The fifth bed in the garden

Last week, Chris the stonemason built the fifth raised bed in the Rumwoldstow garden and it looks fab.

The foundations ready for the new bed
Buildiing underway, with a flagstone set on end as a feature in the middle of the south wall of the bed

I was very sad a few weeks ago, to break my memorial Dungeon Keeper II mug with my name on it, a relic from my time as a level designer for that game. I am left with just a framed DVD and a T-shirt. It’s a shame because I was fond of the mug and it held a lot of coffee. But, if you use things, they may break, and if you don’t you might as well not have them and save the space.
Al had the smart idea to build the fragments into the raised bed, behind the square stone on the south wall of the bed. So in it went, now there for posterity!

A relic from my past as a computer games developer
…now part of Rumwoldstow’s fabric!

I also managed to get out in time to photograph the red frilly poppies before the petals fell – they last until about 11 am. I will try collecting seeds from that stem, I have no idea whether they’ll breed true but it’s worth a try.

The miraculous poppies
The completed bed with the square stone, behind which my mug is preserved

As the plants come into flower, we are seeing a good number of bees of all shapes and sizes. I particularly like this vast bumble bee who loves the borage – which may or may not be authentic for Anglo-Saxon.

There was a dill plant in that bed, and it did well initially but died in mid June for no obvious reason. It’s the only plant which hasn’t flourished.

I have a stash of plants ready to go into the new bed, when Brother Julian is free to fill it with soil and horse manure.

The Book of Rumwoldstow?

Every monastery should have a book, and ours has just been made by Fiona Wagstaff, a maker of replica historical book who sadly has a low online presence, but she and her husband Steve can be found at re-enactors’ markets selling very cool stuff that they’ve made.
Our book is approximately 150mm x 100mm and is bound in a Coptic style as used on the St Cuthbert Gospel in the British Library, dating from the end of the 7th century. The boards are wood with an ox-blood red leather covering – and the leather is plain, because we are a relatively humble monastery. There is a ring and pin closure suitable for our 10th century date. The leaves are paper in a parchment style.

The book of Rumwoldstow…
what does it hold?
Our future is a blank book!

Writing in the book is of course another project. The first thing I’d like to enter is the Lord’s Prayer in Old English, and I have hopes that one of our sisters will write it using a quill pen made from feathers gathered from our neighbours’ geese. There are a number of different versions of this prayer in manuscripts and all the ones I found by web searching were composites, whereas I want to copy a single version exactly. I favour the version from the manuscript known as Cotton MS Otho C I/1 because I saw it, open at the Lord’s Prayer, in a major exhibition at the British Library in 2019. So this is the version that I have seen with my own eyes. This manuscript dates to the 1st half of the 11th century-Mid 11th century, and contains an imperfect Gospel-book, written in Old English (the so-called ‘West Saxon’ version of the Gospels). It was copied in the 1st half of the 11th century. In the mid-11th century, an Old English translation of a bull of Pope Sergius which benefitted Malmesbury Abbey was added between the Gospels of St Luke and St John (68r-69v). Decoration: Initials in red.
Here’s a link to the digitised manuscript. Use the arrow just above the top right of the scanned page to select the page with the prayer: f.38v.
The prayer starts five lines below the red star. Here is a transcription of the text:

Ure fæder þu ðe on heofone eart. si þin nama gehalgod to cume þin rice. gewurþe ðin willa on heofone ⁊ on eorþan. syle us todæg urne dæghwamlican hlaf. ⁊ forgyf us ure gyltas. swa we forgyfað ælcũ þara þe wið us agylt. ⁊ ne læd þu us on costunge. ac alys us frã yfele.

My scholarly friends inform me that the tilde above a final vowel often stands for a final ‘m’, so ælcũ stands for ælcum, and frã for fram. ⁊ is shorthand for ‘ond’, meaning ‘and’. Reference also this listing of the Anglo-Saxon latin alphabet and this article about insular hands.
Other things I’d like to add to the book over time are a short life of St Rumwold, and at least parts of a rule for the monastery, which may be in part adapted from the Rule of St Benedict for use by Anglo-Saxon women.
And Caedmon’s Hymn would be a great addition, preferably this version which has a local connection and is agreed to be West Saxon rather than the more common Northumbrian.

A miraculous poppy, and the mysteries of woundwort

We have in the garden at Rumwoldstow, a miraculous poppy! I planted one little opium poppy plant, honest, which has thrived, but one stem is determinedly producing different flowers from the rest of the plant – lovely red frilly ones instead of the usual rather meh (in my opinion) pink of the opium poppy.

St Rumwold has blessed us!

I’ve also been puzzling over the identification of some of the wildflowers in the orchard. There are two different plants with small purple flowers, one which came up earlier in the year and one which is now in flower. I fell into some confusion between the two, having previously identified the latter as self-heal but not realising initially that the earlier flower is not the same thing.

And then I found hedge woundwort in the orchard, which added to the confusion as self-heal is also known as woundwort. I did some googling yesterday (with thanks to Saint Isidore of Seville) and found that the plant I thought to be self-heal is indeed also called self-heal and woundwort.

I think I have it straight now, but I felt a strong sense of connection with Carl Linnaeus and really understood why he developed his system of plant classification – by all that’s holy, just have one name for one plant, and group them in families rather than giving a similar name to a completely different plant!

  • Glechoma hederacea: common name ground ivy (no it isn’t an ivy, yes Carl I hear your pain; it’s a member of the mint family Lamiaceae). Anglo-Saxon names include hōfe, tūnhōfe. It was used to flavour ale.
  • Prunella vulgaris: common names self heal, heal-all, woundwort. Anglo-Saxon names may include brūn-wyrt but the references are not clear – there are many possibilities. Allegedly edible, I must try it.
  • Stachys sylvatica: common name hedge woundwort. It is not clear to me whether the Anglo-Saxons had a use for this plant. They may have preferred Stachys officinalis (a.k.a. Betonica officinalis) for medicinal use, which they knew as betonie.
Ground ivy
Self heal
Hedge woundwort – note this is a tall flower, the first two are creepers

Flowers and anticipatory plants

On the plus side, the garden at Rumwoldstow has flowers! The two pot marigolds (orange) are vast and lush. The rosa gallica has beautiful deep pink blossoms with a rich scent. The coriander is flowering and again scenting the area, while the valerian diagonally opposite is having a good go at competing on scent. The cornflower – yes that’s just one plant! – has gone made and is taking over the world. The opium poppy has pink flowers and one completely different frilly red flower on the same plant. The peony didn’t like being transplanted and is Not Flowering but also Not Dead, so I’ll take that. And four of the six iris germanica have flowered, which I think is pretty good for their first year in the ground. The borage is just starting to flower, and for reasons I can’t fathom there is a random borage 100m away in the home garden, where I absolutely didn’t plant it! The lovage is just starting to come into flower. It’s about 60cm high but the lovage in the home garden which wasn’t transplanted must be over 2 metres. So I expect the Rumwoldstow lovage will get a lot bigger. The thyme is also flowering and the chamomile looks like it’s starting to make flower buds. The white horehound has tiny wee flowers but the bees love them.

On the down side, the fact that we still haven’t sorted out the paths is really showing oh lord the weeds…I have a tentative plan to level the ground a little better and apply hoggin (aka self binding gravel) but a lot of weeding needs doing first.

Flowers and weeds

You see that pale rectangle on the ground to the right of the picture? That’s the base for the planned fifth bed where I intend to plant more utilitarian plants. Chris the stonemason has finally said he’s free to start work next week! Accordingly, I went to the National Herb Centre and bought a stash of plants against the day the bed is ready – I wanted to make sure of having the plants this season. I’ve potted them all on as it’ll probably be a month or two before the bed’s fully cured and filled with soil.

I originally asked the shop for:

  • tansy
  • feverfew
  • hyssop
  • rue
  • betony
  • aconite
  • dyer’s madder
  • ladies’ bedstraw

They replied that they had everything except tansy and aconite. I don’t mind too much about the aconite (monkshood) as it’s jolly toxic, but I’ll look out for tansy at a later date. I trundled up to collect the plants and also took a turn round the lovely garden centre.

At the end of the day, because of a few mixups one way and another, I ended up with both rue (ruta graveolens) and goat’s rue (galega officinalis), but fortunately the latter is also an Anglo-Saxon plant and completely different – I’ve no idea why they share a name. There is also a spare alecost (tanacetum balsamita) which I’ll have to find a home for somewhere in the main garden, or give away – I already have two in the square beds!

A lovely Tudor re-enactor has already given me wormwood and southernwood, so those are also in pots waiting for their home to be built and furnished. Oh, and I had already picked up a lady’s bedstraw at the local garden centre.

Goat’s rue (left), rue (right). Separated at birth? You decide. (Ignore the betony far right)
Madder (rubia tinctorum)
Rock Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis ss aristatus)

The hyssop is a subspecies, Rock Hyssop or Hyssopus officinalis ss aristatus which is apparently more compact. I don’t know its history as a plant but suspect it’s not quite the one the Anglo-Saxons would have known

Lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum) – found at the local garden centre!
Betony (Stachys officinalis)
Golden feverfew (tanacetup partienium “Aureum”). Again, I don’t know how far this subspecies may be from the earlier type?
Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) and wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)

All told, a great haul and I’m doing my best to cherish them until they can go out into Rumwoldstow garden.

The colours

Some of the plants are beginning to show their colours – red roses, blue cornflowers, yellow marigolds and purple iris. The roses have a lovely rich scent as you’d expect from a real traditional rose, as does the white valerian.

Rosa gallica
The humble cornflower
The humble marigold

And yes, there is a lot of work needs doing to weed and gravel the paths…