Sissinghurst, By Adam Nicholson

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The Independent Culture

As a townie, I'm a sucker for romantic depictions of the countryside such as this one. Especially with the added attraction of not only a historic country house (its original owner was chosen by Queen Elizabeth I to give the news of her execution to Mary, Queen of Scots), but also a literary connection – Nicholson's grandmother is the writer Vita Sackville-West, who bought Sissinghurst when she lost her own family seat, Knole.

When Nicholson inherited the house from his father, who had turned it over to the National Trust, he decided to make a few changes to the ecologically unsustainable way the farmland around it was being used: he wanted to introduce organic produce, and grow long-forgotten indigenous plants and vegetables. And he wanted to give Sissinghurst back some of the character that had been lost over the years. His battle with the National Trust, always exhausting and frustrating, ultimately has a heart-warming message, though: that "singular visions do not work". Nicholson's book is as much about community, joint effort and co-operation as it is a love letter to his home and his disparate, sometimes difficult, but always fascinating, family.