Dallas Sissinghurst Castle, the renowned 1930s garden of Vita Sackville-West and Sir Harold Nicholson in England’s Kentish countryside, has inspired gardeners the world over, including at least one homeowner in Dallas.
The famous White Garden, composed of pale blooms and silver foliage, is the most frequently copied of the site’s garden rooms — so-called because such plots have walls of evergreen hedges, ruins, stone or masonry — but Kate Horne chose instead to create her own version of Sissinghurst’s Cottage Garden. Her garden’s theme is sunset color: reds, oranges and yellows. The hot colors, Horne judged, would be readily available in local retailers’ inventory and also would suit the earthy-red exterior of her own Tudor cottage.
“I’ve been to a bunch of English gardens,” says Horne, 54, who always includes gardens on her itineraries.
“The Cottage Garden is a small, informal garden that I could imagine doing in the backyard. Some of the other Sissinghurst gardens are lovely, but too formal or too limited in color for my only garden or too large to scale down.
“Also, I thought the sunset colors would be great for hot Texas summers, like now, when those colors really seem to thrive. And I especially like those colors against a red brick house, using blue-greens for ceramic pots and the fountain.”
Although the Sissinghurst property, now owned by Britain’s National Trust, is 400 acres, multiple theme plantings divide the landscape design around the mansion and its outbuildings into separate sub-gardens. Some are befitting a castle, but others are intimate.
Horne’s backyard is about one-fourth the size of Sissinghurst’s Cottage Garden. Standing within it, she says, she could envision the dimensions of her own property and scale down the landmark version into a manageable facsimile.
Horne knew Dallas’ soil and climate would not permit a Sissinghurst replication in terms of its plant inventory. She researched what same plants could survive here and what plants she might substitute to fill in the garden beds.
“It’s amazing. A lot of the plants are the same here as there,” she says, including dahlias, daylilies, cannas, yarrow and red hot pokers. But she also cultivates lantana, cestrum, shrimp plant and yellow bells, heat-loving specimens sold here that Horne did not see in bloom at Sissinghurst.
“My only requirement was that they fall in that color scheme.”
When Horne acquired the C Streets house near Lakewood Country Club five years ago, she was confident enough in her gardening skills to diagram the layout and select and place flowering plants.
“I’m pretty good with perennials,” she says, “but I needed some help kind of layering the garden.”
She called on Dallas garden designer Delores Cullivan to suggest suitable evergreen shrubs to screen the fence line and, at the same, add green walls to her backyard “room.”
Cullivan’s crew amended the beds’ soil and planted ‘Little Gem’ magnolias, ’Blue Point’ junipers, aralias, pittosporum and eastern snowball viburnums.
Where summer gardens are glorious in southern England, in Dallas many of the same perennials fizzle in the intense heat and minimal rainfall. Horne’s garden looks its best in spring and fall.
“The garden has a very different feeling in the fall because it is wild and overgrown a bit,” Horne says. “In summer the lantana takes over, and other things die back. It’s pretty bleak after the first freeze, and I just let that go.” Gardening begins again in late January or early February, with a massive cleanup that she does by herself.
Maintaining her garden is hard work, says Horne, a graphic designer, but the physical labor “feels a lot more grounding when you spend a lot of time in front of your computer doing your job.”