Rejoicing in a miracle

Did I mention that over the winter, all four doors to the outbuilding rooms swelled in the unprecedented damp and wouldn’t open for six months? And that after the rain finally stopped, in mid March, brother Alf kept trying the doors and seeing how they were beginning to shift in their frames. Finally the left-most door opened (which meant Al could get into the storeroom and get hold of his good drill at last!)…then the next left…then the third door…but the last door to the planned scullery remained firmly sealed shut. Woes! Brother Alf optimistically foretold that it would open at Easter, as a miracle. Good Friday…Easter Sunday…went past. But on Easter Monday the door opened, and Al has been able to get to work fitting out the scullery.

All four doors open!

About a kilometre from Rumwoldstow, my nose alerted me to a fine cluster of wild garlic by the brook. I only hope mine will do as well in the garden. I’m a bit worried about it getting too hot – the sunhat doesn’t entirely protect it.

Wild garlic. Wild? It was livid!

I planted eight pots of skirret seeds that I collected last year, and four pots have germinated well. When they’re a bit bigger, I plan to very gently try and separate the strongest and move them into the pots of failure. Only the strongest skirrets can make it in Rumwoldstow!

A kind neighbour gave me some dwarf french bean plants. The Anglo-Saxons ate various kinds of beans, I don’t know how similar they were to anything we’d recognise but at least it is beans. In return I gave her a spare garlic bulb from those I planted the previous day, mostly around the rose in the monastery garden as I’ve been told this will help keep off greenfly.

Skirrets (above), beans (below)

The garden’s filled out a bit but there is still no sign of the three madonna lilies which I planted in the bare area behind the mug. I am so far resisting the temptation to excavate and see if they’re sprouting at all…but it’s hard! What there is, is lots of bindweed shoots. Some are growing from bits of root we didn’t manage to sieve out when filling the beds, and some is in the plants like the fennel that I transplanted. I’m pulling out each sprout as I see it, and hope that eventually they’ll give up.

Green beans potted up (in the home garden, not Rumwoldstow)

I just had to check on the sheep…yep, still there!

Back in the orchard the dandelions are turning into clocks. But people won’t have called them clocks back in Anglo-Saxon times! I wonder what they did call them? The quince is in full flower and just starting to look as though it may be setting fruit.

I dug out some of the dock and nettles to give the comfrey which I transplanted into the orchard a bit more light and space. It’s looking pretty healthy, and I hope that once it’s established it’ll be able to hold its own.

Comfrey in the orchard

Finally I took about a metre off one of the young damson trees, the one which is reaching for the sky. It still looks pretty tall. I used the very fine lopper on a stick which you operate by pulling a string. I’ll probably take a bit more off next year as I want all the fruit trees to stay fairly low so we can pick the fruit.

Pruned damson

Spring lambs on the meadow

Now that Lake Meadow has dried out and the grass has started to regrow, the local farmer has moved a small flock of sheep down there. Particularly adorable are the four hand-reared lambs, who love a bit of attention.

Playful lambs

The local kites are nesting in a tree nearby after driving crows off their nest. I assume they’re interested in the health of the lambs below…but not in a good way…

Red kite
Peacock butterfly
Old apple tree now in full flower
Apple blossom
Quince tree flowers starting to open
Not very clear, but quince blossom
Cherry blossom

The medlar is still not in bloom, but has many tightly-closed roselike buds. And here is one last photo of the sheep, because sheep.

Snoozy sheep

A minor pilgrimage

I walked to Walton Grounds, about 2km south of Rumwoldstow, which is recorded as being the birthplace of St Rumwold and historically had a chapel dedicated to that infant saint.1 2

There is still a hamlet of a handful of houses, to the side of the private road which leads to the farm on the other side of the brook. No trace survives however of the chapel or earlier settlement.

Walton Grounds from the north
The present hamlet
View of the farm across the brook
The old ford – maybe very old?
View of Walton Grounds from the south side of the brook
The return to Kings Sutton

The walk back to Kings Sutton gives a fine view of the church spire. If there was a real minster here in early mediaeval days – and there may well have been – it will most likely have been up on the hill and essentially part of the church. We’ve sited Rumwoldstow down by the meadow, in a fictional Roman fort, because all the high up land is already thoroughly occupied!

Borage seedlings

Back to the garden – and the borage seedlings are up!

Trees and sheep

After a good rainy day, we’re back to sunshine with a slightly chilly breeze – perfect seasonal weather for April, which seems strange as it’s so unexpected.

A local farmer has put some sheep on the Rumwoldstow meadow. Lambs! We can hear the baaing from the monastery garden.

In the orchard, the apple trees are coming into bloom, the pears are developing, and the cherry is in flower.

Apple blossom (Wyken pippin)
Apple blossom (Hambledon Deux Ans)
Pear (Uvedale’s St Germain)
Pear with early fruit (Louise Bonne of Jersey)
Apple blossom (unspecified)
Cherry blossom

April rain

Today we have the first proper rain for over a month – how suddenly we went from flood to drought! As the Rumwoldstow garden is made of raised beds, it’s especially important that they receive all the rain they can. So I pottered down the lane in my dressing gown, wellies and waterproof this morning and slipped out most of the roof shingles on the shade garden’s sun hat. I’ll put them back when it’s sunny again.

Sun roof adjusted for rain

Later in the morning, a box of plants arrived in the mail, containing two perennial cauliflowers (a variety developed in 1928, so not historic, but certainly heritage) and a valerian plant which I have planted in the last empty end space. It’s at the north end of the shady bed so will get quite a lot of sunshine.

Valeriana officinalis has a long history as a herbal medicine though I don’t think there’s much evidence for its use as a ‘sleeping tablet’. It certainly didn’t do anything for me, though I do have insomnia at a heroic level – I must have put a lot of points into it, though I’ve no idea why.

The seventeenth century astrological botanist Nicholas Culpeper thought the plant was “under the influence of Mercury, and therefore hath a warming faculty.” He recommended both herb and root, and said that “the root boiled with liquorice, raisons and aniseed is good for those troubled with cough. Also, it is of special value against the plague, the decoction thereof being drunk and the root smelled. The green herb being bruised and applied to the head taketh away pain and pricking thereof.

New valerian plant (rightmost in picture)

A sun hat for my plants

The south west corner of the main Rumwoldstow garden being shaded by the cloister much of the time, I planted it with shade-loving plants such as sweet woodruff and white horehound. However, as spring draws on, it’s clear that they’ll be exposed to full sunlight for several hours in the middle of the day, which I assume won’t be good for them. So with Al’s help I foraged for materials and built them a little roof.

As you can see in the photo below, the sun is just starting to touch the plants around noon, in mid-April, so they’ll need shading from around this time of year onwards. I cut hazel rods from the hedge which was coppiced two years ago (918), and set four rods with forks into the soil, then laid two long straight rods across.

Basic frame of hazel rods

The next step was to cut roof shingles out of old fence panelling and drill a hole in each to hold a peg cut from hazel. These were laid on the horizontal rods, with additional rods then bound on top to keep them from blowing off.

Wooden shingles with pegs
Shingles laid on roof

I used garden twine to fix the upper rods and also to bind the corners and add diagonal bracing underneath to give the structure more lateral stability.

Underside of roof

Shingles can be slipped out and rearranged to vary the amount of light that gets through.

Varying the light by removing shingles

In midsummer I may add more shingles to keep the plants cool, but for now this looks like a light woodland effect as the leaves start to grow. In the autumn, I will remove all the shingles and store them indoors.

First set fruit in the orchard

After last year’s drought and the almost total lack of blossom or fruit from the orchard (3 medlars, 3 damsons total), it’s delightful to see plenty of flowers and fruit setting. First off, the new plum and damsons all seem to have fruit set, though the Shropshire Prune damson is looking more prolific than the Fairleigh damson.

Plum tree (Rivers Early Prolific)
Wee fruit on the plum tree, maybe 2mm across
Damson tree (Shropshire prune)
Even smaller fruit on the Shropshire prune, but definitely set

We didn’t photograph the old plum tree or the Fairleigh damson, but both have had some flowers and look like setting some fruit.

The cherry tree was planted by the previous owners and bore a label saying it was bought at Morrisons. It’s never done very well as the ground is too damp and there’s not enough light, but it’s survived so gets to stay and do its thing.

Cherry tree, planted by the previous owners
Cherry blossom

Our medlar looks lively and has flower buds.

Medlar (Nottingham)
Medlar flower bud, honest

Likewise the quince:

Quince tree (Portugal)
Quince buds

Moving on to the pears, both look to have set plenty of fruit, the Louise Bonne of Jersey more, but given I don’t remember the Uvedale’s St Germain flowering at all before, I’m happy enough.

Pear tree (Louise Bonne of Jersey)
Pear fruit (Louis Bonne)
Pear tree (Uvedale’s St Germain)
Pear fruit (Uvedale’s St Germain) – fewer but larger!

Easter convocation, 920 AD

Despite the plague currently scouring the land (remember it’s 2020 in modern time), we managed to hold an Easter convocation at Rumwoldstow. Perhaps it was a little lacking in diversity, but we tried to make up for it in enthusiasm!

The nuns worked hard in the garden
The monks prayed for all our souls
All gathered together to give thanks
Brother Alf pops up unexpectedly!

Wassail and Easter joy to all, despite the dark times. Let us be kind to each other as Jesus Christ teaches.

Orchard walk

It is the 11th day of April, 920 AD, and the trees in the orchard are doing well. They have been in the ground almost two years now, having been planted in May of 918, and have survived two years of drought and an attack by cows (after which we built the protective cages). The fruit harvest of 919 comprised six damsons and three medlars – we hope for better this year after a very wet winter and some good spring sunshine.

The two pear trees are both in flower. The Uvedale is a Warden pear and I haven’t seen it flower before, so to see clusters of white blossom is very exciting, and it’s great to see that the two pear trees are in bloom together so the Louise Bonne should be able to pollinate the Uvedale as intended. What is a Warden pear like you ask? Well I don’t really know either but I hope to find out this year.

Pear Uvedale’s St Germain (left) and Louise Bonne of Jersey (right) flowering

The two new apple trees are in bud. The Hambeldon Deux Ans was brutally munched by cows in 918 and has been splinted up, and is growing! I hope that this year it will grow taller than its protector again. It has one visible cluster of blossom, which is one more than last year.

The Wyken Pippin is in good shape and looks like it’ll have a fair amount of blossom.

The old apple tree that was here already, is a much better shape now that it’s been pruned back for a couple of years – it had one long branch like a bridge trying to escape the leilandii (now wonderfully truncated) and reach the light.

Apple Wyken Pippin
Apple Hambledon Deux Ans
Old apple tree, unidentified

The damsons and plums have all flowered well and are nearly over, with what I hope are proto-fruits forming. The old, established plum tree is looking a bit better than last year – it gave a bumper harvest in 918 but was almost defunct in 919 with no fruit at all.

Damson Fairleigh
Damson Shropshire Prune and plum Rivers Early Prolific

The quince and medlar have plenty of leaves but no flowers – I hope they’ll get round to it later!

Medlar Nottingham
Quince Portugal

Last but not least is the white poplar we put in down where the land floods, to add back some height and because it’s a lovely native tree. It’s budding well.

Lots of this blue wildflower – but what is it?

I walked over the meadow which after 6 months of being half a metre underwater as often as not, is still thin on grass, covered in silt and smells like the Essex coast. But I saw one cuckoo flower plant!

Cherwell flood plain, drying out at last
A long cuckoo flower

A gift of borage

Today being the 9th of April it is the feast day of St Materiana, or Madryn. Materiana was a princess of the 5th century, the eldest of three daughters of King Vortimer the Blessed, who, after her father’s death, ruled over Gwent with her husband Prince Ynyr.

We did receive this day a message from our blessed sister Wynflaed, who sent us a gift of borage seeds. We are most grateful as this plant does not grow in the countryside, and it can be used to great good effect to benefit both spirit and body.

A gift of borage seeds

Yesterday we received a collection of iris Germanica corms via courier, which will add greatly to the beauty of the Rumwoldstow garden.

Iris Germanica planted up

I did also move some plants from less clement areas of the gardens, into better situations. There is now a wild garlic plant in the shady quadrant of the formal garden, and I have moved a skirret plant grown from seed last year, into the bed dug by Brother Julian. Despite my care, a piece of root broke off and so brother Alf and I ate it as the first harvest! The flavour is pleasant, somewhat resembling carrot or parsnip but with a slight tang of its own.

Last year’s skirret, about to be replanted, showing edible roots
Wild garlic
Skirret replanted!
Skirret root straight from the ground
Skirret root after a rinse in water
Skirret root after scrubbing with a toothbrush