The excavated remains of this once important and influential Abbey lie in a peaceful walled garden, scented with traditional roses, home to a medieval-inspired orchard and extensive historic herb collection.
The garden has a magic of its own, offering seclusion, peace and tranquility, and a sense that there has been a working garden on site for centuries.
“Aethelgifu’s Herb Collection” includes over 100 species of herbs, and attempts to reflect what is known of their uses, particularly culinary and medicinal, in Anglo-Saxon times. The plants you see in our Anglo-Saxon collection are just a sample of the species that would have been cultivated and used by the nuns. As well as the more commonly known aromatic herbs, the garden includes unusual plants such as Woad, Marshmallow and even some poisons.
Work in the gardens was an integral part of the nuns’ spiritual and working life, since the laws of St Benedict that the nunnery followed encouraged the idea of self-sufficiency and manual labour.
The herb garden was created in 1988 during the site’s restoration, under the direction of Lady Jane Renfrew of Lucy College, Cambridge. It was named after King Alfred’s daughter, the first Abbess.
As Lady Renfrew noted, “The term herb at the time included a wide range of useful plants, not only those used in cooking or in medicine, but also dye plants, sweet strewing herbs, insecticide plants and those used in textile production and processing. In Anglo-Saxon England the monasteries and abbeys were in the forefront of knowledge about useful herbs”.
The medieval orchard blossoms in the spring and yields an interesting variety of fruit in the autumn months. It was planted in the spring of 2004. All the apples and pears are being grown on a single cordon system on the wall, a system used for many centuries where space is at a premium. The varieties have been chosen to span an historical period from the 15th century to 19th centuries. Some, such as ‘Adam’s Pearmain’ or ‘Ribston Pippin’ could have been grown in the Abbey orchard, along with Pears and Medlars in the past centuries.