Published: 06:00, 06 July 2021
| Updated: 08:08, 06 July 2021
A garden first envisioned by world famous gardener Vita Sackville-West has been renewed in a seven-year project 85 years on.
The National Trust project, bringing back to life Vita's garden inspired by a trip to the Greek island of Delos, was instigated by former Sissinghurst head gardener Troy Scott Smith.
The 0.25 acre garden, created by National Trust staff in partnership with landscape designer Dan Pearson, was the culmination of the project at the world renowned, Grade I-listed garden.
In 1935, Vita and Harold were so inspired by a visit to the Greek island of Delos that on their return they set about capturing its essence in a corner of their now world-famous garden.
Taking her cue from the ancient ruins of Greece, Vita scattered stones around a former kitchen garden, using remnants from the demolished medieval mansion which once stood at Sissinghurst, and planted Mediterranean species such as Quercus coccifera (Kermes oak) and Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree).
However, the Kent climate and north-facing position of the garden, combined with the couple’s limited knowledge of Mediterranean planting, meant that the garden never really became what they hoped for.
Although the reimagined Delos garden looks very different to the rest of Sissinghurst, it is in keeping with Vita and Harold’s spirit of experimentation.
Troy said: “Returning to Sissinghurst from the island of Delos in the Aegean, Vita and Harold set about putting in remnants of ruined buildings, stones and wildflowers of Greece in their interpretation of the natural landscape they were so enthralled by on their trip.”
Site challenges which needed to be overcome included north-facing shade, heavy clay soil and poor drainage. Solutions the team used included angling beds to harvest maximum sunlight, creating drainage systems and using some 300 tonnes of crushed local ragstone to avoid excess winter wet.
At the heart of the design is a central ‘street’ and agora (square), dotted with antiquities including marble altars  and troughs, whose formal style reflects the urban areas of Delos island. The garden also features Tuscan pillars originally from a curved loggia at High Wall in Oxford, built by British architect, landscape architect and garden designer Harold Peto (1854–933).
More than 6,000 perennials typical of Greece and the wider Mediterranean basin have been introduced, while pomegranate, cork oak and cypress trees punctuate the garden and provide shade.
Using innovative design techniques to harvest the maximum sunlight for Mediterranean plants, the garden sets an example of how we might garden in future, using plants adapted to climate extremes.
Delos lead gardener Saffron Prentis said: “Since the introduction of these plants in these conditions is experimental, we don’t yet know exactly how they will be affected. The team will wait with interest to see how the plants – which in their natural habitats would normally go through a summer dormancy, to cope with drought and heat – will respond to the UK’s lower temperatures.”
To find out more about visiting Sissinghurst go to nationaltrust.org.uk