Being a part of the South Downs National Park, Nature is a big part of life in Petersfield whether it is being on the beautiful surroundings of the Heath and its Barrows or walking atop the South Downs themselves. The Poet Edward Thomas certainly thought that Petersfield and its countryside was a delectable part of nature, as he writes in the poem From When First, “…Fast beat my heart at sight of the tall slope of grass and yews…”. We certainly have plenty of those to offer here. Even in the midst of a bustling town centre there are elements of the natural side of Petersfield with the Physic Garden and the garden surrounding St Peter’s Church and the Flora Twort Gallery with a wonderful array of flowers.
Gilbert White House
Nature is very important to us at Gilbert White & The Oates Collections. Gilbert White was inspired by the nature around him and was a pioneering naturalist and is regarded to be the first ecologist. The observations made in The Natural History of Selborne have in turn have inspired other’s to look to nature from great naturalists such as Charles Darwin who visited Selborne to see the landscape that had inspired White’s , to writers like Virginia Woolf and Edward Thomas. At the Museum we are inspired everyday by White’s writings and the landscape of Selborne, so on May Bank Holiday weekend we held a day dedicated to nature.
We invited organisations from all walks of nature conservation and awareness; The Natural History Museum, RSPB, Hampshire Bat Group, Hampshire & I.O.W Wildlife Trust, South Downs National Park plus many more! The day was all about sharing and enjoying nature with lots of fun activities to do. We also had the Hampshire Poet 2016 Isabel Rogers with us at her own poetry stalls encouraging visitors to be inspired by White and the gorgeous grounds at Gilbert White’s House. We made felt masterpieces with sheep’s wool, bug hotels, and bird feeders. We learnt more about the wildflower meadow at the house and enjoyed the bliss of being in Selborne on a sunny day in May.
Chawton House Library
During the eighteenth century, botany was coming to the fore as a field of scientific enquiry, helping to improve people’s understanding of nature. Seizing on this interest, Elizabeth Blackwell conceived and carried out an extraordinary project to write and illustrate A Curious Herbal (1737-9) as a means of freeing her husband from debtors’ prison. A ‘herbal’ was a book explaining the appearance and properties of different plants and their uses in medicine. She installed herself in lodgings near the Chelsea Physic Gardens, and painstakingly drew each illustration, engraved the copper plates for printing, and then hand-coloured the prints. The Herbal was released in weekly instalments from 1737 to 1739, with the two final volumes – complete with endorsement from the Royal College of Physicians – selling for the very considerable sum (at that time) of £5.
To commemorate Elizabeth Blackwell’s endeavours, we have planted an Elizabeth Blackwell Herb garden within the Walled Garden, which will feature many of the plants illustrated in A Curious Herbal, organised into their different areas of medicinal use. We hope many people will visit to see it.