species from east to west; sometimes they follow the tulips over the ancient Silk Road, which crisscrossed Eurasia, fulfilling human desires; always the plant hunters follow the sweep of the Ottomans’ westward expansion through the mountains of Central Asia into the heart of tulip country.


wild tulips, Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, south and west to Afghanistan, Iran, (all of the Middle East), Turkey, Greece, Algeria (all of North Africa) and, finally, into Europe.


where part of the ancient Silk Road crosses Afghanistan

The Ottomans failed to fold Iran and Western Europe into the Empire though not for lack of trying; one of the Ottomans’ most coveted resources poured into Istanbul from all over the Empire; Istanbul became the city of tulips and a center for distributing the bulbs. The Ottomans introduced tulips into Europe in the mid 16th century and fostered the tulipmania that gripped Holland in the 17th century. Above all, the Ottoman Empire owned, embodied the tulip motif, making Turks synonymous with Tulips.


Medieval Ottoman design from Uzbekistan

the Ottoman’s legacy :  Turk = Tulip is embraced in modern Turkey.

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  Turkey is synonymous with Tulip


the Turkish flag: a bed of red tulips surrounding a crescent moon and star, Istanbul

Persia gives the tulip its generic scientific name: Tulipa


 Tulipa hybrids have been cultivated in Iran and imported into Turkey since at least the 15th century; creamy-rose tulips fill a tulip garden near Teheran


Wild red Tulips cascade down a slope in the mountains of Iran

Persia shares a unique cultural history with the most cherished of its many beautiful wildflowers. Some 12 native tulip species (botanists are still debating the exact number) and at least one new endemic species, Tulipa faribae, find a home in the snow-capped peaks, rugged slopes, and foothills of the mountains that run from northeast to southwest Iran.


the tulip is the emblem of Iran. It’s botanical name Tulipa (Linnaeus) derives from the old Persian, toliban, meaning turban, which aptly describes the shape of bud and bloom

 tulip-gardenTulip Garden, Teheran


 Laaleh is Persian for tulip

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In Iran red tulips powerfully symbolized the martyrs of the Islamic Revolution

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a favorite Iranian wildflower is Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis), the inverted tulip


Iran’s inverted tulip, Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis)


If Holland is the center for hybrid tulips, Central Asia is the center for wild tulips.



tulips-10The genus Tulipa L. comprises about 100 species taxonomically classified into two subgenera: Tulipa and Eriostemones. Subgenus Tulipa is subdivided into five sections: Tulipa, Eichleres, Tulipanun, Kolpakowskianae, and Clusianae. The commercial cut flower assortment of tulips consists mainly of cultivars from Tulipa gesneriana (section Tulipa) and T. fosteriana (section Eichleres)

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For more on Tulips:


Iran: a botanical paradise

High Plains Gardening

download (1)Next: bulb order II

Bulb Order I

If planting bulbs is an act of faith, deciding which to order is an act of fortitude, or as V. Sackville-West proclaims: “The bulb catalogues arrive by every post, leaving us in a state of confused temptation.”  She’s acknowledging the emotional appeal advertisers use to temp consumers into a fantasy garden of glossy photos, promising a bit of Kew Gardens for each of us if only we order and plant the grower’s top bulbs as directed.

bulb21 (3)“A Bulb Grower’s Garden” Mima Nixon painting from Dutch Bulbs and Gardens, 1909


Even VSW is susceptible. Of course, although she is cognizant of her readers‘ limited budgets and always recommends the best plant for the best price, as well as economical ways to increase plants, her knowledge, garden, and budget were all far greater than most In the same article VSW recommends ‘Sundew’ tulips, “cheap at 5s a dozen.”  5s is a bob or a crown; 4 = £1, so she could buy 4 dozen tulips for £1, about $1.65 or about 3.5 cents each. Today, Van Engelen, the best US wholesale grower and my main source for bulbs, offers comparable tulip bulbs at $30 per 100, or 30 cents a piece, a good price.

In 2013 I budgeted $50 for tulip and muscari bulbs, which I grow as annuals in the front.

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Tulipa praestans ‘Fusilier’ and Tulipa ‘Red Riding Hood’ punctuated with Muscari armeniacum ‘Blue Spike’

In 2014 my budget is a bit more though still under $100. I budgeted far more in my first five or six years in the garden. Now, after years spent establishing reliable perennial bulb plantings, the meadow is filled with more than a thousand snow crocus and other bulbs flowering from mid-to-late winter through spring and early summer, while cyclamen blooms spring and fall in the shady border and winter aconite and snowdrops in the sunny one.

SnowdropsGalantnus nivalis:  snowdrops herald the spring

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Eranthus hymenalis: winter aconite is also a herald of spring

Hundreds of snow crocus (Crocus tomasinianus) fill my meadow in waves of color for four to six weeks in late winter and early spring

snow crocus 059RoseusMarch 2014 171 Crocus Tomm 331

Crocus III 007Crocus tomasinianus cultivars ‘Roseus,’ ‘Lilac Beauty,’ ‘Barr’s Purple,’ and ‘Ruby Giant’ fill my meadow in waves of color for four to six weeks in late winter and early spring


I dislike big daffodils in borders; they are best naturalized and viewed from a distance, so I moved these trumpet Narcissus ‘King Alfred’ to the rough at the back of the garden beyond the meadow where they thrive along with earlier cyclamineus and later triandrus Narcissi.  When their leaves fade, they can be mown off with the tall grass

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late flowering triandrus Narcissus ‘Hawera’ brightens the rough in late April

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‘Excelsior’ Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) flowering in the May meadow

IMG_7387 (8) Hyacinthoides hispanica ‘Excelsior’  blooming in the meadow 11 May 2014

 Clematis and Dodger 048a view of the meadow on 9 September 2014 with Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ flower heads. At the end of October I cut and rake the meadow, plant additional bulbs, and  clear the decks for the spring performance

My bulb order from McClure & Zimmerman, my favorite retail purveyor of fine bulbs, arrived today.


While I was on the website ordering Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ bulbs ($7.95/dozen) for Kevin and Mollie’s garden (Van Engelen now sells them only by the 100), I checked out the specials and decided to try a re-blooming tall bearded iris, which must be planted in September. Instead of splitting up the order, M & Z sent both items; I’ll keep the Allium bulbs cool and dry until I go to my brother’s next month.

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Allium ‘Purple Sensation’


Kevin and Mollie have better success with ‘Purple Sensation’ than I, and they enjoy the big purple globe flowers. So, we continue to plant more bulbs, increasing the fabulous late spring display in their garden.

I’m intrigued with the re-blooming Iris I ordered on sale, 3/$11.25, from McClure & Zimmerman.  It’s a violet-blue variety called ‘Daughter of Stars.’

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 Iris go dormant in high summer, so it’s best to divide them during August and September and plant new ones, which arrive as bare-root, dormant rhizomes with a bit of leaf; these should be planted immediately or potted up.

The American Iris Society recommends dividing or planting new Iris rhizomes 4-6 weeks before hard frost to allow enough time for the roots to get established.

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‘Daughter of Stars’ is an award winning reblooming tall bearded Iris hybridized by Don Spoon at Winterberry Gardens in Virginia

Next: Bulb Order II

Tweeting Vita @thegardenvsw Part III



I recently changed VSW’s Twitter profile photo to VW’s favorite picture of VSW and the one she chose to represent Orlando, now a woman, on her return to England.


Harold-Nicolson-and-Vita--002 (4)I also added a background color photo of Vita, Rollo, and Harold taken on the tower steps at Sissinghurst in 1959. VSW made her study in the tower room when they moved to Sissinghurst in 1932 where she wrote her books and her weekly “In Your Garden” column (1946-1961) for the Sunday Observer, sister publication of the Guardian.

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Vita’s study in the tower at Sissinghurst


69e1783936c9e4fa14601f5871eb0819Vita’s desk today as if she just stepped out



Vita and Rollo walking in the garden at Sissinghurst 1950s

 Yale recently acquired VSW’s papers

Black swallowtail feast


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tall stems of sweet Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) blooming in my meadow 27 July 2014

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sweet Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) flowers attract a female black swallowtail to my meadow 27 July 2014

I must admit that I never noticed a black swallowtail on the Joe Pye weed until I did. Perennials take three years to mature, so the Joe Pye weed has finally come into its own in the meadow most prominently; indeed, it is as high as an elephant’s eye, and I was kicking myself for failing to shear it in spring.  But with its big flower heads atop 8′ stems it would be hard to miss a black swallowtail feeding.

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 black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) sips nectar from Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) in my meadow 27 July 2014


It’s always good practice to spring prune perennials that bloom in high summer and fall to encourage branching and fullness rather than stretching and legginess. Perennials that benefit from spring pruning include:


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Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium sp.)






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Bush clematis (Clematis heracleifolia)




Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’




Monkshood (Aconitum sp.)




Ironweed (Vernonia sp.)


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 Phlox paniculata and Cleome blooms highlight the late summer garden at the Mission House Museum, Stockbridge MA  22 August 2013


In late April and May, until about Mother’s Day, you can simply cut the stems of the late bloomers, reducing them by about half. You’ll appreciate the results: bushy rather than lanky plants with more blooms.  Also, deadhead spent flowers to keep plants clean and encourage continued flowering.



Gateway Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium maculatum ‘Gateway’) blooming in Mount Holyoke College Botanic Garden 20 August 2013

The Joe Pye weed in my meadow would benefit from a spring cut, and swallowtails arrive regardless.  I’m certainly more tuned in to butterflies since Laura and I visited Project Native, a nonprofit native plant farm and wildlife sanctuary in the Berkshires.

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Project Native: nonprofit native plant farm, nursery and wildlife sanctuary Housatonic, MA


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Project Native Nursery Catalog

May is a great time to buy native plants in the nursery, and we did. I’m trying to establish bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) again in my shady border while Laura must have butterflyweed (Ascelpias tuberosa) for her meadow. But May is not the best time to see the flight of the butterflies.  The butterfly house isn’t open until June.


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We did see a tiger swallowtail emerge in the chrysalis nursery. Project Native raises butterflies and the communities of native plants on which they depend: feed, breed and overwinter.




tiger swallowtail

(Papilio glaucus)



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Project Native Shop

IMG_7864 (3) Project Native summer programs


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 I looked out at the meadow to see a black swallowtail  (Papilio polyxenes) sipping nectar around tea time

I grabbed the camera, ran out on the deck, and then up to the second floor window for a better view.  She was hungry and fed for quite a while.


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black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) sips nectar from Joe Pye weed in my meadow 27 July 2014

IMG_7775Project Native linksIMG_7848 (2)

 Butterfly Gardening plants

Plant nectar plants for butterflies. Plant natives; feed our native butterflies and bees. Spy a swallowtail or a monarch feasting in your garden


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Tweeting Vita @thegardenvsw Part II

Not all dates are covered in the four-book set In Your Garden, of course, so on missing dates, VSW sometimes tweets from her letters to VW, but mostly she quotes Ms. Jekyll, offering seasonal gardening advice from Gertrude Jekyll’s books Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden (1908) and Annuals and Biennials (1916). So, for example, on 30 June VSW tweets:

Jane June 2014 167 (2)Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw


view of the Edwardian sunk garden, pergola, intricate arts and crafts stonework, and rill

Ms. Jekyll never got to try all of her ideas, but she knew that other gardeners would carry on the development of the English garden, and her books and articles, as well as the gardens she designed with Lutyens point the way.

Miss Jekyll's Gardening Boots 1920 by Sir William Nicholson 1872-1949

Miss Jekyll’s Gardening Boots, 1920

Oil paint on wood: 324 x 400 mm

Sir William Nicholson (1872-1949)

Tate, Presented by Lady Emily Lutyens, 1944

Gertrude Jekyll was a well-known garden designer, who often worked in collaboration with the architect Edwin Lutyens. In 1920 she was seventy-six, and quite difficult. It is said that Nicholson painted this picture of her boots while he was waiting the opportunity of a sitting, as she would only allow this in the late afternoon. However, Nicholson enjoyed finding the revelation of character in clothing. He had painted other pictures of shoes, and of a hat.


Jekyll-Lutyens Gardens

Gertrude Jekyll. Roses for English Gardens (1902) full text

Gertrude Jekyll Paintings

Ms. Jekyll Gardening Boots

Gertrude Jekyll and the Country House Garden 

Great British Garden Makers: Gertrude Jekyll



Tweeting Vita @thegardenvsw Part I



To celebrate the birthday of my favorite garden writer, I opened a Twitter account on 9 March in her honor:

Vita Sackville-West @thegardenvsw



Tweets are from “In Your Garden,” VSW’s popular column published in the Observer from 1946 to 1957 and collected in four volumes:

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In Your Garden (1951)

In Your Garden Again (1955)

More for Your Garden (1955)

Even More For Your Garden (1958)


VSW describes “a formidable increase in my correspondence” when she is deluged with letters from her readers, most of whom want to know where they can find plants she recommends. In the forward to In Your Garden (1951), VSW comments with inimitable humor on this tremendous public response to her column:

 “I think two thousand enquiries arising out of one article was the record, but on several other occasions a thousand letters arrived, done up in bundles of fifty, tied round with string. I trust and believe that I answered all of them. If anyone was overlooked, I take this opportunity to offer an apology.”


In the books VSW lists sources for recommended plants, which could not be included in The Observer as she explains that it would be tantamount to free advertising. This solution seems to have stemmed the deluge.  Readers, of course, continue to write seeking VSW’s advice, and she often responds in her column, taking the query as her topic.

Like all gardening books (mine were out of print before the ink was dry), VSW’s In Your Garden books dropped out of print.  After Vita’s death in 1962, her daughter-in-law Phillipa Nicolson began editing a selection of the articles from the four books, and V. Sackville-West’s Garden Book (1968), issued in paperback in 1969 and reprinted through 1987,

Garden Bookbecame one of the most popular gardening books of the time and a best-seller in the shop at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, pictured on the cover.  Alas, like all gardening books, even the most popular, it, too, is out of print.

In 2004 Francis Lincoln, Ltd reissued the four-volume In Your Garden series in handsome reproductions. VSW is a delightful companion who guides readers month-by-month on a tour through the gardening year. Instructive, hilarious, and philosophical, VSW shares her horticultural know how with warmth, wit, and good humor in fluent, confident prose. Taken together, the four-book set represents the life-work of a dedicated gardener. To read Vita is to witness the gardener at work materializing the dream.


But reissuing the four-book set of In Your Garden was probably undertaken as a limited niche market hardcover run, and although you can still find new copies, they, too, are out of print.



The National Trust reprinted VSW’s long poem “Sissinghurst” on offer in the garden shop when I visited.  Dedicated to VW (Virginia Woolf), the poem was published in 1931, a year after Vita and Harold bought the run-down, overgrown, abandoned farm with Tudor out-buildings and an Elizabethan tower in Kent near Knole. Indeed, Sissinghurst the estate as was had been in her Sackville female line.


Thursday. to V. W.


A tired swimmer in the waves of time

I throw my hand up! let the surface close:

Sink down through centuries to another clime,

And buried find the castle and the rose.

The poem expresses the poet’s aspiration to make a garden on the ruins; envision, plan, materialize. She knows what she’s up against, and yet the poet invokes “the castle and the rose,” dual symbols of Vita’s Sissinghurst Castle Garden as it is today.

On my first visit to the garden in 1983 I bought a copy of “Sissinghurst,” sat on a bench in the Cottage Garden enjoying the sweet scent of ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’ (the Noisette rose covering the cottage) and read the poem. It was glorious simply to be in VSW’s lovely garden, alone.  What I remember most vividly in the poem is the truth the poet reveals about the land.  The land wants to be forest, so making a garden means continually beating back the wildwood.  Great gardens conceal this truth. The gardener’s hand is always at work to create controlled abandon, a touch wild like an alpine meadow and vibrant like a wind-blown prairie.


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‘Madame Alfred Carrière’


The National Trust reissued VSW’s Some Flowers this year; the gift shop at Sissinghurst sells any number of books, new and reprints, by and about VSW; the cafe offers a large selection of used books; and Vita and Harold’s library is now open for tours.  VSW has always been a popular writer of fiction, biography, memoir, and travel books.  Indeed, her 1924 best-selling novel Seducers in Ecuador got better reviews than Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. But thenVSW always sold better than VW, and Seducers was to be the first of stacks of VSW best sellers for the Hogarth Press.  Its owners, Leonard and Virginia Woolf, were delighted; VW was in love; and VSW was to be the best thing that ever happened to the Bloomsbury intelligentsia.


In the US, VSW’s books were also bound for the best seller list, and Americans lapped up the family stories.  Americans love a scandal, especially a very British, aristocratic scandal, itself the stuff of popular, scintillating fiction, and, especially when we know the aristocrat. She lived in Washington, playing hostess for her British Minister father; she charmed the First Ladies and won the hearts of all who admit to reading the society pages–most of us–so that, vicariously, all of the Sackvilles and the Sackville-Wests are ours, too.



Victoria Sackville-West (Lady Sackville)

The illegitimate daughter of a British diplomat, Lionel Sackville-West (2nd Baron Sackville), and the famous Spanish dancer, Pepita (Josefa Duran), Victoria grew up in the south of France where her father kept his mistress and growing family secreted during the 19-year relationship, ending only with Pepita’s death in 1871; Victoria is sent to a French convent school, emerging in 1881 to make her American debut, accompanying her father, British Minister to the US (1881-1888). Both Queen Victoria and First Lady Garfield give permission for the beautiful young woman to act as hostess at the British Embassy in Washington, DC.


At 19, Victoria is an immediate sensation, a star in diplomatic circles of Washington society; she assists her father through seven seasons as his charming hostess at the British Embassy and receives countless marriage proposals (including one from Chester Arthur, recently widowed, who becomes the 21st US President when James Garfield is assassinated in 1881).  All this, despite the fact that Victoria speaks little English (nor will she; her future husband Lord Sackville and daughter Vita speak fluent French). Lionel Sackville-West is recalled in 1888 for his part in a scandal surrounding the presidential election, in which he suggested in a letter that incumbent Democratic President Cleveland is the preferred choice of the British. When the Republicans publish the letter, Cleveland losses the election to Benjamin Harrison who becomes the 23rd US President, only to lose the White House to the same opponent, Grover Cleveland, in the election of 1892.



Lady Sackville, 1913  Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)

Back in England, Lionel inherits the Sackville title and Knole while Victoria wins the heart of the heir to the title, Lionel Edward Sackville-West (3rd Baron Sackville), her father’s cousin, and marries him in 1890. Victoria ‘Vita’ Mary Sackville-West is born at Knole in 1892. When Victoria’s father Lord Sackville dies in 1908, another of her father’s illegitimate children, her brother Henry, contests her husband’s title in a highly publicized legal battle, which Lord Sackville eventually wins; Victoria becomes Lady Sackville of Knole and their daughter, the Hon. Victoria ‘Vita’ Mary Sackville-West. Lady Sackville wins another very public legal battle a few years later when the family of her friend and benefactor, ‘Seery,’ Sir John Murray Scott, contests his will, in which he leaves a large legacy to Lady Sackville. Lady Sackville was also a close friend of Auguste Rodin, but that’s another story. Picutured is one of two marble “Dream Portraits” Rodin made of Lady Sackville.




Knole 1880


A female and an only child, VSW is disinherited and her home, Knole—the magnificent house and deer park bestowed by Queen Elizabeth I on Thomas Sackville, whose descendants, Earls and Dukes of Dorset and Barons Sackville, lived in the great house since 1603—passes to the male heir, her cousin Eddie. VSW marries a diplomat, Harold Nicolson, bears two sons, writes scathing best sellers and family history, has a passionate affair with Violet Trefusis, becomes the beloved of Virginia Woolf, whose love letter Orlando: a Biography is testament.  Sissinghurst becomes compensation for the loss of Knole; VSW makes a garden, experiments, and shares her passion with readers every week “In Your Garden.”



the land

the ewardians


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Last year a lost love poem Vita had written to Violet in 1918 was discovered in VSW’s writing room in the tower at Sissinghurst:




When sometimes I stroll in silence, with you
Through great floral meadows of open country
I listen to your chatter, and give thanks to the gods
For the honest friendship, which made you my companion
But in the heavy fragrance of intoxicating night
I search on your lip for a madder caress
I tear secrets from your yielding flesh
Giving thanks to the fate which made you my mistress.

 Portrait of Violet Trefusis by Sir John Lavery, 1919



scan0002images (3)







Virginia Woolf. Orlando: A Biography (1928)

 VSW’s garden at Sissinghurst is the most visited in Britain.

So, what’s to be done to keep a VSW garden book in print and in the Sissinghurst shop?

All those visitors from around the world want to take home a VSW garden book.

And this season, they will.

VSW’s son Nigel Nicolson made a cottage industry of keeping VSW’s books in print and the tradition continues.  VSW’s granddaughter-in-law Sarah Raven—who lives at Sissinghurst with her husband, Adam Nicolson, (Nigel’s son) and their children—has saved the day, at least for a while. Her compilation—Sissinghurst: Vita Sackville-West and the Creation of a Garden—is on sale now in the UK and is set for US publication in the fall (4 November, 2014).



Here’s the blurb:

“From 1946 to 1957, Vita Sackville-West, the British poet, bestselling author of All Passion Spent and maker of Sissinghurst, wrote a weekly column in the Observer depicting her life at Sissinghurst, showing her to be one of the most visionary horticulturists of the twentieth-century. With wonderful additions by Sarah Raven, a famous British gardener in her own right who is married to Vita’s grandson Adam Nicolson, Sissinghurst draws on this extraordinary archive, revealing Vita’s most loved flowers, as well as offering practical advice for gardeners. Often funny and completely accessibly written with color and originality, it also describes details of the trials and tribulations of crafting a place of beauty and elegance. Sissinghurst has gone on to become one of the most visited and inspirational gardens in the world and this marvellous book, illustrated with drawings and original photographs throughout, shows us how it was created and how gardeners everywhere can use some of the ideas from both Sarah Raven and Vita Sackville-West   Sissinghurst is a magnificent portrait of a garden and a family.”

 In the meantime, I’m tweeting Vita unless a court orders me to cease



Vita Sackville-West tweets @thegardenvsw

VSW’s Twitter profile includes a brief description of the tweets and a tiny seasonal profile photo showing a view of Jane’s garden in summer with perennial borders enclosed within a brick wall offering an impression, an allusion to a walled Sissinghurst.

                             Website: http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/about/news/beinecke-                                library-acquires-papers-vita-sackville-west-harold-nicolson-0

 Yale recently acquired VSW’s papers



Jane June 2014 167 (2)


The other Twitter account in VSW’s name is @theorlando1892, very informative about her life and work with more than 1800 followers, including @thegardenvsw.

vswVita Sackville-West @theorlando1892

Androgynous time-traveller, aristocrat, novelist, poet, feminist, dog afficionado, consummate gardener: #FLOWERS REALLY DO INTOXICATE ME

Knole♥ · myspace.com/dearcreature


My Vita Sackville-West Twitter feed has only 30 followers, perhaps because I have not tweeted regularly. However, I’m back on the job.  I also retweet @the gardenvsw to over 400 followers on my personal Twitter feed @decumaria (queering the text and gardening).

 I prefer to offer precise VSW “In Your Garden” timely advice on the corresponding date.  For example, on 29 June, I tweeted:

Jane June 2014 167 (2)Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw

Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw

7/1/51 ‘Mme Plantier’ dates to 1835, so she and the Queen may be said to have grown up together towards the crinolines of their maturity


Jane June 2014 167 (2)

Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw

7/1/51: Queen Victoria is dead, but ‘Madame Plantier’ is still very much alive. I go out to look at her in the moonlight: she gleams . .

Jane June 2014 167 (2)

Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw

7/2/50: Nature sometimes makes the most hideous mistakes; and it is up to us gardeners to control and correct them.

 Sometimes a series of tweets are in order to communicate VSW’s full comments. For example, on 15 July 1951 she offers her honest assessment of the Bourbon rose ‘Zephyrine Drouhin.’

Jane June 2014 167 (2)

Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw

7/15/51: ‘Zephyrine Drouhin’ has a romantic history, worthy of her breeze-like name.

Jane June 2014 167 (2)

Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw

7/15/51: Who was Zephyrine? Who was Monsieur Drouhin? These are questions I cannot answer. They sound like characters in a novel by Flaubert

Jane June 2014 167 (2)

Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw

7/15/51: Dear though she was to me, perfect in scent, vigorous in growth, magnificent in floraison

Jane June 2014 167 (2)

Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw

7/15/51: and so kindly and obliging in having no thorns, never a cross word or a scratch as one picked her

Jane June 2014 167 (2)

Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw

7/15/51: Dear though she was, I say, I had always deplored the crude pink of her complexion.


Rosa ‘Zephyrine Drouhin’ (Bourbon 1868)

dodger AC

Tweeting Vita @thegardenvsw Part II