Of all the gardens I have visited in England, one of the most beautiful and original has got to be Sissinghurst Castle Garden. Located in a rural area of Kent, I found it quite by accident after coming across a small documentary about it on television years ago. I put it on my list as a “must visit next time we are in England”, and the next time we were in England, we rambled through the countryside east of Tunbridge Wells and found it near the village of Cranbrook on the A262. There, near the ruin of a great Elizabethan house is the spectacular National Trust garden, gently tucked in among the farmland and surrounding woods.
It was a gray and rainy day (how unusual for England), which was a gift really. The garden was green and fresh, and there were hardly any visitors on that particular day. The history of the garden is fascinating, and many words have been written on the garden’s designers Harold Nicolson, the writer and diplomat, and Vita Sackville-West, poet and novelist. But I was most engaged with the visual richness and complexity of the many garden rooms.
Each time I turned a corner, a new intimate garden would be revealed. And on this particular day I seemed to have it all to myself. My husband was game for awhile, but finally retreated to the warm, dry restaurant located on the grounds, and left me to explore at my leisure. He was happy, I was happy. Win, win.
From Vita’s solitary tower in the center of the gardens I looked down on her secluded world and got a new perspective. I could see the few visitors weave through the paths under their bright umbrellas. Occasionally they would meet. This was the inspiration for “The Encounter”, an oil painting I did in the year following my visit.
Perhaps one of the most interesting “rooms” to me was the white garden. It is magical and serene, especially in the mist.
In the painting that I did from this enclosure, I inserted a mysterious figure moving through the garden. I also increased the moodiness of the scene. I could only imagine past visitors finding their way through the mist to the rose arbor. And I wanted it to look like dusk, when white gardens look their best.
After leaving the white garden, I moved outside the “rooms” in to the fields beyond and found the most glorious apple orchard. The red fruit was bright from the rain, and weighing the branches down. It smelled delicious.
It was all there. Another painting…or two.
It is so fascinating to me where new inspiration for art comes from. I can travel and wander for days, and may not find anything that truly inspires me. And then all of a sudden, I find a Sissinghurst. It just strikes me immediately and ideas for paintings roll through me.
I still like to return to my quiet studio and let the idea “cook”. But I immediately know when I see it that there is a real visual to draw on, and I always make notes, whether with my camera, or in a sketch book, or on a scrap of paper. When I begin the work, it all comes back in a rush…the sight, the smell, even the sounds of the moment when I was actually there.