The heartsease are flowering, they look great! The viola tricolor is the wild progenitor of the cultivated pansy. There is alas no secure identification of heartsease in Anglo-Saxon literature, but it’s a lovely native wild flower with a history of medicinal use, so it’s probably reasonable to include it.

Heartsease, with sorrel, alpine strawberry and cowslip.

The main Rumwoldstow garden is really starting to fill out – I can see that next year I may need to remove some plants, or find them other homes – the oregano for example is disappearing under the opium poppy, even though it’s doing pretty well in itself.

Lilies, garlic and marigolds

The asparagus plants in the Bed of Brother Julian are starting to come up. Subsequent to this photo, I’ve scattered sheep droppings around them and then layered lawn cuttings on top, with a sprinkling of soil at the end. T’internet tells me that sheep droppings are great for asparagus but that they may burn the plants. As these were fairly dry I hope they will be OK, and have tried to keep them from touching the actual plants. Fingers crossed!

Asparagus shoots

Asparagus is another questionable plant. It was definitely used medicinally, and it’s hard to see why the Anglo-Saxons wouldn’t have eaten the tasty shoots, but we don’t have firm evidence of this. It may be that the earlier varieties weren’t so good to eat.

Mid-May garden updates

Two frosts this week means no plums or damsons, and maybe no pears. But the medlar is in full flower, here’s a picture from a few days ago. The flowers are white and a bit like a wild rose.

Flowering medlar

The madonna lilies are all up! The third one is still a tiny sprout and the second has a mystery companion which seems to be some other kind of bulb. Was it in the soil below, in which case it’s come up a long way? Or was it somehow stuck to the lily bulb? I may investigate in the winter but for now I’ll let it do its thing and hope that it will reveal its nature some time.

Trio of lilies, with mystery companion, also finger (I’m rubbish with cameras)

I still have some spare skirret seedlings and somebody a few villages over wants them, so today I potted them up, carefully separating the little seedlings. I planted them too close together because I had no confidence in the germination rate, which in the event was very good. Fortunately they seem to be tough little critters. They are now four to a pot and I hope will be fairly easy to plant out once they’re bigger. I still have 16 seedlings left for myself and will have to dig out some space for them real soon now.

I confess, I potted up the biggest seedlings and gave up on the final tiny four which have gone into the hedge and do not appear in this picture.

Skirret seedlings of varying sizes

My grapevine arrived in the post today! All good monasteries should have a grapevine. I chose a Van Der Laan white grape, a Dutch variety which is apparently a reliable fruiter even in the UK and suitably hardy. Planting that out in the Bed of Julian cheered me up some. If it flourishes, we could go Greek and try stuffed vine leaves, maybe with Anglo-Saxon fillings?

It’s between the rhubarb (yeah I know, but it had to go somewhere) and the asparagus, which is still hiding.

Newly planted Van Der Laan grape vine (just pretend you can’t see the rhubarb)

Here’s the other end of the Bed of Julian with two Nine Star Broccoli plants in netting to keep off butterflies, and mama skirret with some babies around her. The broccoli is a perennial that should last four or five years and produce cut-and-come-again mini cauliflowers, with the leaves being edible also. The variety seems to date from the early twentieth century1.

Nine Star Broccoli and skirrets

The Anglo-Saxons has plenty of words for various brassicas, though obviously they wouldn’t have grown this variety. I don’t know how they’d have dealt with caterpillar infestations though – I think people didn’t actually know that caterpillars and butterflies were connected, so they’ll have had no idea how to prevent the eggs being laid. There’s so much knowledge that we take for granted now but that was utterly non-obvious for hundreds, maybe thousands of years prior to microscopes and leisured scientific observation.

A bitter wind

Alas. One late frost, in early May, and the damsons and plums are gone. There are one or two left, but most are now sad shrivelled brown splodges instead of the firm swelling green fruits of a week ago. The farmer’s life is hard – imagine the disaster when this is your livelihood. No photos as it’s too depressing!

What did the Anglo-Saxon orcharder do? Did she shroud the trees in straw or cloth or something when it looked like being frosty?

The pears have suffered too, but I think there are still some left, and the older apple tree may be OK. The quince still seems to have tiny fruits, and the medlar is flowering and apparently perfectly happy. But I grieve for my little damsons.

The only comfort is that I now have no fear of my young trees exhausting themselves by over-producing fruit while still only two years old.

Sunshine and growth

My asparagus crowns arrived in the post so I read up instructions on t’internet and dug out some little trenches for them. I found space for six in the Bed of Brother Julian. Below you can see four of the crowns laid out, with two already buried. Very tentacular. Apparently, when the shoots start to appear, I should add more soil to give them another 5cm of cover.

You say asparagus, I say Great Cthulhu…
Asparagus planted, with sticks to mark the spots

Asparagus is mentioned in Anglo-Saxon leech books under various names including eorþ-nafela (earth navel) though there is some discussion over nomenclature.1
Known to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, asparagus found its way into kitchens and herbals at an early date. It is seen in Egyptian wall art from 3000 BCE. The oldest cookbook, called Apicius and dating to the about 350 CE,  includes three recipes for preparing asparagus. As a medicinal plant, it was used to treat bladder diseases, and its efficacy as a diuretic was recognized in the earliest herbals, including 5th century Herbarium Apuleii Plantonici, and the 10th century Anglo-Saxon Lacnunga.2 While there is no mention of it as a foodstuff, it seems to me pretty likely that the Anglo-Saxons would have eaten this delicacy as well as making it into a salve or medicinal drink.

I planted a lot of skirret seeds, saved from last year’s skirret plants. The pots are now filled with seedlings so I used a teaspoon to hoik them out as gently as I could, separated them and replanted them more thinly. Some of the smaller ones I planted directly in the ground around the one-year-old skirret, next to the asparagus.

Repotted skirret seedlings
Skirret seedlings now directly in the ground, around mama skirret

Now I know how big to expect a skirret to be in its first year – comparable to a good sized carrot – I’m planting them closer together. But I still have dozens left and will have to dig out spaces for them wherever I can shoehorn them in. Normally I’d offer them to friends but with plague upon the land (it’s early May 2020, look it up…) this isn’t really practical. But I may find some takers in the village if I use Ye Old Book of Face.

Today’s reminder of mortality came as I broke my Dungeon Keeper II memorial mug. Alas! Al has saved the biggest shards to bury as part of the Rumwoldstow foundations when we get on to the next bit of building, so at least they will become archaeology. But I’d rather have had my mug.

Almost the last memento of my time at Bullfrog…

Speaking of frogs, the frogs are back in the home garden. One behind the shed – plus a big one in the pond (not pictured here). Rumwoldstow is rather barren for frogs. I’m still pondering whether it’d be practical to put in a pond of some kind, and if so, what would be appropriate.


Madonna lily 1/3 is growing well, and there are finally signs of life from lily #2. Nothing yet from lily #3.

One and a bit lilies now appeared

I planted a load of garlic around the rose because apparently it helps to repel the aphids, though it’s a bit late now as the poor rose is well infested with them, and had plenty left so stuck some in by the valerian and a bit more by the lilies. Those areas will be filled with other plants in due course but for now, they might as well be productive.

Rose bush with garlic sprouting around it and a borage seedling to the left
Valerian with new garlic shoots

Over in the orchard, the quince has set its first fruits! The pears are doing well and probably will need thinning.

Quince tree
The orchard
Separatist sheep (rest of the flock in another field)

As I walked out one afternoon in May…

After several days of rain, the weather has cleared up and the garden is coming on well. The photo below is taken from the cloister looking at the not-so-pretty side of the garden. The newest planting is the valerian, which is at the left end of the nearest bed, the one with the little roof. It’s fixing to flower soon.

Medicinal valerian

At last, there is a sign of life from one of the Madonna lily bulbs which I planted several weeks ago. It’s late in the season to plant them and I don’t expect great flowers this year but at least something has started to come up. I have been determinedly not allowing myself to dig down and see what’s happening…

Lily shoot appearing at last