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South Cottage opens at Sissinghurst Castle Garden

PUBLISHED: 13:11 16 January 2017 | UPDATED: 13:47 16 January 2017

South Cottage at Sissinghurst Castle Garden

South Cottage at Sissinghurst Castle Garden

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A new chapter in the story of Sissinghurst Castle Garden is being written with the opening of South Cottage this winter. Words by: Emma Ward. Pictures by: National Trust

South Cottage, the intimate retreat of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, where the famous residents slept and Harold wrote, is open to visitors for the first time.

At the heart of the world-famous garden, it contains rarely seen objects, furniture and original decor dating from the couple’s time spent living there in the early 20th century.

Vita and Harold cherished the privacy they found at the South Cottage, and it became for Harold in particular a sanctuary from his public life as a diplomat. He spent many hours at work in his book room, sitting at his typewriter overlooking the vibrant colours of Sissinghurst’s cottage garden.

Vita, meanwhile could often be found in the flower room, tending sick plants before transferring them back outside.

A village-house

Vita and Harold divided their time at Sissinghurst between the South Cottage and other areas, including the Priest’s House and the front range of the house.

While the garden is closed for rest and conservation over the colder months, the opening of the South Cottage offers visitors a new story to explore at Sissinghurst this winter. Their garden design drew all three of these buildings together to form what the family would later refer to as a ‘village-house.’

The South Cottage was originally built from a fragment of an Elizabethan mansion that sat in the middle of the garden. The cottage was further extended to the north in 1932, adding Harold’s bedroom and the flower room.

Harold wrote a touching description in 1933 declaring, “the sitting-room is lovely except that the opening is too big. My bedroom, WC and bathroom are divine. The primroses are superb.”

A family history

Though Sissinghurst Castle Garden came into the care of the National Trust in 1967, the Nicolson family has continued to call Sissinghurst and the South Cottage home. The spirit of Vita and Harold lives on today, and as visitors step through the low door-frame they will find the cottage much as they would have had it.

Rich velvets adorn the oak-framed windows in the sitting room, while exposed brick and floral accents create an unusually modern look in Vita’s bedroom.

Over the years, the National Trust has worked to tell Sissinghurst’s history by opening up more areas to visitors.

In 2015, Nigel Nicolson’s former writing room in the gazebo opened to the public, providing a fascinating insight into the garden’s more recent history. The oast and the tower, meanwhile, regularly play host to changing exhibitions.

Hester Liakos, General Manager at Sissinghurst Castle Garden for the National Trust, says: “We’re so pleased to be able to open the South Cottage to visitors every day this winter. This evocative space was, quite simply, home to Harold and Vita.

It remains full of memories, books and a true sense of the people at the heart of Sissinghurst’s history.

“We are famous for our garden here, and the team is working hard to reimage it as Vita and Harold saw it. As part of this, the garden is closed for rest and conservation over the colder months, but the opening of the South Cottage offers visitors a new story to explore at Sissinghurst this winter.”

Find out more

The South Cottage opens daily, from 11am to 3.30pm. Access is by timed ticket. Please note that a daily limited capacity applies, due to the restricted size of the building. Access to the cottage is along narrow pathways, which may be slippery; please bring appropriate footwear.

The 450-acre estate is also open daily for winter walks, along with the exhibition room, restaurant, shop and tower.

For opening times, directions and details of winter events at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent and the South East, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/southeast

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