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Grow a Shakespeare Garden

Pay tribute to the Bard with this themed garden rooted in literary history.

By Sharon Biggs Waller

Illustration of Shakespeare garden
Illustration by Tom Kimball
A Shakespeare-themed garden is based on an axial design and can contain plants mentioned in the author's works.

If you are aiming to grow Shakespearean garden, Howard Pierce, a California-based landscape architect, says an axial design and formal appearance will showcase the plants best.

“Decomposed granite or gravel paths and themed plants grouped within boxwood hedges would work,” he says. “Think about statuary and garden ornamentation that reflect the theme. Shakespeare would bring to mind fairy folk from A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the players from Hamlet or [the Henry IV plays].”

The Shakespearean garden celebrates the Bard’s mention of plants in his plays. In Hamlet, Ophelia rants to her brother, Laertes, just before she meets her watery end: “There’s rue for you; and here’s some for me. We may call it herb of grace o’ Sundays.”

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oberon, King of the Fairies, tells his cheeky servant, Puck, about the benefits of the magical plant heartsease (Viola tricolor), also known as Johnny Jumpup or European Field

Maidens call it Love-in-Idleness,
The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid
Will make a man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.

Plants to Try

Heartsease (Viola tricolor)
The yellow, cream and purple flowers of this tiny viola bloom all summer. It has been used in herbal medicine as a laxative, diuretic, and to treat ulcers and various skin conditions, so it’s an appropriate addition to an apothecary garden, too. The flower’s petals are edible and can be used to garnish salads.
annual or short-lived perennial; hardy to zone 4

Rue (Ruta graveolens)
Rue was traditionally used in “thieves’ vinegar,” a concoction thought to protect grave robbers when they plundered the bodies of plague victims. Rue was also placed in courtrooms to prevent jail fever, aka typhus. Contact with bare skin can cause blistering, so wear gloves when working with rue.
perennial; USDA zones 4 to 9

Cowslip primrose (Primula veris)
These tiny, yellow flowers bloom in early spring. Shakespeare mentions them in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
perennial; USDA zones 5 to 9

Samphire (Crithmum maritimum)
This edible old-time pot herb was traditionally collected from sea cliffs; its harvest is mentioned in King Lear as a dangerous occupation.
perennial; USDA zones 7 to 9

Other Plant Choices

About the Author: Sharon Biggs Waller is a freelance writer and hobby farmer based in northwestern Indiana. She has several themed gardens of her own, including a scented garden and an apothecary garden. She’s the author of The Original Horse Bible (BowTie Press, 2011) and blogs at www.sharonbiggswaller.com.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2011 issue of Hobby Farm Home.

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