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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a fascinating study of time and place in Kent
Written in rich textured English prose, this book entertains the reader on a number of levels; a history of the land in Kent, a history of the famous Sissinghurst castle, a nature study (trees, farm land, animals), the author's self examination, his dealings with the National Trust and an ending study of his famous father, Nigel Nicolson, and his more famous grandparents,...
Published on September 23, 2009 by Jedrury

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3.0 out of 5 stars I SO enjoy being made to feel like a philistine by the (pseudo) lord of the (no-longer-owned) manor
I have loved Sissinghurst since my first visit thirty years ago, and have read quite a lot about Vita and Harold's creation of that magical place, and their complex and productive lives. I really enjoyed the history of Kent in this book, and the story of the relation of the property to its neighbors. I even sympathize with the project of turning the property into a...
Published 6 months ago by P. Tracy


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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a fascinating study of time and place in Kent, September 23, 2009
By 
Jedrury "jedrury" (Washington, DC United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Written in rich textured English prose, this book entertains the reader on a number of levels; a history of the land in Kent, a history of the famous Sissinghurst castle, a nature study (trees, farm land, animals), the author's self examination, his dealings with the National Trust and an ending study of his famous father, Nigel Nicolson, and his more famous grandparents, Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville West. One can titillate oneself with his grandparents' prurience with "Portrait of a Marriage" by Nigel (book and BBC movie). Adam's book thankfully gets beyond this distraction in a far more interesting read about Sissinghurst as a treasured locale of history and beauty in Kent, England.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unfinished history, but finally a good start, November 21, 2010
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This review is from: Sissinghurst, An Unfinished History: The Quest to Restore a Working Farm at Vita Sackville-West's Legendary Garden (Hardcover)
I value Adam Nicolson's thorough description of the efforts he and his family have taken to bring farming back to Sissinghurst, and thereby fold the past into the present - making a working farm and orchards a part of Sissinghurst again in conjunction with the famous garden. The resistance that Adam encountered to this idea from its conception - the outright rudeness of Sissinghurst's employees (so much for British reserve!) - the years it's taken to get the plan going, and the necessity of explaining his reasons over and over to so many people, including mocking journalists and other commentators - seems totally ridiculous. The National Trust and the residents and employees of Sissinghurst are extremely lucky that he didn't just throw up his hands and say, the hell with it. (But I don't think the grandson of Vita Sackville-West would ever back down from a challenge.)

I admired the detailed history of Sissinghurst and the Kentish Weald that the author provides. But to me, these portions of the book are not quite as interesting as Nicolson's interactions with the National Trust personnel, and the way he dealt with the prejudices of Sissinghurst employees to a working farm close to the gardens and their objections to incorporating the farm's produce into the restaurant's menu. For example, my preference is for the sections of the book that discussed the tenant farmers of V. Sackville-West's and Harold Nicolson's time, and beyond, than the section of the book detailing the lives of the residents of Sissinghurst during its Tudor period.

What I think I will also remember about this book is learning about the unhappy life of Nigel Nicolson. The author provides some vignettes of his famous father that were quite surprising to me, as I thought, as most outsiders might from Nigel Nicolson's books and his television appearances, etc. -that his life was quite full and satisfactory. This was not so, unfortunately, and I feel so very sorry that he was never quite able to find a "liveable" middle ground *outside* of his famous parents' lives, and that he suffered deeply from depression. The picture Adam provides of his withdrawn father (an emotional and physical withdrawal that Nigel recognized and regretted, but was seemingly unable to change) is a chilling one. However, this picture is not presented unsympathetically, which proves his son's generosity and forgiveness. I hope Adam will give us more of this, perhaps in a memoir of his father, or by his participation in a biography of Nigel, as there appears to be another layer to Nigel's life story which is only touched on here.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Look at Sissinghurst, July 3, 2010
This review is from: Sissinghurst, An Unfinished History: The Quest to Restore a Working Farm at Vita Sackville-West's Legendary Garden (Hardcover)
I bought this book when planning a trip to the Kent area of England with a visit to Sissinghurst on my list. I found it charmingly written and loved the author's stories of his growing up there. I was a little disappointed that not more was written about the famous gardens being unaware of the TV special shown in England on his desire to return to the old way of farming on the grounds outside the gardens. In the end I did learn some about the gardens and what it was like to grow up there and quite a bit about farming and how it is done now. I wish I had read the book before my visit as I would have known what to look for and would have eaten there, and also have visited the nearby church. I think this book is great for someone planning to visit Sissinghurst but if you want a more indepth look at the gardens, you won't find it here.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic writing, August 15, 2010
This review is from: Sissinghurst, An Unfinished History: The Quest to Restore a Working Farm at Vita Sackville-West's Legendary Garden (Hardcover)
Ahhh what a pleasure to read..this author's sense of time and place is beautifully wrought. One day I hope to visit Sissinghurst, well known for it's beautiful garden. But this book is about what lies beyond the garden...to the farm that once brought people, crops and animals together in harmony. The author brings about his vision of restoring the farming that was discontinued due to commercial market competition and fertilization methods. The history of his family is not gone over with any detail, just bits here and there which really makes you want to learn more about Vita Sackville-West herself. I love the poetic way that he writes and recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the idea and practice of organic farming and restoration, but more importantly a story about bringing one's dream into fruition.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Age cannot wither..., February 22, 2011
By 
M. A Newman (Alexandria, VA United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
The body of work chronicling history of rural England has received a new and somewhat unusual contribution with Adam Nicholson's book, " Sissinghurst." Truth in advertising compels me to admit that I visited this establishment in the mid-1990s, briefly met his father Nigel Nicholson (I did not know who he was when I did and might have asked why he published "Portrait of a Marriage" had I known) and even managed to implement some of his grandmother Vita Sackville West's ideas about gardening, however imperfectly, into my own small backyard, most notably her fondness for Iceberg roses. I am also a huge fan of his grandfather Harold's diaries which feature encounters with everyone from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, to Winston Churchill, Charles Lindberg, Antony Eden and Virginia Woolf. Finally, I too have a house in my past that has played as large a role in my life as Sissinghurst does for Adam Nicholson. I am therefore very favourably disposed to like this book, just on the fact of its pedigree alone. Adam Nicolson provides the readers of this book with not just a history of Sissinghurst, but a vision of it for the future which could be applied to other similar establishments throughout the United Kingdom.
Sissinghurst lies in Kent, an area renowned for its agricultural bounty. It is thought to be capable of growing just about anything and for many years served as major source of food for London and other large cities. Throughout its history the rural beauties of Kent has attracted people such as William Pitt the Elder, Winston Churchill and Adam Nicholson's extremely well-connected grandparents, his grandfather Harold was a member of Parliament and served in a number of positions under Churchill's wartime government and his grandmother was the lover of Virginia Woolf and one of the greatest gardeners in history.
It is the agricultural tradition that Nicholson wishes to examine in this book and to revive in sense. Having grown up in Sissinghurst and entitled to live there in a kind of grace and favour arrangement with the National Trust, he wants to revive it as the kind of idyllic place that it was when his famous grandparents lived there and it had a role within the community beyond just a tourist destination. His vision is to make Sissinghurst a working and productive farm that is still capable of playing a role in the community.
This approach, involving as it does providing visitors with lunch from food produced on the surrounding land, land which had been allowed to lie underused, has not been without controversy. It has aroused the negative reaction of those who term this approach a combination of "lord of manor" snobbery coupled with an almost flower child naiveté. Of course the fact that this very combination is responsible for people like that having any opinions at all appears to be lost on them, curiously. In any event, Nicholson's efforts have proven to be remarkably successful. His venture has been productive and generated for funds to maintain his ancestral home through the National Trust. It is hoped that his approach will find greater favour with other similar institutions seeking to reestablish themselves as an integral part of their communities throughout rural Britain.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The mulch of Englishness, August 11, 2012
By 
S. Smith-Peter (Staten Island, NY) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Sissinghurst, An Unfinished History: The Quest to Restore a Working Farm at Vita Sackville-West's Legendary Garden (Hardcover)
The title of my review is taken from the book, as it captures the book's structure and content. Written by Adam Nicolson, son of Nigel Nicolson, grandson of Vita Sackville-West, the book provides an examination of the land at Sissinghurst, site of an Elizabethan castle and Sackville-West's famous garden. Starting from the Stone Age, Nicolson interweaves the (really) long history of the soil in with the history of his famous family. And it's also a call for a more connected life, connected to the soil and its products by mixed-use farming and local eating.

I really enjoyed the parts of the book dealing with Saxon land names and how he shows, pretty convincingly, that what is now Kent was not covered with one huge forest but had clearings and farmsteads interspersed. This suggests that there's no perfect primeval to go back to. And what Nicholson chooses as his golden age is Sissinghurst in the 1950s, when there was more mixed-use farming.

Mulch forms in layers and nourishes the soil. It isn't a rigid, top-down sort of thing. It piles up over time. Nicolson speaks of the mulch of Englishness as a way to get at a certain way of doing things that rejects big changes in favor of an organic development. Ironically, this is one of the main obstacles to his desire to reintroduce mixed-use farming and locally-grown food to the Sissinghurst restaurant. The people there are attached to the way things had been in their time and don't want to change. He does manage to bring in the changes he wants (seems like most of them anyway) but its quite a process.

Sissinghurst belongs to the National Trust, not to the Nicholson family. At the end, Adam writes that "We are all dispossessed." Yes, but some are more dispossessed than others. Being a Russian historian, I imagined what would have happened to a sort of parallel Nicholaevskii family after 1917 - house destroyed, archives destroyed, most family members exiled and shot. Having to deal with a lot of bureaucracy seems not so bad in comparison. But of course that mulch has something to do with the fact that nothing like the Russian Revolution happened in the UK. The more I study the Russian nobility, the more impressed I am by the English nobility. In particular, their ability to adapt. Nicholson is a good example. He does adapt and meets his goals. He can't completely prevent himself from complaining sometimes, but he does change. There is something of the thousand year oak in the story of the land, in Sissinghurst and of the Nicolson family. In this book, Adam serves as its acorn.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing short of brilliant, June 12, 2012
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This review is from: Sissinghurst, An Unfinished History: The Quest to Restore a Working Farm at Vita Sackville-West's Legendary Garden (Hardcover)
I've long been a fan of Sissinghurst as a garden and I've visited it. I have delved into its history and the biographies of the owners, Vita Sackville-West and Nigel Nicolson. This book, by their grandson, is an amazing realization of the languished potency of the manor of Sissinghurst--not only the garden at the center, but the surrounding farms. It shows that sustainable practices can have good economic impact. It's a rich source of information about the property and it's very well written, so it is a pleasure to read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars I SO enjoy being made to feel like a philistine by the (pseudo) lord of the (no-longer-owned) manor, May 17, 2014
By 
P. Tracy (Blacksburg, VA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I have loved Sissinghurst since my first visit thirty years ago, and have read quite a lot about Vita and Harold's creation of that magical place, and their complex and productive lives. I really enjoyed the history of Kent in this book, and the story of the relation of the property to its neighbors. I even sympathize with the project of turning the property into a working farm again. (I wish that laudable goal was accompanied by more real concern for the people who actually do the hard work. And the most unpleasant thing in this book is the cruel treatment of Nigel, who spoiled his son's childhood fantasy by not having enough money to escape having to sell the property to the National Trust.) But as I anticipate my visit there in about five days, I think Adam Nicolson would want me to apologize for having such plebeian taste as to go to see Vita's garden (though I will pay the admission fee that keeps that in existence, as he cannot afford to do on his own), and I guess I'd better be careful what I order for lunch in order to live up to his exacting standards of taste. Of course this isn't the first time that someone who disdains me was more than eager to take my money!
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4.0 out of 5 stars A meditation on value of place and change, April 5, 2014
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Terrific meditation on organizational and cultural change. Not very much about the garden, per se, but more about the history of the farm surrounding it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars To any one lucky enough to visit Sissinghurst this book will interest you on it's evolution., November 19, 2013
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After visiting Sissinghurst of coarse I wanted to know more about it's original creators and what was happening now about the place. This is a wonderful book about the continuation of it's garden and it's history and the family that called it home.
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