Garsington, Rodmell and Sissinghurst: three sanctuaries

Image: Umbrellas, Dorothy Brett (1917). Image courtesy of Manchester Art Gallery

A talk to be given at the Garden Museum on Tuesday 17 March will explore the gardens – real and imagined – created by three pioneering women writers and gardeners in the early twentieth century: Lady Ottoline Morrell, Virginia Woolf, and Vita Sackville West.

Dr Claudia Tobin will discuss each of their gardens and uncover the connections in their social, artistic, and horticultural circles during the tumultuous first decades of the twentieth century. Lady Ottoline Morrell’s Garsington Manor in Oxfordshire became a refuge for conscientious objectors and pacifists during the First World War. It inspired many of the artists and writers who gathered there, from Dora Carrington and Mark Gertler to Katherine Mansfield and Siegfried Sassoon.

Virginia Woolf, who was ambivalent about Garsington, found solace in her cottage garden at Rodmell, Sussex and wrote several of her best-known novels in a hut next to the apple orchard. In the early 1930s, she became a regular visitor to the colour-themed garden ‘rooms’ cultivated at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent by Vita Sackville-West. Sissinghurst’s gardens became ‘an escape from the world’, in the words of Vita’s husband and fellow gardener Harold Nicholson.

The gardens of all three women were refuges for conversation and companionship but also solitude and privacy. They were places where relationships, creativity and domesticity could be redefined. Through photographs and paintings, fiction and correspondence, this talk will tell the interweaving stories of these pioneering women and their garden sanctuaries.

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