The sign on the A3 I see every day intrigued me. Who was Gilbert White and why is his house so special? When I had some time to spare, I decided to find out.
Gilbert White was a keen gardener and observer of the natural world around him. He is today best known for his Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne which was first published in 1789 and has been in print ever since – edition 100 at present.
“A man in total harmony with his world” said David Attenborough – just one of the many quotes from notaries such as Gerald Durrell, Virginia Woolf and Charles Darwin. So it appears. He grew a wide range of flowers, vegetables and fruits at a time when new varieties were just being introduced – indeed he was the first person in the area to grow the new vegetable – “the potato”. It was his observation of nature and the natural world however that was so extra-ordinary and ground-breaking.
Gilbert White lived at The Wakes (his house in Selborne) since 1729 and he finally inherited the property in 1763 from his uncle. What you see today is his house and his fabulous gardens. You can even buy varieties of his plants and seeds from the well-stocked little gift shop. I am told (didn’t try) that the Tea Room is also well worth a visit.
What I particularly enjoyed in the gardens was that I could enjoy similar views to those envisaged by the creators of the current gardens in the early 19th century. Benches are thoughtfully positioned to allow you to take in “the view” – a vista that includes an ‘eye-catcher’ at each end.
Garden highlights include The Pond Garden, The Orchard, the Kitchen Garden and The Melonry (which appears to have been a Gilbert White obsession!).
I have to say that this was one of the most enjoyable visits I have made recently and I would thoroughly recommend to lovers of nature, of local history and of stunning grounds and gardens. An additional – and wholly unexpected treat – was to find the Oates Memorial Library and Museum dedicated to the memory of Captain Lawrence Oates – he of the ill-fated expedition with Captain Scott to the South Pole. An admirable man it is clear who gave up his life in the hope that he could save his colleagues.
For more, visit http://www.gilbertwhiteshouse.org.uk/
Entry to The Gilbert White House & The Oates Museum cost GBP7.95 for an adult. Dogs are allowed into the grounds and you can wander around with your hound for GBP5.50. A “must buy”? Well – there are some charming gifts here but I bought three leaflets detailing Gilbert White’s work and four packets of seeds collected from Gilbert White’s Garden – beautifully presented – irresistible.
For an additional stretch of the legs, try Gilbert White’s Zig Zag path created with his brother John in around 1751-2.
Contributor: Sue Lowry