David Standing has been Head Gardener at Gilbert White’s House & Garden since 1979. A life-long Gilbert White fan, on joining the staff at The Wakes, David soon embarked on a painstaking and ambitious project to discover the garden design that White originally created which had all but disappeared in the decades since his death. No definitive plans existed so this involved studying, at great length, White’s journals, correspondence and a horticultural diary White called his ‘Gardener Kalendar’ which spanned the years 1751 to 1771.
Title deeds of The Wakes, the copyhold records of Selborne (held at Magdalen College, Oxford), the detailed illustrations of Samuel Grimm, whom White had commissioned in 1776 to illustrate his journal, plus White’s household account books were also useful. An entry there dated 19th June 1760 reads ‘paid John Wells for part Lassam’s Orchard £5 & 5 shillings’, which helped David shed light on White’s purchase of land, much of which would have been arable land beneath the famous beech-clad ‘Hanger’, but now forms one field known as the Great Mead.
A curious entry in the Garden Kalendar where White had written ‘planted 600 of cabbages in Turners plot’ at first sight posed the question of ‘why the need for so many cabbages?’ However David was able to use this snippet of information in a most ingenious way. He consulted Millers Garden Dictionary which White was known to have used, to establish the recommended planting distance of brassicas and from that was able to work out the exact size of the plot which White had purchased from a neighbour, by the name of Turner, some time previously. With so many landowners in a small area, boundaries were unclear but David was able to use aerial photographs together with the 1678 and 1793 land surveys, to confirm that the ridges seen on the land today were the position of boundary hedges.
In 1995, as the original 18th century layout was becoming clearer, David began work with landscape architect Kim Wilkie to draw up plans based on their knowledge at that time, and certain features of the garden that White had designed were reinstated. These included a cut-out statue of Hercules, a revolving wine-pipe seat and two hahas, as well as borders filled with plants that White introduced. Today the garden is maintained as White himself intended it, allowing certain areas to remain uncut to allow wild flowers to thrive, and small mammals, such as harvest mice and voles their natural habitat.
The subject of Gilbert White and his garden is David’s passion and he is an enthusiastic and engaging speaker. He has lectured on many occasions to local horticultural groups and in March 2011 he was invited to speak at The Garden History Society London, which was very well received.
If you would like to book David to speak at your group or society, please contact Gilbert White’s House on 01420 511275 or email firstname.lastname@example.org