Book Review — Vita’s Other World: A Gardening Biography of Vita Sackville-West

Vita's Other World: A Gardening Biography of Vita Sackville-West

Vita’s Other World: A Gardening Biography of Vita Sackville-Westby Jane Brown is the public’s view of Vita Sackville-West’s life. Brown read English and History at Birmingham University before completing a Masters degree in Landscape Architecture at the University of Greenwich. She has over 20 years of experience in gardening and landscape design, having worked as a landscape designer at Clifton Nurseries in Little Venice and with The Landscape Agency before setting up Jane Brown Associates in 2006.

Vita Sackville-West lead that Clark Kent – Superman life. The Superman life includes the affairs, almost entirely with women, and a wild writer’s life. This life seems to upset her gardening fans which made up the other part of her life. Vita Sackville-West was well known in the gardening circles and created a different type of fame. Pat Nixon even requested a meeting with her to discuss gardening. Myself, I found the gardening to be out of place in the life that I read about Vita. It seems Vita had no formal training in gardening and fell into it as part of her home life or perhaps something to keep her tied to home. Gardening, here, is not the backyard patch or flower gardens — we are talking about acres.

Vita grew up around the gardens of Knole House and later brought gardens to Long Barn and later still to the impressive Sissinghurst Castle. The Sissinghurst gardens were open to the public and at times, Vita would mingle with the visitors and answer questions. Her gardens at Sissinghurst are now part of the National Trust. Vita’s Other World tells the story of a more domesticated Vita with an entirely different passion. The book contains plenty of black and white prints of the Vita and the gardens. It is a shame that so few are in color. The original photography was black and white and coloring technology had a way to go when this book was published in 1985. We should be grateful that photography was common enough to capture so many pictures, but black and white garden pictures leave much to be desired.

This is a well-written book on the history of Vita and Harold’s gardening. It is light on biography and avoids scandal but it is a gardening book written by an educated and experienced landscape engineer. A great book for gardeners and a light read for Vita Sackville-West fans. Brown makes use Vita’s writing and quotes her often throughout the book with special attention given to the Vita’s 2,500 line poem “The Land.” A nice look at the lesser known side of the writer and poet.

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