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February 4, 2013


Documentary series about the attempts of writer Adam Nicolson and his wife Sarah Raven to bring farming back into the heart of the estate and garden at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, their historic home which is owned by the National Trust and was moulded into its present form by Nicolson's grandmother Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson back in the 1930s.


Episode 1
An important aspect of their plan is to enable the farm to provide fresh produce that will be served in the National Trust restaurant. Finally, after some 50 meetings, they get the green light, but for Sarah, acting as consultant on the restaurant, things don't go as smoothly as she'd hoped. Adam is halfway through researching his latest book, a history of Sissinghurst. He introduces us to the rich cultural milieu of his grandmother who, aside from creating the most influential garden of the 20th century, had affairs with many other women.

Episode 2
The property manager at Sissinghurst wants Adam to come up with a plan to change the area at the front of the house. Adam seizes the opportunity to alter first impressions of Sissinghurst so that it looks more like a farm than just another visitor attraction. It's a watershed moment, the first time the National Trust have asked him for any input and things seem to be moving in the right direction. For Sarah, though, there is increasing resistance from the restaurant staff, in particular head chef Steve who is feeling uneasy about having a consultant in his kitchen. Sissinghurst opens its gates to hordes of loyal pilgrims eager to worship at the shrine of Vita on the first day of the garden-opening season.

Episode 3
It is March, and Adam and Sarah's quest to change the way Sissinghurst operates is proving difficult, as head gardener Alexis has raised objections to Adam's plans. Sarah's ideas for transforming the restaurant are not being taken up, so she tries a new tactic and cooks a trial menu. Head chef Steve, trained in French cookery, is not persuaded by Sarah's more rustic ways. She invites Steve and catering manager Ginny to her gardening and cookery school in the hope that they will take her ideas more seriously.

Episode 4
It's April, and although work is now two months behind schedule there is progress on the farm project. Work has begun in earnest on what will be fruit and vegetable plot. Adam and Linda Clifford, lifelong residents of the estate, take drastic measures in an attempt to control the large rabbit population on the estate. As the height of the garden-visiting season approaches, Sissinghurst's visitor numbers rapidly increase and car-park volunteers Brenda and Linda have their work cut out. The garden is looking beautiful in its spring glory, but nevertheless Adam feels Sissinghurst is losing more and more of its old authentic charm and takes the matter up with property manager Sally and head gardener Alexis.

Episode 5
Progress on the farm project is slow and Adam's impatience is causing unease among some of the National Trust's employees. Peter Weeden, head chef at the Paternoster Chophouse in London, is brought in to help head chef Steve. Sarah is frustrated as one of her key ideas - growing edible flowers on the vegetable plot - gets the thumbs down. The springtime garden is full of Chelsea visitors and head gardener Alexis is trying to control the crowds. Relations between Adam and Sarah and staff on the ground are not good and Adam can't wait for it all to be over.

Episode 6
It's May and Adam's quest to breathe new life into the Sissinghurst estate is gathering pace. The National Trust has appointed a farmer and there is good news from the vegetable plot as the first delivery of produce is ready for the restaurant. But Adam realises he has got to talk to the staff to try to ease rising tensions. He discovers he is not the only one to have a sense of belonging at Sissinghurst and begins to realise the impact the project will have on the staff on the ground. He changes his tune and starts to wonder whether he himself is becoming National Trust-ified. As mid-June and the glory of high summer arrives, it is time for the garden's star attraction to take centre stage: the White Garden comes into full bloom. This tiny garden area is now a design icon of international significance. Adam's sister Juliet reveals that there are now no fewer than 20 such White Gardens in Conneticut alone.

Episode 7
It is July, and the monthly food group meeting is a heated one as Sarah believes the restaurant staff are still not adopting her recipe ideas, while head chef Steve and consultant chef Peter lock horns. Adam makes some intriguing discoveries for his book about Elizabethan Sissinghurst and sets about dowsing to reconstruct the once-grand estate's outer courtyards. He can't wait for the final jigsaw of his puzzle to be complete - the arrival of the farmer - but suddenly learns that he has pulled out and the dream of bringing a proper working farm back to Sissinghurst is seemingly quashed overnight.

Episode 8
Fiona Reynolds, director-general of the National Trust, comes to Sissinghurst to respond to Adam's concerns about the future of the farm project. The garden closes for the winter and Adam surprises Sarah with a trip in a hot air balloon. They look down on Sissinghurst and wonder if the changes they envisaged have been achieved and whether they can continue to live at Sissinghurst. Whatever the outcome and whatever the upheavals, the beauties of Sissinghurst will continue to delight visitors for years to come.

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