COVERHAM ABBEY is one of the ancient gems of North Yorkshire which combines its history with a love of gardens and plants.

For instance, this weekend its grounds are open for a plant sale which means visitors will also be able to see a garden inspired by the abbey’s past.

The abbey is a mile or so from Middleham. It was founded in 1190 by Helewise, the wife of Robert of Middleham, at Swainby, near Stokesley, where Helewise was buried in 1195.

Her son, Ranulph Fitz-Robert, moved the abbey to the banks of the River Cover in 1212 and reinterred her body in the new chapter house.

It was a Premonstratensian abbey, run by an order of monks founded at the northern French town of Premontre by St Norbert.

One of the monks was John Gisbourne, and his “common book” which dates from 1484 is now in the British Library.

A “common book” was also known as a “commonplace”, although we today would probably know it as a scrapbook – or even as Facebook. It was where a person jotted down, or stuck, things that were of interest to them, but it wasn’t something as organised or regular as a diary.

Canon Gisbourne was curate of Allington in Lincolnshire, so in his common book he included many tips and thoughts on hearing confessions. Through information gleaned in the confessional box, he saw the parish priest as playing an important role in providing advice to people who are sinning and in settling village disputes.

He also noted down his favourite recipes and some thoughts on becoming a hermit, and he scribbled down a simple knot that caught his fancy.

The abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1536 and began to tumble down – particularly in the late 17th Century when its stone was removed to build a private house nearby. It is that house which is holding tomorrow’s plant fair.

Harriet Corner, who moved into the house with her husband, Nigel, in 1995, discovered Gisbourne’s common book, and its scribbled knot, in 2003.

“It seemed like the perfect template to use in the existing shady, grass area surrounding the abbey ruins to create a garden,” she says. “With the help of garden designer Jane Cordingley, we planted thousands of box plants which eventually knitted together into the design that you see today.”

Somewhere beneath the knot garden must lie Sir Geoffrey Scope, who was buried in the abbey in 1340. He was the son of the bailiff of Richmond who rose to become the chief justice to Edward II and then Edward III – a skilful transfer of allegiance.

At the time of his death, Sir Geoffrey was fabulously wealthy and owned a good portion of north North Yorkshire. One of his duties was negotiating peace with the Scots, who were particularly troublesome in the 1320s. Because of their raids, the landowners of North Yorkshire struggled for money, so Sir Geoffrey offered them loans. When they couldn’t afford to pay him back, he took control of their lands.

Sir Geoffrey was so wealthy that when, in 1340, he sailed to fight alongside Edward III in Flanders, he needed six ships to carry his horses and retinue. He died at Ghent on December 2, 1340, aged in his mid-fifties, and his body was sailed home to be buried at Coverham.

The abbey is nowadays private property, but last year its first plant fair, organised by Flower Power Fairs, proved so popular with gardeners and people interested in history that it raised more than £3,000 for local charities.

The second fair is held on Sunday, from 11am to 4pm, with plenty of free parking. Admission is £4, and it is raising money for a local branch of Riding for the Disabled. Homemade refreshments will be available and will raise money for Coverham church, a wonderful building a few hundred yards from the abbey which is worth a look while you are there.

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