OMG it’s the end of the first quarter of 923, the equinox is past and here I am writing just after the Feast Day of that most learned and well-travelled princess Saint Hildelith, abbess of Barking. The black hellebore or “Christmas rose” is flowering in fine style. This is a plant of complex character, a winter flower bringing hope of spring, a medicine and a poison. I read that:
Treating intestinal worms lasted into the 18th century. The only drawback was that the patient might end up being killed together with the worms.
This comes as a surprise to me; I deliberately avoided planting what I knew to be toxic plants such as foxglove and aconite in the Rumwoldstow garden, but hellebore passed me by, partly because the hellebore is such a garden staple. So, erm, whoops! It is out of place in the food-and-flowers garden, and belongs in a medicinal garden with health warnings. It reinforces the message that you should be awfully cautious of eating random plants from the garden…
Moving swiftly on, here are some snaps of the light snowfall we had earlier in March, as viewed on a walk through Rumwoldstow to the end of the orchard and back.
As you can tell from the photos, the garden at Rumwoldstow has got away from me. Where are the energetic nuns and monks when we need them eh? But the plus side is lots of flowers for bees and butterflies.
Returning to the elecampane, it appears to be a plant with many medicinal uses and also an edible potherb known to the Celts and Romans. It was known as ‘elfwort’. The roots can be candied or used as a flavouring; they contain up to 44% inulin, a naturally occurring polysaccharide that humans do not digest well. The leaves are apparently bitter but edible, preferably cooked; I have not yet tried this! Medically, it appears to be extra good for lung function and coughs, which is of particular interest in these days of COVID-19. Of immediate benefit is the fact that the bees are all over it.
I put in the two elecampane plants last year, and this is the first year they have flowered. I had no idea how vast they would be!
A sunny morning tempted me out to tidy up some of the mess that the garden became over the winter. Everything was very shaggy and overgrown, with dead flowerheads and lots of mess.
The northernmost bed was great for growing vegetables, and the authentic herbs which I planted in there too have taken up too much space. So I moved the tansy down into the main garden, in place of a marigold (annual).
To the right of the transplanted tansy you can see the madonna lillies, which I planted as bulbs late last year. They all came up but looked a bit feeble. I’m very pleased to see them looking so stout this year!
You can also see the garlic bulbs, again planted very late and the only one I dug up hadn’t grown much, so I left them all in place. I have no idea whether this will give me a harvest later in the year, but I’m told garlic helps to keep aphids off roses, and it’s a good authentic plant so I’m happy to let them do their thing. The sorrel is up already and I need to start harvesting it asap. I discovered last year just how big it gets when left to itself, and I think I should probably move at least one of the three sorrel plants to a bed in the main garden.
Everything looks much better now I’ve done some preliminary cutting back and weeding, but the ‘path’s are in desperate need of more weeding. The northern bed is ready to be raked over and have seeds planted, which is exciting!
At the start of December 2020, I put six boxes of apple pips in the fridge to impose a fake winter and encourage them to germinate. Two months later, on the Feast of Saint Wærburh (that’s today), I hoiked them all out and inspected them. They all look fine, a bit of mould but still shiny damp apple seeds. And the galas from the Co-op have started sprouting! This made getting into the old privy where the plant labels live an urgent job, and Al manfully tackled it. Hurray! He opened the door! I thought we wouldn’t see the inside of the privy until spring, given how wet it’s been and how much the door had swelled up. And there were my labels, neatly packed in an old Chinese takeaway box.
Yesterday I enquired of all my friends how best to permanently label plants, given that “permanent marker” faded quite rapidly; I received a number of very interesting suggestions. At one point I thought I’d have to split hazel rods and write on them with lead pencil (not a bad option), suspecting that I wouldn’t realistically get round to collecting and cutting open aluminium cans and then punching letters into them (a cool idea but time-consuming), and feeling that buying paraloid to use as varnish was also not going to happen. So I hunted up an HB pencil from my craft box, before discovering that the plastic labels had come with a soft lead pencil that was far more suitable. I may take the time to go back and scratch the letters in with a compass or leather awl (whatever comes to hand first) as an extra step, but this will do for now. And I’ve stuck labels into the three Braeburns that I planted last summer, now that I have two different types of apple that need to be differentiated.
I’ve put 5 seeds in each pot; I hope that the roots will grow mainly downwards so it won’t be too hard to separate them when they are larger. However, if this germination rate keeps up I could easily find myself with 50 – 100 young apple trees to deal with. We can squeeze a few more into the orchard, and maybe another one in the garden, but 50? Hmm! Really it’s enough to plant a fair-sized wood!
I harvested the last few carrots from the Rumwoldstow garden yesterday, as they’re starting to go manky in the ground, plus some beetroots.
The carrots and beets have been surprisingly successful, given the bed was only built this year and the seeds planted in July. The white beetroots are very tasty and the leaves make an excellent spinach substitute. And the fact that they’re providing fresh green veg in November is amazing – even with the mild weather it’s impressive.
Oh, the garden is so full of weeds and overgrown…I have been reluctant to cut back flowers because they feed bees, but I really do need to start tidying things up. Except that right now I have No Time…so it’ll probably be a New Year job.
The orchard is now resting, I guess. The sheep are long gone, all the fruit harvested.
There hasn’t been much happening here, and last weekend I scuttled off Oop North to play at Vikings in the lovely Danelaw Village, now happily reopened. A small group of us carved spoons from sycamore wood – though my first spoon cracked overnight and needs some work with polyfilla and sawdust when it’s dried out.
Back at Rumwoldstow, the flowers are nearly over although the cornflowers are still attracting the bees and the yarrow is out. Still nothing but huge leaves from the elecampagne.
The new North bed is doing well – I’ll probably need to move some of the plants in the spring as they are all crowded in and growing fast. All the late-planted vegetables are coming up at last, with even the second go of dwarf beans finally making a reluctant appearance. I’ve started to harvest salad leaves and am looking forward to cropping the lamb’s lettuce.
The Cripp’s Red apple seedling died, which is not surprising because its root was broken off. However I have two more Braeburn seedlings in action now making three in total. One of them has three seed leaves so it is definitely a mutant! Still 5 – 10 years to go until I find out if any of them produces good apples. With the hot weather, I’m watering them like crazy and today put them in the shade, though it’s still about 32 Celcius out there. Flewf. I brought some early apples home from the Tudor garden at the Danelaw village, which don’t yet have viable seeds. I’ll keep them and see if the seeds develop.
In these times when we have literally no idea what is going to happen next, it seems a bit daft but I have embarked on what is likely to be a ten year project. This is the Quest for the Pippin of St Rumwold. I’ve now planted two apple seedlings that had germinated inside the apple; these are imported apples that have been in cold storage and so were ready to germinate. I plan to try local English apples when the season comes round, which should be more suited to the local climate, and I would guess that if you start with a better apple, you’re more likely to get a better pippin.
The thing about apples is that they are pollinated by at least one, maybe two trees of different varieties and the seedlings apparently don’t necessarily resemble the parent tree. I’ve always wanted to try growing apple trees from seed but never got it together. I read that it can take seven to ten years to discover whether a seedling will bear eatable fruit or whether it has reverted to something like a crab apple. I’m hoping that if I persist, then I will eventually grow even just one tree with a tasty apple, that will be unique to Rumwoldstow. Ambitious plans for two of the tiniest seedlings you’ve ever seen!
In the Rumwoldstow garden, we have the first flowering of the Madonna lilies. I planted three bulbs a bit late in the spring, and they’ve all come up but the other two don’t seem to fancy flowering this year. Aren’t they lovely? If they get properly established they’ll be fab.
The Christmas rose (hellebore) continues to defy the seasons and is flowering like a good ‘un. And we have one other vegetative miracle in the form of a time traveller…a potato plant has sprouted in amongst the heartsease, strawberries and sorrell! Brother Julian dug in some compost and I guess there must have been potato peelings. At this point I might as well let it grow, and hope for some harvest later in the year.
Construction work continues; the Roman well (ahem) is now set in a firm foundation ready for the wall to be built around it. And brothers Alf and Julian are hard at work on the foundations for the Roman gatehouse.
We’re looking forward to the return of Chris the Stonemason, who this year built the new raised bed in the Rumwoldstow garden and also rebuilt the side of the bridge across the Black Brook. It looks well posh, though everybody keeps asking when is the other side going to be done…the problem is that the other side is a strange bodge-up with a rotting railway sleeper supporting the road bed, unlike the fancy side with the beautiful stone arch. My guess is that the bridge was originally lovely all the way through but narrower, and then somebody widened it for farm vehicles. Anyway, it’s now safe to walk on.
Al let the sheep into the orchard, which is a good way of clearing out some of the undergrowth. However the lambs are now large enough to make a lot of trouble while still being young enough to be springy and gung-ho.
Yup, up they climbed onto the carefully stacked stash of stone for…something or other in due course. They were very keen to eat the nice hazel hedge up there, because literally everything is nicer to eat than grass. And it turns out that young sheep can scramble up and jump down just like goats. This was all very well but the wall between the orchard and the Rumwoldstow cloister garden has been taken down so that the foundations of the old Roman gatehouse can be built. And those sheep decided that Rumwoldstow looked much more interesting so managed to knock aside the panels blocking the gap and go for a good rampage around the gardens.
I say, I say, I say, how can you tell if there have been sheep in your bed?
Hoofprints in the beetroot!
Overall the veg are coming on well in the new bed, with only the dwarf green beans stubbornly refusing to come up. These are all late varieties, it’s a bit marginal but I hope we’ll get some crop of white beetroot, salad leaves, carrots and spring onions. Two of the second planting of beans have finally germinated, these are ones that I soaked for an hour before planting. And one got firmly sheep-trodden so I can’t really blame it. I am sure that next year I’ll need to move some of the larger plants around as they’ll get a lot bigger, but just for now there is space for them all. And the snails haven’t discovered them yet, perhaps because of the walls.
Back in the home garden, the older dwarf green beans proved a tasty target for the sheep before they all ran out into the road…then fortunately all ran back! I’ve been very lucky, the sheep might have eaten and trampled a lot more before Al shooed them back to their orchard.