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Shakespearean Garden

Choosing some of these plants for your garden can help you create a garden ode to the poet or to a favorite play.

Gardens played an important role in William Shakespeare's works. It was where lovers met secretly, where games were played, plots laid and misunderstandings overheard. And often he symbolically used plants and flowers to illustrate his ideas both in his plays and in his poetry. In the Shakespearean garden, plants were more important than the design.

Medlar. A member of the pear family, medlar bears interesting fruits (figure A)--flat and quite large--and they're edible only when they've split apart and completely softened. Eating a medlar fruit too soon can be like eating an unripe persimmon.

Although it's not readily available in North America, it is worth the search. Adds Nancy Moore. "There is a lot of sexual innuendo connected with this plant in Romeo and Juliet. So if you like live on the racy side, this would be an interesting plant to have." Medlar is hardy to USDA Zone 4.

Figure B

Mulberry tree. Shakespeare had a mulberry tree (figure B) in his garden. It's hardy to USDA Zone 4 and can grow up to 40 feet tall. If you decide to add one to your garden, opt for a seedless variety.

Figure C

Rose. The rose (figure C) is the plant that's mentioned the most in Shakespeare's plays. The red rose of Lancaster is mentioned in the War of the Roses.

Historical roses are known as heritage roses. The white form is the alba rose and the red is the gallica. Both are very fragrant and disease-resistant. They are used for making potpourri. In Shakespeare's time, the flowers would have been used for strewing in the home.

Herbs. Playing a very important role in Shakespeare's works, herbs were used to mask poor hygiene. Lavender means "to wash" but it was actually used by Elizabethans who didn't.

"They wore it as a posy or carry it as a little bouquet simply because it alleviated some body odor," says Moore.

Figure D

Rosemary. Symbolizing remembrance and loyalty, rosemary (figure D) is now worn in sprigs at Shakespearean festivals around the world as a token of the bard.

Figure E

Thyme. An important plant in the Elizabethan age, thyme (figure E) was used for medicine and for cooking. It was also strewn on the floors in winter as a room freshener.

Violas are fragrant flowers that grow throughout the English countryside, and pansies were thought to have a special power. "In Midsummer Night's Dream, Puck was sent out to collect pansies. He squeezed juice from them and poured the juice into the eyes of sleeping people, and when they awoke, they fell in love with the first person they saw."

Figure F

Elizabethan-style bed

Hardscapes make an interesting addition to any Shakespearean garden. You can create your own Shakespearean garden with this circular raised bed made of segmented blocks (figure F). This one is planted with violas and pansies to create a wonderful and interesting focal point.

1. Begin by raking and leveling the area. Moore uses road mulch to fill any uneven areas. "Road mulch is a nice granular material – it compacts well and it’s easy to rake around."

2. Begin laying the block, starting by placing block in the cross sections. The structure will be stronger if your area is level, so you'll need to level each individual block. Use a small level and check the level side to side and front to back. Ddo that with each block you put in.

3. After the base core has been laid, Moore uses waterproof adhesive to crown the structure.

4. After the wall is complete, fill with soil, spreading it evenly. Then fill the bed with beautiful pansies---or any other Shakespearean plant you desire!

5. Water thoroughly.


    • Nancy Moore
      University College of the Fraser Valley
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