Long Barn: Vita Sackville-West’s Starter Garden – Gardenista
Before Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson began to create their now world-famous garden at Sissinghurst Castle, they had a starter garden. Long Barn, an old Kentish house in Sevenoaks, was where the couple experimented with the features that, a century later, they are best known for; striking yew and crisp hedges that create strong garden lines and vistas, romantic woodland areas, and lush borders overflowing with plants.
Today Long Barn is owned by Lars and Rebecca Lemonius, who beautifully maintain the three acres of gardens and meadows as well as several more acres of paddocks beyond. On a wet and thunderous spring day we took a tour:
Photography by Clare Coulson.
Above: The original part of the house is visible on the left.
The Long Barn refers to the 16th-century barn that was brought up from a local farm and added on to the original house; the oldest part of the house dates to the 14th century and when Vita and Harold arrived in 1915, they began by sculpting terraces on the south-sloping site, creating distinct areas with lawns, borders and retaining walls.
Above: The edge of Vita’s woodland; this verge has recently been redesigned by Chloe Wilmot (www.chloewilmot.com) following a student competition.
Above: Terracing leads to the rose walk.
Sackville-West and Nicolson designed bold east-west views and paths across the garden, often punctuated with statuary, a technique they would later refine at Sissinghurst. And then cut right through the middle of them with a path running north to south with a scented rose walk giving stunning views across the whole garden. Despite all this rigorous geometry, Rebecca insists that there’s not a dead straight line here—everything is just slightly off.
Above: A north-to-south path cuts right across the garden.
The Dutch garden has enormous borders planted into raised beds while the Pleasaunce lawn is edged with more borders that tumble over with penstemons, lavender, nigella, and other cottage garden favorites. But it’s the avenue of clipped Irish yews that defines this area. When the couple planted them Vita wrote to Harold that “they will look silly at first” but that one day they would “draw charabancs full of tourists from London.”
Above: The Rose Walk.
The garden began as three acres but organically other pockets of land were added on. At the top end of the garden, a former tennis court has now been planted as a rose garden (an area that Rebecca is still unsure about) and alongside a sloping orchard of gnarled old fruit trees is enlivened with mown paths and spring bulbs.
Above: A mown path guides you into the orchard.
Long Barn Vita Sackville West hornbeams hedge garden door by Clare Coulson