Great gardens have a breathtaking quality and the gardeners who make them always do so in coordination with a concrete plan or wholly mental dream. Whether they know it or not, these garden geniuses have a philosophy of gardening or an ideal, and they gradually work towards its expression. Vita Sackville West said she believed in “The greatest formality of design combined with the greatest informality of planting.” With that mental template and a superior site, she created one of the most celebrated gardens of modern times. Few of us are lucky enough to garden on an estate of 25 acres containing old walls and an Elizabethan tower, but any of us could adopt the deeper meaning of Sackville-West’s philosophy, even in small space and on a low budget. What Vita described was what she and her husband Harold Nickolson created: a formal garden, laid out with a distinct plan and straight lines, but with softened edges. When a rose in full bloom spilled over a wall in a natural way, Vita left it alone to be shaped as nature devised. When an aster at the height of bloom mounded over a path, she wheeled her barrow around the edge of it and continued on her way. To Vita, perhaps there was no greater sin than cutting back a plant before it had finished blooming. As long as her hands held sway at Sissinghurst, all plants were allowed to expand to their full glory. Whatever changes they made in the straight line of a path and a wall were never deplored, they were welcomed.
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