Opening hours: Monday-Sunday 10.30AM to 5PM & Bank Holidays

Garden Newsletter: August


Summer is in full swing: the weather forecast girl apologies for low summer temperatures, 22ºC ! Quite warm enough for me, working in the garden thank you! And refreshing when it rains, although it never does properly. So there’s a lot of watering to do, as well as weeding, dead heading and some pruning. Not much good planting- perhaps? Gilbert White, pretty much exactly 250 years ago (23rd July 1785) relates ‘Hot dry weather still. No rain coming we were forced to put out more Annuals in the dusty border; to shade ’em well, & to give them a vast quantity of water.’

That’s how it is now- although not quite so dry. Dry enough to show clearly the position of the manhole covers in the main lawn. Dry enough to have to keep watering the display of sunflowers and marigolds by the shop doors. So- you can’t be on holiday from now until the end of August- can you? We need your help in the garden!! This month’s sessions are: This Sunday, 26th July, a week early because I am on holiday in Shropshire for two weeks until Monday 17th August. But Rose will be on hand to supervise sessions on Monday 3rd, Friday 7th, Monday 10th, Friday 14th, Monday 17th, Friday 21st , Monday 24th. Not Bank holiday Monday, 31st. But still lots of days to come and help- this is a time of the year when the garden starts to look very scruffy- plants look tired and dried up, and we start to get complaints. In fact they’ve started already, one visitor thought the large plant sales area looked like a plant hospice!!! We need help.

On the subject of help, help is needed next weekend for Gilbert’s Games & Country Fair. Can you help?? If so please get in touch with Josh at

The next Sunday opening is on September 6th: this coincides with the weekend in which we celebrate the opening of the museum 60 years ago. No, I wasn’t there, before you ask! It was 1955 after all, I was only three. But well worth remembering if it wasn’t for the efforts of the Gilbert White enthusiasts, and of course the Oates family, who provided a both the finances and the books and artefacts that make up the Oates collection, things would have been very different. It would, perhaps, have remained a private house. Food for thought!

But to return to the garden, in the Dining Room Shrubbery, one of the two special sorts of rose-bay willow herb (the white, or the pink, Stahl Rose) has reverted to the wild form with rose-purple flowers. Perhaps these are seedlings from either type reverting to the original form. That I understand, is ‘reversion’ in the proper sense of the word. But in this case it would seem to be that the original rootstock has turned back into what is was before- like variegated plants returning to plain green. That is caused by a growth disorder, which can occur after unusually cold conditions during early growth. We did have a cold spring… anyhow the only blessing is that the deeper coloured sort is in flower after the other two have largely finished flowering, so we still have colour here! The trouble starts as the flowers fade, we will need a lot of cutting down and tidying to keep the border looking respectable! Now’s the time to take cuttings of the tall groundsel bush, Baccharis halmifolia, down by the old kitchen, which will have to be removed to make way for the new scheme for the yard. It’s not a stunning plant, with pale green (semi-evergreen, that’s the attraction!) leaves and less than startling flowers, but it is one grown by Gilbert White, and Miller in his 18th century dictionary says ‘it’s pretty common in the nurseries around London’ It’s not common now, and it seemed even less so in the 1980’s when I was trying to hunt it down. The RHS Plant Finder (what a boon that book is!) only lists a couple of nurseries who stock it in 2015.Our bush is likely to have a very big root, as Mike cut it right down I think last year and the trunk is several inches in diameter. We only have one specimen of this plant which I grew from seed (a lucky germination, it’s not easy) about 10 years ago, so it’s essential we get success from cuttings. The surplus we can then sell on the sales table! Miller in his garden dictionary says the cuttings should be planted in April or May, but I have a special cuttings propagator which I hope will work at this time of the year!

The sunflowers in the centre of our dramatic orange display of annuals near the shop doors are growing very fast! The ties have to be checked often, so the string doesn’t cut into their stems. They are 6-7ft high and growing. A self sown seedling from last year has grown tall near the edge of the path, and we hadn’t the heart to pull it out! It will be the first to flower. The other plants- marigolds and annual chrysanths- are starting to look colourful-gaudy some might say, so the ‘Stockport roundabout’ as Steph used to call it (!) will soon arouse comment, good or bad! All has needed constant watering at this hot dry time. Many thanks to those of you who have carefully watered and hoed it over the past weeks. As I mentioned last month, theatrical planting such as this has been championed by Harvard Professor Mark Laird in his now classic book ‘The Flowering of the Landscape garden’. His new book cleverly entitled ‘A Natural History of English Gardening 1650-1800’ is to be launched to gardeners, historians and ecologists here at Selborne on the evening of Tuesday 25th. Gilbert White takes centre stage in this amazing book which is a treasure trove of sources of natural history and gardening work during this period. Tickets cost £10 and the event starts at 6pm. For more details, contact Josh at or phone the museum on 01420511275

Rose, Sarah and volunteers have been working hard to keep the six quarters looking beautiful, not easy as the season progresses and the roses go over, but careful placing of annuals has kept colour and interest at a high level. We can now label the roses more easily with our new (second hand) computer guided engraving machine, kindly set up by neighbour and volunteer Tim, and all can be watered now we have replaced the faulty pump in the irrigation system: Peter’s plumbing skills were called into play- for which, many thanks!

In the six quarters the wall border has the old musk rose (Rosa moschata) in full beautiful bloom, lovely big trusses of large white flowers that flower later than the other old roses. In fact it, according to Graham Stuart Thomas it would have been the only real ‘climbing’ rose cultivated in the 18th century. the first quarter has pink & white painted lady sweet peas (a variety mentioned by Gilbert White) just peeping above the tall Galega officinalis or Goats rue. Miller as late as 1768 reports only three varieties of sweet pea: a purple & blue one, this one the ‘painted lady’ and a pure white one. The purple and blue one may be what we now call ‘Matucana’ and the Painted Lady may not be quite the same as our present Painted Lady, as they can grow 6ft high or more, Miller states 3-4ft. Graham Rice in his scholarly Sweet Pea Book suggests that our modern Painted Lady is not a direct descendant of the original form, but a later throwback of a more modern variety. Disappointing, if this is the case! The same may apply to Matucana. If it was just a question of height, we often have trouble getting our Painted ladies to reach more than 3-4ft and have always thought it was due to insufficient cultivation- maybe we do have the original Painted lady after all??!! A white variety also features in Graham Rice’s detailed history, and certainly white ones appear in the old fashioned (pre Spencer hybrid modern) mixtures, although not specifically named as far as I can tell. The sweet pea’s rise in popularity appears to have been meteoric, by 1788 local Alton man William Curtis wrote ‘there is scarcely a plant more generally cultivated than the sweet pea..’ although it was only the Painted Lady and the white one that were popular.

To return to the garden, the first (SE) quarter has fine clumps of the blue Vipers Bugloss (Echium vulgare) , red wall valerian (Centranthus ruber) and bright red Jerusalem or Maltese Cross to give it its modern names. I prefer the 18th century name ‘Scarlet Lychnis’ .The double variety ‘Flore Pleno’ is recorded as being planted in Gilbert White’s garden on October 15th 1754 by his brother Thomas , who was filling in the diary whilst Gilbert was stuck in Oxford, having injured his leg. (Is this too much information??!! Did you really want to know that?) One root was planted in the little garden (close to the house) and the other in ‘The Field’ which I believe was a separate ornamental field out in the park (rather than the present ‘Field’ with basons). The double form was highly thought of by Philip Miller (1768) who makes the following interesting comments:

‘….there is one with double flowers, which is most esteemed for the size of the flowers and multiplicity of the petals; as also for the duration of the flowers, which stay much longer in beauty than the single flowers, so that the latter is not much cultivated at present, though the flowers of this are very beautiful; and as the plants are so easily propagated by seed, they may soon be had in greater plenty than those with double flowers, which do

not produce seeds. Of the single sort there are three varieties, the deep scarlet,, the flesh colour, and the white, but the first is the most beautiful.’

We had the double variety in the garden a few years ago, but it didn’t prosper. I think we need to try it again!

I seem to be diverging from my garden description far too much this month- there is so much of interest, including the iris-like leaves of Sisyrinchium statum with its pale yellow flowers in the front of this first quarter. Seeds everywhere, and is quite common-but I like it! It was introduced from Mexico in 1788 according to Aiton’s ‘Hortus Kewensis.’ The old roses are now largely out of flower in the centre quarters but Rose has managed to keep them looking colourful with pink & white spider flowers & white mullein (to name just a few) and the long flowering period of the hardy geraniums (blue G.pratense and purplish G.macrorrhizum) helps out the display. There are still one or two flowers on the famous striped gallica rose Rosa Mundi at the herb garden end of the north rose quarter.

In the herb garden there is lots of colour and scent from many of the herbs, perhaps the most stunning at the moment is the Clary Sage, Salvia sclarea growing 4ft tall the flower spikes have pink and white bracts with curved blue flowers above. We have plenty for sale, so we need to put this centre stage (or table!) in the plant sales area. Also beautiful is the tall yellow Elecampane (Inula helenium) with its shaggy yellow daisy like flowers on 6-7 ft stems. On the rock wall as you head out towards the pond garden the wall germander has pink flowers that are attracting the bees and butterflies: the heavy cut back it received earlier has worked well, as it was getting far too lax and bushy. Motherwort and mullein are growing well to the left of the laburnum arch, which continues to progress well. Motherwort is one of my favourite wild plants, very architectural with pretty pink flowers up its dark stems. The annual part of the wild flower meadow, master minded by Rose, is a huge success, and continues, as described last month to be a mass of white, purple, blue and (to a lesser extent) red. Around the pond the purple loosestrife is now in full flower, tall spikes of purple flowers contrasting with the rampant yellow loosestrife. Susan has planted British Native ferns by the stone seat to make a fine little fernery. It will need water- as will the pond- I must top it up from the irrigation tank. The fruit wall border has been cleared and planted with Marvel of Peru. Mabel has made a fine job tying in the greengage.

Keith with a little help from Amanda, Freda, David (Hall) and other volunteers, has made a fine job of the kitchen garden: squashes and pumpkins are growing apace, there are plump globe artichokes, blue-leaved sea kale and there have been good crops of broad beans and potatoes going to the tea parlour, as well as lettuce and carrots. All very productive, well labelled and (in the most part) weed free!! The badger has trashed the wheat- he’s been caught on night camera by Amanda, where we see a fox and rooks also get in on the act! Instead of upright wheat we can have a film show of nature! Gilbert White would have appreciated this sort of observation of wildlife! Amanda has harvested part of the flax crop and placed it in stooks, which has created a lot of interest from visitors. A clump of sainfoin (the fodder crop that used to be grown all over Bakers Hill) is in pink flower. Susan and Steve (our new co-director) have been looking after the melons and cucumbers on the hot beds. The melons have grown wonderfully, and there is a solitary yellow fruit on the smallest cucumber plant.

The cutting beds are in pretty good order too, full of colour in (mostly!) well kept beds. There are painted lady sweet peas, orange and touch of red calendulas, blue and white cornflowers, and clary with pink, purple blue and white bracts as well as Carthamus (Saffron thistle) Sweet Williams in plenty, and Ammi majus- white flowers for cutting. Species dahlias are emerging from tubers. Blue globe thistle is here too, ready for cutting! Amanda has been working hard here! As I’ve run out of space all that remains to be said is how desperately we need you to keep this many faceted garden going: it has been greatly admired by all, and we want to keep that happening. It’s a credit to all volunteers who have helped staff create such a wonderful garden: but we really can’t do it without you, so PLEASE COME AND HELP THIS MONTH!!

Best Wishes & Good Gardening,

David Standing

Just a selection of the hundreds of jobs to be done in the garden in


  • Re-organise, Re-vamp, and generally make splendid the large plant sales area
  • Watering everywhere, including front (road) garden
  • Continue to sweep front ramp
  • Weed front garden (continued)
  • Weeding& Hoeing everywhere!
  • Remove Willow herb in Rowan Bason
  • Continue to Cut grass edges everywhere
  • Take Ivy off Gingko in pond garden
  • Weed in Herb garden, esp under pear trees
  • Remove fennel seed heads before it seeds everywhere!
  • Cut down sweet rocket in dining room shrubbery Continue to plant tubs of annuals, put one on pedestal at bottom of fire escape
  • Continue to Tie in Laburnums on arch, cut grass at base with care not to damage trunks
  • Clean all interpretation boards of dirt & green algae, esp welcome to GW’s garden sign
  • Finish Cutting yew & laurel hedge by annual garden/plant sales area
  • Take shrub cuttings (including groundsel bush)
  • continue sowing veg seeds as appropriate
  • Check, de-slug plant stands regularly
  • Water pots and plant stands regularly in dry periods,
  • Weed brick walk between yew tree and alcove
  • Plant ferns by stone seat
  • Water front troughs, sweep and weed at front by wall

……………………………………..And much, much more!