David Standing on Old Fashioned Flowers

Today the HIHS welcomed David Standing to Hayling to talk about his experience as Head Gardener at Gilbert White’s House in Selbourne. David recently retired, May 2017, from Gilbert White’s house after spending the best part of forty years in the job. Still passionate about old varieties, and the history of the gardens at Gilbert White’s, David is now embarking on a PhD with Southampton University where he hopes to make use of his years of research and findings.

Gilbert White was a keen gardener who kept a diary of his work in the garden and the many plants that he grew.  The garden you see today is based on the original layout, and plants chosen to be in keeping with what would have been grown in the time, if not the exact same variety. You can read extracts from his diary in ‘Gilbert White’s Year: Passages from “The Garden Kalender” and “The Naturalist’s Journal”. 

You would have found single flowered Asters, Sweet Pea ‘Painted Lady’, Sunflowers, Convolvulus and Hollyhocks to name a few. Interestingly you would also have seen Astrantias and Amaranthus two plants that have become very popular in the last few years. Alan Titchmarsh has recently written on Amaranthus and how those of us liberally planting it round our garden may not be so keen when it has self-seeded everywhere and taken over.

There were pictures of single flowers asters, Callistephus chinensis, not a favourite of mine but a good ‘doer’, easy to grow, fills a space well and as noted by David, you only have to cut one stem to have a bunch of flowers in your hand as they have many branches. As well as one of my new favourites Malope trifida which I will be growing this year. The way the petals come together at the base to form these little windows letting through a brilliant lime green glow from the bracts beneath is just stunning.

Some of the plants were grown for their attractive seed heads, such

as Medicago orbicularis, known as ‘Snails’ or edible foliage found on the curled  mallow, Malva verticillata. 

David talked about the essence of cottage gardens, allowing things to ‘have their head’, meaning allowing them to flower and freely self-seed, filling gaps and spaces throughout the borders. He mentioned a book by Mirabel Osler ‘A Gentle Plea For Chaos’, which talks about having a less structured and planned approach to gardening, and allowing the garden to evolve and develop itself, with less intervention. Certainly this approach ensures that your garden grows, plants that like the conditions thrive and fill the available spaces, saving you wasting time on plants that just don’t want to be there. Very similar to Beth Chatto’s mantra of ‘right plant, right place’.


I will definitely be looking up and trying some of the plants talked about today, the Burning Bush, Kochia scoparia var. trichophylla, is a very easy to grow annual and looks ideal for providing some lush green foliage to the borders and to the cut flower displays.

A great talk, and a lovely afternoon out on what was a very wet windy Wednesday. I’m off to mull over the seed catalogues with a nice cup of tea.


Main photo – http://gilbertwhiteshouse.org.uk/Home-&-Gardens/

‘Snails’ – Mifsud S., Oct 2010, MaltaWildPlants.com
Other plants mentioned:
Filipendula vulgaris – Dropwort
Celosia cristata – Cockscomb
Lathyrus odoratus, Old-Fashioned Sweet Peas, ‘Painted Lady’
Nigella hispanica (Nigella papillosa) ‘Curiosity’
Echium vulgare – viper’s bugloss
Acanthus mollis –bear’s breech
Convolvulus minor – Blue Ensign