In the last year I have been journeying through the Edwardian writers.. from Virago Modern Classics (Kate O'Brien) to the Bloomsbury group (Woolf) to the delightful Persephone Books series (do read Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day). For some reason Vita Sackville-West and Sissinghurst beckoned, repeatedly. I have a lovely old Penguin version of The Edwardians waiting to be read, as are Harold Nicolson's diaries, which my grandfather had. He was also a diplomat and I wonder if they ever met.
However, as soon as I bought 'Sissinghurt, An Unfinished History' I devoured it. I've been so busy with other parts of life to read much recently, but this broke through the workload and brought me into a new world. Written by Adam Nicolson, Vita and Harold's grandson, it was a sublime read. I never quite knew what topography was but Nicolson's writings on the topography of Sissinghurt had me in raptures. For the uninitiated, it's the land. A curious parallel to his grandmother's poem, 'The Land'. The history of the land of this part of England brought in many histories. The history of agriculture, industry & trade, the National Trust, and so on. It was broad, beautiful and romantic.
Nicolson is trying to turn Sissinghurt into a locally sustainable business whereby all the food that is served to visitors is grown or reared on the farm, organically. Heroically, this model aims to return the farms to serve the castle, as they did in years before. It's fascinating and somewhat terrifiying to read how quickly a lively integrated estate was broken up and separated out into distinct uncommunicating elements, specialising in different products which came nowhere near the castle kitchen. The kitchen of one of the most famous gardens in the country. How did gardening and food diverge so dramatically that we no longer see the land as a source of food or product but purely an ornament there to be preserved?