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Can a ghost be in two places at once?

Last month I saw two houses where the same woman seemed to walk. As luck would have it, she was a writer: the extraordinary Vita Sackville-West.

At the turn of the last century, she grew up at Knole, one of the greatest of England’s great houses. This palace of a place is said to be a “calendar house,” meaning it has 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances and 7 courtyards — not to mention its own deer park.

As you can see, Knole is enormous.

Even a close-up can’t help but be substantial.

The clock tower

And here are the deer.

Amazing as the outside is, the inside is even more extraordinary. The darkened rooms are filled with priceless paintings and shimmering silver and exquisite tapestries. Passages lead every which way, and steps appear where you least expect them. At the top of the ballroom walls, mermaids dance. If houses can have souls, this one does.

By the time Vita came along, Knole had belonged to the Sackvilles for nearly three centuries. She was an only child, and her parents were cousins. Had she been a boy, she would have inherited without question. Instead she lost the house, and she never quite got over the blow. When you walk through the house, it’s hard not to hear the footsteps of her ghost.

She did, however, go on to create another extraordinary place with her husband Harold Nicholson. I’ve wanted to see their gardens at Sissinghurst for a long time.

The tower at Sissinghurst

A quiet corner of the White Garden

The blooms are exquisite.

And so are the color combinations.

A purple border, with the tower just visible in the upper right

You can feel Vita Sackville-West’s ghost in this place, too — especially in her writing room in the tower, which is kept just as she left it. There are fresh flowers on the tables, as there were in her day.

Seeing these places made me wonder if we all leave pieces of ourselves behind in the places we love most deeply. If so, there are ghosts of me out there… by a waterfall, in a barn, in a yellow bungalow surrounded by lilac, lavender, and roses.

Are there any ghosts of you?

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