By Leslie D. Soule
Originally, I was going to write about the plants of J.R.R. Tolkien’s elf-kingdom of Lothlorien, but upon finding that his flora is all invented and native to Middle-Earth, I realized that this quest was in vain. However, I’d heard about people planting “Shakespeare gardens” – which are just basically gardens filled with the plants that the Bard has mentioned in his plays.
One of the scenes that instantly comes to mind is the scene in Hamlet where Ophelia’s been driven crazy by the murder of her father Polonius. She gives us a grocery list of plants and their symbolic meanings.
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-grace o' Sundays: O you must wear your rue with
a difference. There's a daisy: I would give you
some violets, but they withered all when my father
died: they say he made a good end,--“
~Act IV, Scene V, Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
She mentions rosemary, fennel, and rue. Anyone who’s cooked with herbs ought to recognize rosemary and fennel. Rue stumped me though, and I had to do an internet search, which revealed that rue is “A European strong-scented perennial herb with grey-green bitter-tasting leaves.” So planting according to this passage would yield a garden that’s half filled with herbs and half filled with flowers. Shakespeare also mentions roses, in Romeo and Juliet, and in many of his sonnets.
Juliet ponders the silly fact that a mere name should keep her from her Romeo when she says, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
There are many types of roses out there, and there is actually a variety of rose that has been dubbed the “William Shakespeare rose”. It is a rose with a deep, blushing pink color and an abundance of petals.
If roses are your preference, you could set aside a section of your Shakespeare garden for red and white roses, as a nod to the historical Wars of the Roses, waged for the throne of England. The houses of Lancaster and York fought a series of civil wars that lasted from 1455 to 1485. Be sure to label the red roses with a “Lancaster” marker and the white roses with a “York” marker.
I was hoping Shakespeare mentioned mint somewhere in his works, because when I create my own Shakespeare garden, I would love to have this fragrant, tasty herb as a part of it. I was delighted to discover that he does mention it in The Winter’s Tale – a play renowned for the line, “Exeunt, pursued by a bear,” – which in my humble opinion is the best example of Deus Ex Machina in all of literature.
~The Winter’s Tale, Act IV, Scene 4.
Although the witches of Macbeth add “root of hemlock, digged i’ the dark” to their potion, I wouldn’t recommend planting it on purpose. I volunteer at a nature center here in Sacramento, California, and we try to pull up as much hemlock as humanly possible because not only is it an invasive species and one that spreads wildly, but it is extremely poisonous. Legend has it that Socrates was made to die by drinking tea laced with hemlock.
So that should get you started with a basic Shakespeare garden. To add more plants, simply look through the Bard’s work and see what flora is mentioned and then check if it’s available in your local area. Statues, signs, and markers can be added and….Voila! You have yourself a Shakespeare garden.
Leslie Soule lives in Sacramento, California. Fallenwood is her first fantasy novel. She has received her B.A. in English from Sacramento State University and is currently working on her Master’s degree in English at National University.