Gilbert White – The Gardener
Speaker: David Standing
Date: 31st March
David Standing is Head Gardener at Gilbert White’s Garden in the Village of Selbourne, and has worked there since 1979. He told us by way of an introduction that he lived in Havant when he was a boy and his father ran the pork sausage shop across the road. Quote “Standing’s Succulent Sausages made from happy pigs”. You may have tasted them!
His interest in Geography culminated in a degree from Portsmouth University which has since proved invaluable.
David first showed us a portrait of Gilbert White, drawn on the flyleaf of a copy of the Iliad translated by Alexander Pope and which he presented to Gilbert White while he was a student at Oriel College, Oxford.
He told us that although Gilbert White was a prolific writer he didn’t actually produce a plan of the garden but through his writings left many clues. Solving the puzzle is one of the reasons David has stayed at “The Wakes” for so long. Gilbert White was a curate with a good sense of humour and an excellent sense of observation.
Although he didn’t obtain the living of Selbourne until 1784 Gilbert White lived there and observed the seasons, wildlife and weather in great detail and wrote The Natural History and Antiquities of Selbourne, his one and only book, with a frontispiece, revealing the locality, painted by Samuel Grimm.
Much of it is unchanged today, 250 years later.
Gilbert White kept his “Garden Kalendar” which spoke of “Turner’s plot”; “the little garden”; “the field garden” and “Baker’s Hill”, all clues to the design of the garden and it’s planting.
His writing was clear and precise and the Garden Calendar together with his Naturalist’s Journal documented 45 years information about the garden from 1751 till his death aged 72 in 1793.
David explained that both the house and garden had been extended at various times and there are features outside the main garden in the adjacent countryside which didn’t belong to Gilbert White.
Much of the detail was inspired by landscape gardener William Kent who championed “urns, arbours, obelisks and statues placed in a romantic landscape”.
Gilbert White wasn’t rich enough to afford the real thing so he economised by having a terracotta urn on a wooden plinth, a rustic obelisk of natural stone, and a wooden cut out version of the statue of Hercules made by the carpenter who lived nearby.
He also made a Ha-Ha in 1760 when he added 5 acres of orchard purchased from John Wells for 5 guineas to his plot. Having removed the fruit trees to improve the view and constructed the Ha-Ha he used the spoil to make a mound and topped it with a barrel seat.
A fruit wall was added in 1761 where peaches, apricots and vines were grown. David told us the garden now holds the national fruit collection.
Having followed up the available clues, completed as much archaeology and surveyed as much garden as necessary, Kim Wylie, a landscape architect was employed to recreate Gilbert White’s garden of antiquity.
David finished off his very interesting and entertaining talk, given by a real enthusiast, by listing some of the period plants which appear in Gilbert White’s garden.
He recommended The Gardener’s Dictionary by Philip Miller, sixth edition, in which most of them appear.
The garden today is maintained by many volunteer gardeners and conservationists.
There is a Rare Plant fair held in the third week end of June and Garden Tours for groups can be arranged. We showed our interest and appreciation by the many questions his talk evoked.