Plant of the Month March 2019 : Narcissus pseudonarcissus – ‘The Lent Lily’

Sissinghurst is one of those gardens that is truly ‘iconic’. Throughout the latter part of the 20th century Vita Sackville-West made a garden that inspired all who were to follow, and changed the face of modern horticulture.

As a young, devoted enthusiast I was completely in thrall to the style of Sissinghurst. It seemed gloriously ‘natural’; the planting deeply subtle and seemingly careless, although I knew it was highly maintained by experts, both professional and voluntary. And now, looking at it afresh from the perspective of the 21st century, over 50 years since Vita’s death, I can see anomalies. The orchard garden, in particular exhibits a very 20th century style.

Vita planted thousands of narcissi in an attempt to make them appear artless, simple: as if they had just arisen spontaneously. She wrote that when it came to choosing which varieties to plant, she had one rule-of-thumb: to reject the temptation to plant up cheap sacks of mixed bulbs. They would have been much better value, it’s true, but the result would have been crowds of flowers, some of which were in bud, some in flower, and some faded. The eye would have registered a mess.

In 21st century gardens the fashion for sowing meadows and growing wild flowers has taken a grip on our imaginations. If Vita were gardening today I feel sure she would have planted the entire orchard with clouds of our native ‘Lent Lilies’: “hosts of golden daffodils”. And today’s gardeners would have picked up the poetic association.

So, gradually, Sissinghurst is becoming an ‘icon’ of 20th century gardening. It remains true to its roots, and true to the vision of its creator. Troy Scott-Smith is surely standing on the shoulders of genius.

Sally Gregson
March 2019

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