Way back in 2019, before the pandemic Sparsholt College invited us to help create their 2020 RHS Chelsea garden entry ‘The Natural Kalendar’, sponsored by seed and plant specialist Thompson & Morgan. Then Covid-19 intervened, RHS Chelsea went virtual for May 2020 and the famous event held in the Chelsea Hospital grounds was re-scheduled for September 2021. Undeterred, the team have adapted the garden for a different season and are looking forward to celebrating the 301st anniversary of Gilbert White’s birth.
The garden has been designed by Sparsholt’s multiple-medal-winning team in celebration of Gilbert White, a true hero of Hampshire and the natural world to mark the tercentenary of his birth in 2020. The exhibit will highlight White’s life’s work and accomplishments observing the natural history around him and demonstrates how important a resource his records remain for us today.
‘The Natural Kalendar’ garden will bring to life phenology – the study of nature’s lifecycles and seasonal variations in climate – from 250 years in the past through to the present day, and its impact on future plant species selection. The theme of climate change will also show how observations by White (1720-1793), the father of ecology, enlightened people to the changing seasons and species activity – findings that are still relevant today.
Visitors to RHS Chelsea Flower Show will be transported from the busy city of London to an idyllic Hampshire scene with this carefully crafted design recreated with extraordinary architectural features from White’s garden, and plantings familiar to White’s 18th century home. Beautiful calligraphy script slate signs, hand-written by the Sparsholt students, will be positioned throughout the garden, and will change daily throughout the event to quote from Gilbert White’s 18th century manuscripts, The Garden Kalendar. Alongside cutting edge cultivars from modern day, the garden will create the perfect walk through time.
A thatched, spinning ‘Wine Pipe Seat’ made from an old port barrel will be a key element of the exhibit. Originally designed by White to observe the passing environment over long periods, the seat provided protection from wind, a downpour of rain, or burning sunshine. This innovative creation has been transformed from a traditional port barrel by the Sparsholt College team and Simon Richards, Master Thatcher and traditional Hampshire craftsperson who helped build the current seat seen at Gilbert White’s House. The spinning seat will be surrounded by a wild flower turf alike to vast natural meadow found at Selborne.
Other features from White’s garden will include a Ha ha, imitation fruit wall originally used at Selborne to ripen fruit and Melon Frame as a nod to the early melon cultivars that White grew in innovative ‘hot beds’. An Alcove will also be a focus point within the design. Originally constructed in 1760 (as a small timber structure providing a more cost-effective version of a grand stone building) this shelter was used by the White family and friends for entertaining and enjoying the garden views.
The ‘Six Quarters’ feature of the garden will be recreated to contain flowers, herbs and vegetables to reflect the progression to a more modern style of working and kitchen gardens. All plants nearest the garden’s fruit wall are currently grown at Gilbert White’s Garden and would have been familiar to White. The final row of quarter beds will incorporate Gilbert White’s investigative spirit with cutting edge cultivars and project plants that he may have selected for modern conditions including Thompson & Morgan RHS Plant of the Year 2021 entries.
Ethan, Sparsholt College Student and Planting Team leader commented “I’m really excited about Chelsea because it’s a global platform to show our skills and show as young people in Horticulture we can compete with the experts in our field. I would like to go into plant science and conservation, so this will be a wonderful opportunity to meet industry leaders and become familiar with what it will be like to work in horticulture in the future.”
Chris Bird, Horticulture Lecturer at Sparsholt College, said: “We are delighted to be re-launching our campaign for the RHS Chelsea Flower show that is being re-staged for September 2021. It’s been wonderful to see this garden come to life around us to celebrate such an occasion as the tercentenary of Gilbert White’s birth. Despite the challenges of the last year we’ve been lucky to have such a strong design and excellent students to keep the work going, and we can’t wait to exhibit our work and for visitors to RHS Chelsea to be as inspired by Gilbert White’s legacy as we are.”