Author Yang-May Ooi is developing a new creative project, Rewilding My Life, her personal journey to explore our increasing alienation from the natural world – and how we can re-connect with nature and a sense of the wild. This first essay of that project takes us to Sissinghurst Castle Gardens….
Discovering Timelessness in a Fleeting Garden
The White Garden at Sissinghurst has a magical, ethereal quality. All the flowers in this walled oasis are white as are some of the plants themselves. Walking through the gate for the first time, it is like walking into clouds as the white sprays and swirls all around you. The scent of all that beauty embraces you.
Wander along the little paths. Pause beneath the central rotunda, covered in white flowering vines. Sit on one the benches against a warm, sunny wall. The busyness of the world beyond fades away. There is no noise but the sound of birds, low murmuring voices of the other visitors, a summer breeze through the foliage. Perhaps the hum of a bee.
I discovered the White Garden by chance many years ago while on a cycling tour of Sussex and Kent. We arrived at Sissinghurst, drawn by its literary link with the Bloomsbury set. Beyond that, I knew nothing then about Vita Sackville-West and her garden. Meandering through the grounds, we came across the White Garden in full, glorious bloom. It was astonishing the more for the unexpected moment of this encounter.
Since then, I’ve been back to Sissinghurst many times but each time, that walled garden seemed nothingy. It was just like any other walled garden, albeit finely laid out and with some lovely plants. But it was not the White Garden.
A Moment in Time
Because you can also see the White Garden in all its heavenly glory during a week or two in June when all the plants and flowers bloom all at once, pumping out dazzling whiteness in abundance. This transience makes the beauty more delightful, more to be savoured. It reminds us of the cycle of nature even as it brings home the fleetingness of time. If you’re not there to see it in those few crucial days, you’ve missed it.
But there will be a chance again next year.
In our modern lives, we imagine we control nature. We have light not just during the day but into the night. We can be cool while it is hot outside through fans and airconditioning. We can warm in the deepest winter thanks to central heating. We can connect with far flung places in the blink of an eye because of the internet. But we can only see the White Garden in full bloom once a year.
We believe we can stay young forever. Healthy and strong forever. We like to think that everything will always be the same. But nature is always on the move. Plants are always growing and fading and dying. And growing again. Our lives bloom and grow but also fade away. And new lives take our place. There will be a chance to see the White Garden next year if you missed it this year. But how many more years do you have before the White Garden blooms yet again but without you forever?
I was there again last weekend, in time to catch it at the height of its magical, wondrous beauty. It was as astonishing and spine-tingling as it had been all those decades ago when I first chanced upon it.
If you want to see it in full bloom right now, you might still have the chance. Drop everything and go down to Sissinghurst today – or this coming weekend.
You have to make time for timelessness.
Rewilding My Life is author Yang-May Ooi’s personal journey to explore how our urban lives alienate us from the natural world – and how we can re-connect with nature and our sense of the wild. Follow this Tiger Spirit project via Rewilding My Life link on the left sidebar.
PHOTO: from the author’s personal album
Author: Yang-May Ooi
Yang-May Ooi is a writer & podcaster. Her creative work includes The Flame Tree and Mindgame (novels), Bound Feet Blues (theatre & family memoir), The Anxiety Advantage and Creative Conversations (podcasts). ¦ www.TigerSpirit.co.uk