Planning Your Shakespeare Garden

Plants to Include in Your Shakespeare Garden Design

Planning Your Shakespeare Garden

By Lisa Ann Bargeman – As a big fan of Shakespeare, having my own Shakespeare garden was a MUST! In his 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 plants Shakespeare selected also have a Biblical association, such as growing saffron, wormwood, rue, hyssop, mint, mustard, 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.

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


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.

Will you be designing a Shakespeare garden on your property? Which plants might you include?

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