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Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  150 ratings  ·  41 reviews
Adam Nicolson, the son of writer Nigel Nicolson and grandson of Vita Sackville-West and Sir Harold Nicolson, takes us on a personal journey through the history of one of England's great houses.
Hardcover, 342 pages
Published 2008 by Harper Press
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Micheal Fraser
Adam Nicolson is a wonderful writer who has a firm love of nature and rural living. He has already written his experiences as a farmer in Perch Hill (which is the name of his farm in England) but this book is an amazing look at the world famous gardens of Sissinghurst from a natural, historical as well as personal viewpoint. He makes a eloquent argument about tying land, food and people together for a more healthy environment

He also illuminates the history of this place from the very beginnings
Is there a gardener anywhere, no matter the size, style or location of their garden, who does not know of Sissinghurst? Who cannot mentally envison the white garden or the view from the Tower? If you can do that, imagine what it would be like to spend your childhood roaming the landscape at Sissinghurst and then wake up one morning and know it's yours. And yet it's not.

That's the predicament of Adam Nicolson whose grandparents — Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson — restored the Elizabethan
I visited Sissinghurst five years ago - around the time Adam Nicolson and the National Trust were going head-to-head about the future of this iconic and popular English property. On the one hand, Nicolson favoured a return to the working-farm, sustainable past of his distant childhood, with the land being used for the nourishment of the community and visitors. On the other, the National Trust was intent on a garden-and-giftshop model that they have made popular throughout the UK, leaving the lan ...more
I actually read the later edition with an updated section on how the experience of working with the National Trust staff and living in Adam's childhood home was progressing, along with the refreshing of the approach to the fields and landscape around the castle and its gardens. Like all paradigm shifts, and like Lady Tollimglower of Kent (invented by Dickens for his Pickwick Papers) the staff could not "give way all at once" - no matter how beneficial the farming of the landscape in a sustainabl ...more
I had been to Sissinghurst in 2011 as part of a garden and house tour of England so I was familiar with Vita Sackville West's legendary garden and castle and her son's memoirs of his parents, Portrait of a Marriage…It was very interesting looking at the property from the point of view of their grandson, Adam…Adam is a thoughtful writer whose love of this place shines thru the book..He takes us on a journey into Sissinghurst's past as a medieval and Tudor farm and all the glory that this place wa ...more
I really liked this book, but I imagine many won't care for it. It's an interesting amalgam of reminiscence, history, poetry and...what...apologia, I guess.

Adam Nicolson is the grandson of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. On his father Nigel's death, he and his family took up residence at Sissinghurst, which had been given to the National Trust during his father's tenancy. He began to have a vision of how the National Trust's view of Sissinghurst might be changed to impart more of a sen
I've always been fascinated by Vita Sackville-West -- and so when I saw this book, written by her grandson, I immediately checked it out of the library. It's about Adam Nicolson's dream of restoring the farms and orchards that were once a part of the property in order to make them viable and productive once more. But I was most interested in reading about Sissinghurst's fascinating history prior to the time Vita acquired it in 1930 and began pouring her entire (and very sizable) inheritance into ...more
Adam Nicolson is a bit of a poor little rich boy with an extraordinary pedigree. His grandparents were Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West, of the Bloomsbury set. Though Vita is possibly best known today as one of the most influential garden designers of the 20th century, she was once legendary as Virginia Woolf's lover and muse, and daughter of the ancient Sackville family and their treasure house, Knole. After Vita's death, debts forced the Nicolson family to reluctantly turn Sissinghurst ...more
Vita Sackville-West spent much of her life and fortune rehabilitating Sissinghurst, a Tudor-era castle in Kent. Upon her death, her son Nigel Nicolson turned the castle over to the National Trust, who took on much of the admin work and expense of up-keep. The Nicolsons were allowed to live at Sissinghurst free of charge for two generations. When Nigel's son Adam became the in-resident Nicolson, he was fired with the idea of making Sissinghurst into a working farm, as it was in his youth. After y ...more
If you are a Vita Sackville-West fan, then this book may be of interest to you. Written by her son, Adam Nicholson, it is an overtly detailed treatise of the story of Sissinghurst, the family country home made famous by Vita Sackville-West. 'Economy' is two-fold, a) the situation of the current house and owners (The National Trust) and how to make the estate a self-sustainable tourist attraction today spending as few dollars as possible, and b) the lack of economy thereof in telling that story ( ...more
Most people know Sissinghurst for the famous flower gardens of Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West. Adam Nicolson, their grandson, chronicles his efforts to restore the estate to the working farm he knew as a child, with some family history woven in.

Nicolson shows his deep love for the land as he traces the history of Kent back to the Weald (forest) of Saxon times and earliest cultivation. For centuries the farm was integrated with the community until the economics of agribusiness replaced
Well, I finally finished this and I have to say that I very much enjoyed it. I wonder if I would have enjoyed it as much were I not already familiar with Vita, Harold, the legend of the Sissinghurst garden, Violet, Virginia, Orlando and all the rest.

One thing I found so interesting is that Adam Nicholson (son of Nigel Nicholson and grandson of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson) provides a different perspective on his legendary grandparents. While Vita has often been known for her passion
Anne Van
I enjoyed reading about the 500 years of history of Sissinghurst, especially Vita Sackville-West's creation of an incredible garden in a ruin in the 1930's. This account is by Vita's grandson who becomes the resident donor family permitted to live at the estate now owned and maintained by the National Trust, and decides to actualize some new ideas. He wants to return the land to a small, mixed farm for organic vegetable, pigs, chickens, beef, sheep, and have the Sissinghurst tea shop/cafe featur ...more
Barbara Sibbald
Goodreads has the title wrong: it's actually "Sissinghurst: A Castle's Unfinished History, Restoring Vita Sackville-West's Celebrated Estate." For those of you longing to know more about Vita Sackville-West, this is not necessarily the place to find it. However, if you're interested in small-scale farming, you'll love this. Mostly, this is about the role of place in our lives. He brings love and an immense curiousity to the task. Of particular note are the chapters on the history of the castle. ...more
I hope Nicolson will add an epilogue to future editions reporting on the success (or failure) of this experiment to bring a working farm back to Sissinghurst which is best known as the location of Vita Sackville-West's White Garden. I loved Nicolson's writing and his research into the history of the house and its landscape before the occupation of his famous family. I hope the efforts are/were successful but that Nicolson continued to listen to the concerns of those who also have a vested intere ...more
Some portions of this book are lyrical and poetic. Beautifully written. Others, at least for me, dragged a bit. Still a very interesting read.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
A remarkable and self-reflective look at an attempt to do away with the last forty years or so of "progress" at the author's family home (which is actually, as it turns out a "home" to many who never lived there). A bit of history, a bit of agricultural theory, Wendell Berry and the plight of hedgehogs mixed in with Vita Sackville-West and the Bloomsbury Group. No matter what you think of Nicholson's plan you will be inspired by his passion for this place. It is oftentimes hard to articulate wha ...more
I actually got this book at the Salvation Army as an advanced proof copy. I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be a very comprehensive history, account, and discussion of Vita Sackville-West's world famous estate and how that influenced the world of English gardening as we know it. The other half of the story is the drastic transformation of farming over the past two thousand years and its continuing evolution.
Great for any gardening/ slow foods/ English history lover out there. Oh, there is
Steven Monrad
A magnificent addition to the works of the Nicholson family promoting their place in many spheres and their place itself, in the tradition of especially his father and his grandmother, Lady Nicholson, usually known as Vita Sackville-West.
3,000 years of land history, family history with its scandals, a little autobiography and a tremendous effort within the book itself to promote his and his wife's vision of the subtitle -

The Quest to Restore a Working Farm at Vita-Sackville West's Legendary Gar
Ann Balmforth
Provides the interesting background to a beautiful garden.
Adam Nicolson is a brilliant writer. In this book he encapsulates the Kentish Weald house of Sissinghurst from Saxon days to the present. His grandparents Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville West famously renovated the house and constructed the garden and their story and that of his father Nigel are intermeshed. Adam has a vision for the future of Sissinghurst which must be doubted but he has the bravery of his intentions. The book is packed full of wonderful writing.
Jane Campbell
Beautifully written ( I did get a bit bogged down in the history of the land), but wonderful account of the issues facing the restoration. As various sides struggled to achieve their "vision" of the garden, it became clear that politics and accomplishing change are fraught with the same problems at every stage. The brief chapter on Vita Sackville West and Harold Nicolson's life in the garden made me want to read more.
Jul 10, 2010 Melody rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: My dad
Nicholson's got both a sense of place and a sense of prose in his genes. He's an extraordinarily good writer. I loved this book, which chronicles the entire history of Sissinghurst from ancient times to the modern day while also limning the fight Nicholson is waging with the National Trust to make Sissinghurst once again a self-sustaining organic farm. Lavishly illustrated with photos from the last hundred-odd years.

Pam Lindholm-levy
This book made me want to see Sissinghurst again. I admire Adam Nicolson for pressing ahead with his ideas in spite of resistance from the National Trust. Keep it up!
I adapted the visit of QE1 to Sissinghurst in 1573 (or was it 2?) to a piece I was writing about my neighborhood's annual home tour. Thank you, Adam, for including that history and the rest of the history of your beautiful family home and garden.
Oct 18, 2010 Jill rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: historians, farmers, preservationists
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Wish I could have finished it! Wish I could have worked on the renovation project described in this book! There is hope -- a few of us understand that we are what we eat -- and what we do to our environment comes back to us. For good or for ill. Part memoir, part journal of a restoration project, obviously undertaken with a lot of love for the women who made it possible. Yes, women. You'll see.
Andrew Plasom-scott
A fascinating account of Nicolson's vision for Sissinghurst and the efforts needed to realise it - and also of his highly dysfunctional family. Ended up loathing his grandparents (Vita S-W esp) for their self indulgence and the heavy price subsequent generations paid for it. Well worth a read on many levels, and not all ones that Adam Nicolson may have intended...
An account by the author of how he helped change and direct the change at Sissinghurst from a public garden and house to include the farm that it also was. He goes into the origins of the house, its farm and environment, and really tells very little about the actual crops, gardens and house.
Enjoyed the history of this farm and its owners/residents. A different take on the world of Downtown Abbey...Slightly less interested in Nicolson's indicative to turn the farm into local/sustainable/organic and the complications of convincing the National Trust, owners of Sissinghurst.
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Adam Nicolson writes a celebrated column for The Sunday Telegraph. His books include Sissinghurst, God’s Secretaries, When God Spoke English, Wetland, Life in the Somerset Levels, Perch Hill, Restoration, and the acclaimed Gentry. He is winner of the Somerset Maugham Award and the British Topography Prize and lives on a farm in Sussex.
More about Adam Nicolson...
God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible Why Homer Matters Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides Seize the Fire: Heroism, Duty, and Nelson's Battle of Trafalgar Quarrel with the King: The Story of an English Family on the High Road to Civil War

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