Gilbert White’s House and Gardens in Selborne celebrated the 30th birthday of its Unusual Plants Fair over the Father’s Day weekend. 

Plant lovers streamed in from across the region. With a total of 1,956 visitors it became a record breaker, as it was the highest number of people on site at the museum in its history.

The diverse range of quirky plants brought a new character to the classic landscape scene, as it became shaped more like a jungle than a meadow. 

Visitors delighted in the spiky palms, luscious ferns, striking acers and wide range of flowering plants.

Stall holders gave talks and their expertise was keenly sought after.

Plant-aholics weighed down by their purchases were able to kick up their feet by dropping off their precious flora in the creche.

With beer from the Gilbert White’s Brewery and food from a barbecue, visitors re-fuelled before setting off to take part in posy making workshops, watch willow weaving demonstrations or explore the house and gardens.

The gardens have been restored to their 18th-century style, and this has been largely achieved by the gardeners paying great attention to Gilbert White’s ‘Garden Kalendar’ where he meticulously recorded his gardening activities. 

An unusual plant from White’s time which continues to be little seen by gardeners today is Dragon Arum (Dracunculus vulgaris). This plant consists of a long dark purple spadix (flowering spike) and hood-like deep purple spathe. It produces a smell of rotting meat to attract flies so that it can get pollinated.

Gilbert White was well acquainted with Dragon Arum, writing on September 17, 1783: “Planted from Mr Etty’s garden a root of the Arum dracunculus, or Dragons; a species rarely to be seen; but has been in the vicarage garden ever since the time of my grandfather, who died in spring 1727-28.”

The plant continues to be grown by the gardeners outside the great parlour.

At the end of the two scorching hot days, the 30th anniversary fair closed with a presentation to congratulate the best in show. The winner was Seale Rose Garden.

David May and Catherine May from Seale Rose Garden have never missed the event in its 30-year history.

Seale Rose Garden are RHS medallists and in addition to growing popular varieties they also grow lesser-known roses including rose ‘Verschuren’, which is unusual due to the cream variegation on its leaves, which beautifully complement the light pink blooms. 

The Unusual Plants Fair will be back for Father’s Day weekend 2024.