The excavated remains of the Abbey lie in a peaceful walled garden, scented with traditional roses, home to a medieval-inspired herb and fruit tree collection. It is maintained by a team of volunteers who grow herb and vegetable plants for sale in the summer months.
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.
Our herb garden was first created in 1988 during the restoration of the site, under the direction of Lady Jane Renfrew of Lucy College, Cambridge. It was named after King Alfred’s daughter, Aethelgifu, the first Abbess. The collection was then expanded after the millennium to the large collection we have today.
“Aethelgifu’s Herb Collection” contains over 100 plants, and attempts to reflect what is known of their uses in Anglo-Saxon times. The plants you see in our collection are samples of the herb species that were either cultivated or wild crafted and used by the nuns for many purposes. As well as the well-known aromatic herbs the garden includes more unusual plants such as Woad, Alecost, Horehound and Betony.
Work in the gardens was an integral part of the nuns’ spiritual and working life. They followed the Rule of St Benedict by offering hospitality to travellers and pilgrims and healing for the sick. Their disciplined practices promoted the idea of self-sufficiency and manual labour.
“In Medieval times the word for health was ‘healu’, meaning wholeness of body, mind and importantly spirit. Healing always involved both the plants and spiritual practices; prayers and chants were said whilst applying the herbal remedies. The nuns at Shaftesbury Abbey would have been in the forefront of knowledge about useful herbs for healing, and also herbs for so many other practical and culinary uses.”
Julie Wood, Medical Herbalist
The herb collection is laid out on two tiers on the north side of the garden with espaliered fruit trees creating a pretty and interesting stroll through the many species on display. For 2020 we are creating four new raised herb beds easily accessible beside the museum and shop.
. Each of these has its own special theme:
Maryan plants – plants associated with the Virgin Mary, to whom the Abbey was dedicated with St. Peter.
Medicinal plants – used for healing in Medieval times and still used by herbalists today.
Culinary plants – used for flavouring and, most importantly, for nutrition.
Utility plants – plants with many varied uses such as dyeing, strewing, cloth-making/textile production and insecticidals.
“Everywhere in Creation (trees, plants, animals, and precious stones) there are mysterious healing forces, which no person can know unless they have been revealed by God.”
Liber Divinorum Operum Saint Hildegard of Bingen, 12th century Abbess of the Order of Benedict