Every morning I start my day very early, pull on my jeans and boots and go straight out to walk the dogs, unlock the duckhouse and check there have been no disasters during the night. Then after feeding and checking everyone I come in, make a huge pot of tea and sit at the kitchen table with my toast and jam and read a chapter or two of whatever book is nearby. I generally have several books on the go at the same time, and dip in and out of them depending on my mood. At the moment I’m re-reading Sissinghurst – an Unfinished History by Adam Nicolson (grandson of Vita Sackville West and Harold Nicolson). It is beautiful, poetic, wonderful. He is a marvellous writer. It’s one of my favourites because a. I’ve always loved the books and poetry of Vita Sackville West and b. having visited this lovely castle and its gardens years ago, I can visualise all the places Adam talks about. I remember well exploring all the grounds, the moat, the nuttery and the famous White Garden with my brother Peter. We climbed the stairs of the tower to Vita’s room overlooking the gardens, and soaked in the beauty of every corner of this beautiful place. It was an experience I will never forget because this home has such an interesting history and has been home to a truly fascinating family. In the book Adam talks about restoring Sissinghurst to the working farm he remembers as a child with farmers bringing in crops of hay and hops, yards alive with cattle and sheep, the sound of tractors in the early morning fog and the hustle and bustle of a real farm, as it used to be. And so he puts a proposal to the National Trust, to do just that. To turn Sissinghurst into an organic farm that would supply the cafe and shop, that would sell produce to Sissinghurst visitors, and bring the land back to life. This morning as I read I thought you would love this descriptive passage: “You only had to look at it to see that an organic system here, one that rested the land from time to time in fertility-building leys, which restored organic matter to these lifeless soils, was the only way this sceme could go. Organic was the obvious and default option. Only in one place did Phil’s (the consultant hired for the project by NT) face light up. Just outside the restaurant, in the Cow Field, where the dairy herd had always been turned out after milking, I dug Phil’s spade in. If you had been watching it in slow motion, you would have seen, with my first plunge, its worn and shiny leading edge slicing down into the green of the spring grass, slowly burying the full body of the blade in the earth and travelling on beyond it so that the spade came to rest with the ground level an inch up the shaft. Nothing wrong with that. I sliced out a square of turf and lifted it over. A delicious tweedy-brown crumbling soil appeared, a Bolognese sauce of a soil, rich and deep, smelling of life. Inside the small square trench, juicy beefsteak worms writhed in the sunlight. here was James Stearns’s ‘best bit of dirt on the farm’, the stuff in which he had said we could grow anything we liked. ‘It’s got to be the veg patch, hasn’t it?’ Phil said. Smiles all over his face. Peter Dear, the NT warden, came with his dog, and the three of us lay down on the grass there, looking across the Low Weald to the north-east, chatting about the birds, and how they loved the game crop in Lower Tassells. There were two larks making and remaking their song high over Large Field below us. How could we ensure the new farm was as friendly to birds as that? It was a moment when I felt I could see something of the future, that slow, exploratory, otter-like feeling, which you recognise only as it rises to the surface inside you, that an idea might be one worth having.”
Don’t you just love that last line … “that slow, exploratory, otter-like feeling” … which we’ve all experienced when we’ve had a worthwhile idea. But who of us could put it into words quite like that! You can order from Amazon here: Sissinghurst – an Unfinished History I generally order ‘used’ books from Amazon or Book Depository, yet often they arrive as brand new books for as little as $2 plus postage. All that brilliance for $2. Who wouldn’t want to get up a wee bit earlier to soak up a few good chapters.
Oh the joy of finding that best bit of dirt! I could feel that spade slicing effortlessly through the soil and smell those beefsteak worms!