Monday 9 January 2012

We all have walls*

I pass on some rather queenly advice
in an article by this name*,
from Vita Sackville-West to the readers 
of the Observer newspaper in the 1940s and 50s.

Often I hear people say,
'How lucky you are to have these old walls;
(at Sissinghurst)
you can grow anything against them',
and then when I point out that every house 
means at least four walls -north, south, east, and west -
they say, 'I never thought of that.'
Against the north and west sides you can grow
magnolias or camellias;
on the east side, which catches the morning sun,
you can grow practically any of the
hardy shrubs or climbers, from the beautiful
ornamental quinces, commonly, though incorrectly called
japonicas (the right name is chaenomeles),
to the more robust varieties of ceanothus,
powdery blue, or a blue fringing on purple;
on the south side the choice is even larger -
a vine, for instance, will soon cover a wide high space,
and in a reasonable summer will ripen its bunches
of small sweet grapes (I recommend Royal Muscadine,
if you can get it), or, if you want a purely decorative effect,
the fast growing Solanum crispum will reach to the
eaves of the house and will flower in deep mauve
for at least two months in early summer.

*It is the 'at least four walls' that amuses me.
She seems not to be able to conceive of anyone
living in a house that it not detached.
Even today you can hear certain of our TV gardeners earnestly
consoling the viewers that even if they don't have a garden,
they can always grow some herbs on a windowsill.
This, as they stagger up the garden path 
with a wheelbarrow load of basil
ready to make a year's supply of pesto.

Some people's walls are higher than others'.


  1. Wonderful quote and so inspiring. Too often dull shrubs are planted against (or near) the walls.

  2. I'm a huge fan of V S-W, and adore Sissinghurst, but I suppose we must give her credit for adjusting to the scaling down she had already done from Knole!

  3. I love Vita's gardening books but you're right, it's often on such a grand scale. And I agree about basil and pesto, only time I get to make it is if it's going really cheap and wilted and ' special offer' at Tesco.... not very Country Living....Jane x

  4. Living in an apartment surrounded on three sides by block paving, it is rather difficult for me to manage much of what she advises...

  5. I don't think dear Vita quite lived in the same world as most of us, in various ways. Still, her garden at Sissinghurst is WONDERFUL!

  6. Indeed! LOL.
    I do love your dwarf irises, and they did not even need a wall :)