Parsley, sage, rosemary and time

11th November 1994 at 00:00
Located on land which was once part of the medieval abbey of Shrewsbury, is a 12th-century monastic garden. Together with its adjacent buildings this is being used to teach English, art, technology, tourism studies, home economics, horticulture, history, design, and many more cross-curricular studies in an usual project called the Shrewsbury Quest.

The Quest focuses on aspects of monastic life. A medieval store house has been converted into a cellarium, library and scriptorium, with a herbarium close by.

Surrounding the buildings is a garden consistent with what would have been found attached to monastic community of the 12th century the Abbot's Herber (his private garden); a fish pond; cellarer's beds to provide food and household plants, as well as a physic garden containing medicinal herbs. All the plants are labelled to show how they would have been used by the monks. Costmary, for example, was used to flavour beer, as well as providing a herbal drink for liver diseases.

Careful attention has been paid to ensuring the garden's authenticity. The design and planning was undertaken by garden historian Sylvia Landsberg. The various areas had to be scaled down to fit into the half-acre site, but all the plants used are ones the monks themselves would have known, and the wooden frameworks on the beds and trellises were created with carpentry techniques last employed 700 years ago.

The Quest offers the opportunity to try out medieval gardening methods. A water butt contains replica clay pots which the monks would have used for watering the garden. A strategically placed thumb on the stopper keeps the water in; as soon as the thumb is released water sprays out from holes in the bottom of the pot.

Monks also enjoyed the occasional board game for recreation. So stone seats containing various medieval games are set in the walls of the replica cloister surrounding the garden and in the centre, a Merrils board that can be played on with child-size pieces.

Local schools have been quick to recognise the potential of the site. Longmeadow Primary, for example, used it to create illuminated manuscripts in poetry and art lessons. Wakeman's School investigated the use of herbs in dying processes. Having identified suitable herbs in the garden, children picked wild versions locally and used them in experimental dyes, then wove the dyed fibres into cloth. A group from Powys are using the Quest for part of their intermediate GNVQ in leisure and tourism. The garden also offers great scope for history.

Apart from the aspects of monastic life and herb lore, the site contains original medieval and replica constructions which enable students to see how buildings have developed. There are also some unexpected insights staff dressed in medieval costume as different characters, like the travelling riddler, whose puzzles were guaranteed to entertain and challenge.

Teaching materials are not yet available, but outline sheets show how the Quest can be used to encompass everything from science to history, and staff will provide additional help as necessary. Teachers can visit the site free by prior arrangement.

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