A Shakespeare garden is simply a garden that features Shakespeare-themed plants. For some, this means using any (or all!) of the 175 plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays, along with placques, tags, or cards to identify which plants come from which plays.
You might also plant a garden showcasing only the herbs in Shakespeare’s plays, or you could be historical with your design and showcase herbs from the Tudor period, the Jacobean period, and include identification about that plant’s meaning from the time period when they were popular.
You could also plant just a rose garden featuring only roses related to Shakespeare’s plays. As you can tell, there are many ways to design a Shakespeare garden and the only real “rule” is that your garden be about Shakespeare.
In this article, I’m going to share with you some of my ideas on how you can plant your own Shakespeare garden, including a sampling of those 175 plants you might choose to include, and key elemets that many of today’s most famous Shakespeare gardens have featured. We talk about plants in Shakespeare’s play inside #Ep61 of #ThatShakespeareLife with guest, author of Botanical Shakespeare Gerit Quealy and you can listen to that episode here.
This tutorial is the last in a series on Shakespeare and Gardens we’ve been doing weekly on YouTube for the month of June. If you like Shakespeare history, consider subscribing as we have new videos there every Saturday.
A few plants to include:
This is just a sampling of ones I think are neat. To see a full list of plants from Shakespeare’s plays, I recommend you listen to #Ep61 of #ThatShakespeareLife with Gerit Quealy she talks about the plants in Shakespeare’s plays and her book, Botanical Shakespeare, features all 175 with references to the plays and colorful illustrations.
There will we make our peds of roses,
And a thousand fragrant posies.
Mercy on me! I have a great dispositions to cry.
Also called tussie-mussies or nosegays, were bundles of extremely fragrant flowers carried on the body, often pinned to clothing. Their smell was thought to protect against diseases by running off bad smells. A “posie” could be any number of flowers and popular ones for William Shakespeare’s lifetime included sweet Williams (this one was actually an exotic plant for the 16th century), roses, rosemary, basil, thyme, rue, hyssop, marjoram, meadow sweet, southernwood and sage.
Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, demonstrates the Tudor tradition of giving flowers as gifts. In the 16-17th century, there was a communication that happened through plants, particularly flowers, as each one held a meaning or association. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia’s flower gifts in Act 4 scene 5 demonstrate the poetry of the period giving lavender the connotation of ‘lovers true’, gillyflowers to ‘gentleness’, and marigolds to ‘marriage’. (Source)
Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats, messengers
Of strong prevailment in unharden’d youth:
With cunning hast thou filch’d my daughter’s heart,
Turn’d her obedience, which is due to me,
To stubborn harshness
In The Merry Wives of Windsor there is a reference to Bachelors’ Buttons, a colloquial name applied for hundreds of years to many double-petalled, button-like flowers. (Shakespeare just calls them “buttons).
Lavender, Mint, Savory, Marjoram, and the Marigold
Shakespeare mentions all five of these plants in one line given of A Winter’s Tale:
Here’s flowers for you;
Hot lavender, mints, savoury, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ the sun
And with him rises weeping: these are flowers
Of middle summer, and I think they are given
To men of middle age. You’re very welcome.
“The purple violets, and marigolds,
Shall as a carpet, hang upon thy grave
While summers days do last”
– Pericles, Act IV, Scene 1
“And winking Mary-buds begin
To ope their golden eyes:”
– Cymbeline, Act II, Scene 3
The “weeping” mentioned in The Winter’s Tale is because marigolds would bow under the weight of the morning dew, and be seen dripping similar to the crying of tears. As the dew dried, the marigold would arise again, brightly shining. It is for these reasons that the Marigold has become an emblem of constancy and affection. However, for William Shakepseare in Tudor England the marigold was associated with a fair-weather friendship or affection. It was tied to the idea of a fawning courtier, who was only loyal when things look favorable.
I am that flower
– Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act V, Scene 2
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell’d skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in:
And with the juice of this I’ll streak her eyes,
And make her full of hateful fantasies.
Take thou some of it, and seek through this grove:
A sweet Athenian lady is in love
With a disdainful youth: anoint his eyes;
But do it when the next thing he espies
May be the lady: thou shalt know the man
By the Athenian garments he hath on. “
Oberon, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, II.1
(Also Othello I.3)
Henry IV, part 1 “The Camomile; The more it is trodden on, the faster it grows.” Source
I knew a wench married in an afternoon
as she went to the garden for parsley to stuff a rabbit; and so
may you, sir; and so adieu, sir. My master hath appointed me to
go to Saint Luke’s to bid the priest be ready to come against you
come with your appendix.
Taming of the Shrew IV.4
A Shakespearean Rose Garden
These are screen captures taken to demonstrate what is available at David Austen roses. You can purchase these plants by searching the terms listed below and his company will ship these plants to you, with a guarantee, and a guide for which planting zone is optimal for each rose.
David Austen cultivates an entire line of roses named after literature, including many from Shakespeare’s plays and even one called the William Shakespeare rose.
Starting with purely a rose garden and moving out from there is an excellent idea.
David Austin roses named after Shakespeare and his plays:
Juliet (Romeo and Juliet, also a Juliet in Measure for Measure)
Jaques Cartier (NOTE: Jacques Cartier was an explorer and not a contemporary of Shakespea –he died in 1557, and is a fascinating man in his own right. Learn more about the real Jacques Cartier here. I include this rose on my list as a nod to the Jacques in Shakespeare’s As You Like It)
Another Desdemona (Othello)
Olivia (Twelfth Night)
Falstaff (Henry IV Part 1 & 2, Henry V, Merry Wives of Windsor)
1. Symmetrical in some way. Raised beds, surrounded by boxwoods, in square plots and have a border around the whole thing. You decide, but neat and clean lines are a key feature of a Shakespearean garden.
2. A bust of Shakespeare
3. Label the plants tying them to the plays or Shakespeare’s history with either tags or decorative signs.
However you create your Shakespeare garden, as long as you’re showing off your love for the bard, you’re doing it right. Have fun! Share your pictures with me on Twitter @thatshakespeare
DOWNLOAD A COMPLETE LIST OF PLANTS IN SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS