CHARLOTTE, NC, February 22, 2018. In Origin, the latest novel by Dan Brown, the author takes his code-loving decipherist Robert Langdon on an elaborate adventure through Spain. Near the end of the manuscript, Brown mentions a Shakespeare Garden, of which he claims there are 33 in existence throughout the world.
Ironically, there is no secret or hidden message in Brown’s floral reference to the Bard of Avon.
A Shakespeare Garden is precisely what its two-word title describes, a garden dedicated to the works of the great Elizabethan playwright and poet.
What are Shakespeare Gardens
Shakespeare Gardens are themed horticultural plantings that emphasize flowers which have been mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare.
Though 17th century London would hardly have been an ideal spot for cultivating plant-life, Shakespeare was reputed to have been an avid gardener. Early in 1631, Sir Thomas Temple, 1st Baronet, of Stowe eagerly sent a man to collect cuttings from the grapevines at Shakespeare’s former home in Stratford-Upon-Avon because he had been informed by his sister, who lived nearby, of the quality of the writer’s plants.
Over time, particularly in the United States and other English-speaking countries, Shakespeare Gardens have come to adorn public spaces in parks, universities and at Shakespearian Festivals. Most often the locations of the gardens are places with significant cultural and educational interest.
The gardens typically offer signs with relevant quotations from various sonnets and plays by Shakespeare that have been posted near the individual plants. Gardens usually include several dozen species of herbaceous plants or a geometric pattern separated by boxwood dividers.
Shakespeare Gardens as an homage to the bard
Naturally, a Shakespeare Garden would be incomplete without a bust of the prolific wordsmith, so a weather-resistant sculpture is a traditional feature of the area.
In addition, other amenities include paths and benches where visitors can sit quietly to reflect upon the floral representations blooming before them.
It is also common for a Shakespeare Garden to feature reproductions of Elizabethan architecture.
Traditional English Gardens have long been popular throughout the United Kingdom, but the revival of interest in the flowers mentioned by Shakespeare dates to around 1852 when Paul Jerrard tried to identify the author’s specific floral references through a purely literary and botanical document known as “Flowers from Stratford-Upon-Avon.”
When English historian and barrister, Ernest Law, was appointed the official historian at Hampton Court Palace due to his expertise in Tudor history, he expertly reconstructed the Shakespeare Garden at New Place, Stratford-Upon-Avon in the 1920s.
Law, who was also an expert on Shakespeare, used a 16th century woodcut from Thomas Hill to design the Knott Garden at
Hampton Court. According to Law, “Shakespeare must certainly have consulted (“The Gardiners Labyrinth” (London 1586)) when laying out his own Knott Garden.”
Later, in 1969, the same woodcut was used in the layout for the Queen’s Garden behind Kew Palace.
In 1988, a small arboretum of approximately 40 trees mentioned in Shakespeare’s works were planted to complement Anne Hathaway’s Cottage about a mile from Stratford in Shottery.
Special benches were designed to allow visitors to gaze at the cottage, once the home of Shakespeare’s wife, and listen to professional readings of one of four Shakespearean sonnets.
A rose by any other name
As with most Shakespeare Gardens, the plantings of Esther Singleton in the U.S. and Law in the U.K., owe much to the tradition of “English Cottage Gardens” which partially evolved because of a revival in interest but even more from new garden innovations that occurred during the 1870s.
Arguably, the best known Shakespearean floral reference comes from “Romeo & Juliet” when Juliet says to Romeo from her balcony, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Ophelia in “Hamlet” is more prolific in her references, however, when she says to Laertes:
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.
“There’s fennel for you, and columbines. There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me. We may call it herb of grace o’ Sundays.
“O, you must wear your rue with a difference! There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they wither’d all when my father died. They say he made a good end.”
In just those few sentences alone, Ophelia could have filled an entire Shakespeare Garden all by herself.
Central Park’s Shakespeare Garden
Central Park in New York City added a Shakespeare Garden in 1916 to honor the 300th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.
The area, one of eight designated Quiet Zones in the park, included a graft from a mulberry tree that was said to have been grafted from another tree planted by Shakespeare himself in 1602. Sadly a summer storm in 2006 blew the mulberry down and it had to be removed.
The garden itself is situated near the Delacorte Theater that is home to the New York Shakespeare Festival.
Shakespeare Gardens can be found in many places throughout the world, paying homage to one of the greatest writers of all time.
And why not? After all, William Shakespeare’s gardens bloom today in honor of a man who certainly specialized in “flowery” language.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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