Printer Friendly

Designing a Shakespeare garden.

In Shakespeare's works, many beautiful cultivated plants are mentioned. It is, in fact, said that Shakespeare greatly enjoyed gardening. Considering the sheer volume of natural elements mentioned in Shakespeare's works, it seems fair to say that Shakespeare certainly appreciated natural history.

To be historically accurate, a Shakespeare Garden should be filled with any desired combination of the herein-mentioned plants. Although many books have been written on Shakespeare's writings, and many interpret his literary expressions differently, this should give you a good idea of what may be planted in your Shakespeare Garden.

Planning your Shakespeare garden

Making your own Shakespeare garden will allow you to cultivate and enjoy the plants mentioned in Shakespeare's collective works and, in the process, review a bit of literary and cultural history. Many of the the plants Shakespeare selected also have a Biblical association, such as wormwood, rue, hyssop, mint, mustard, saffron, and the rose.

It is generally agreed that roses, in fact, may be used in your Shakespeare garden to punctuate and divide each growing space, although some do use boxwoods, in true Elizabethan fashion; knot gardens are thus a logical variation on this theme. The use of fountains is also suggested in these Period Gardens.

Although this is by no means an exclusive list, please consider planting some of the following when making your Shakespeare Garden, as Shakespeare himself may have done.


Saffron, bay, thyme, lavender, mints, savory, marjoram, mandrake, rosemary, nettles, chamomile, thistle, fennel, monkshood, ginger, nutmeg, pepper, rue, bay, caraway, parsley, mustard, cloves, rye, savory, wormwood





Purple daisy, carnation, columbine, marigold, pansy, violets, daffodil, myrtle, lily-of-the-valley, poppy, crowflower (similar to buttercups), hyssop, mallow, pink, primrose, honeysuckle, myrtle, lily

Food crops:



Hazelnut, willow, osier, yew, elms, almond, birch, palm, elder, olive, sycamore, walnut


Sugar cane, sweet-briar, boxwood, ivies, mistletoe


Leek, potato, cabbage, squash, radish, turnip

Weedy plants:

Dock, cowslip, oxlips, burnet, plantain, clovers, oxlips


Gooseberry, apple, cherry, grape, pineapple, lemon, orange, apricot, crabapple, plum, quince, melon, bilberry, pear, peach, prune grape, mulberry, dewberry (similar to blackberry), plum, cherry


Knot-grass, spear-grass

Natural history

Some of the species were likely chosen by Shakespeare because of the meanings attached to each. "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance" (Hamlet, iv. 5, 175, and borage for boldness and strength). Certainly, there was always a sublimely romantic tone to all of Shakespeare's work, of which the plants served as an example.

Not poppy nor mandragora

Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world

Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep

Which thou owedst yesterday.--Othello, iii. 3, 330

The marigold that goes to bed wi' the sun

... With him rises weeping.--Winter's Tale, iv. 4, 105

and writers of the time seem to use the plans as metaphors for moral lessons:

The strawberry grows underneath the nettle,

And wholesome berries thrive and ripen best

Neighboured by fruit of baser quality.--King Henry V, i. i, 6c

Although ivy be cut asunder in many places, yet it

continueth and liveth still.--Holland's Piiny, Book xvi, ch. 34

In the 1896 book Natural History in Shakespeare's Time: ... Extracts of the Subject as He Knew It, more theories were put forth as to why these individual plants were selected for perpetuity in literature. Fennel was supposed to aid one's sight. Burnets were "a ... good herb for wounds, [which] ... stauncheth bleeding, [when] ... inwardly taken, as ...well as ... outwardly applied; the lesser Burnet is pleasant to be eaten in salads ...." Thus there is a history and specific selection associated with each plant.

Selecting cultivars

I feel sure that Shakespeare would have said, "And so with your garden!" Specifically select the plants that appeal to you, and then divide or intersperse them using roses, boxwoods, or other dividing plants appropriate to a Shakespeare Knot Garden, such as the Lavender munstead (Lavendula angustifolia "Munstead") and Blue Beauty rue (Ruta graveolens "Blue Beauty.")

I have brought here good herbs, and of them plenty.

To make good broth and farcing, and that full dainty.

... Here is thyme and parsley, spinach and rosemary,

Endive, Succory, Lacture, Violet, Clary,

Liverwort, Marigold, Sorrell, Hart's Tongue, and Sage,

Pennyroyal' Purslane, Bugloss and Borage,

With many very good Herbs, mo[re] than I do name.--"The History of Jacob and Esau," iv. 5, as quoted in Seager

With the wide selection of plants available in Shakespeare's works, there should be cultivars available that are appropriate to every clime and hardiness zone.

There is simply no end to the enjoyment and scientific knowledge your Shakespeare Garden can provide.


Kowalchik, C and Hylton, W, Editors. Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Rodale Press, Inc; Emmaus, PA, 1987.

Seager, H. Natural History in Shakespeare's Time: ... Extracts of the Subject as he Knew It. 1896. stream/naturalhistoryi00seaggoog/ naturalhistoryi00seaggoog_djvu.txt" naturalhistoryi00seaggoog_djvu.txt. Accessed May 29, 2010.
COPYRIGHT 2011 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:The garden
Author:Bargeman, Lisa Ann
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2011
Previous Article:Raised-bed garden on the high plains or gardening at 6,250 feet.
Next Article:I got worms! (And I ain't sorry about it, either!).

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters