Monday, 9 January 2017

Shakespeare's flowers

Part of my garden is what I call my Shakespeare garden. I was inspired by a garden in Stratford on Avon that I visited about 25 years ago which was planted with trees mentioned in his plays – except I took it one step further and planted any flower/herb/plant he referred to.

It was great fun reading through his plays (or, at least, googling famous Shakespeare quotes to find references to flowers!) and then researching what the modern name might be for them. Researching for this post I now find millions of websites dedicated to Shakespeare’s flowers! I did most of my research the hard way, via, books.

He was rather naughty in some lines, for instance, he referred to ‘honeysuckle’ and ‘woodbine’ in the same line. They are one and the same!

My garden is rather run down now and many of the plants have died off so I need to restock it but I did have an Oak tree, an Apple tree, a Blossom tree and the following herbs: Rosemary, Rue, Parsley, Mint, Fennel, Savoury, Marjoram, Thyme.

From A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

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.

I don’t think I ever got around to getting any Eglantine, also known as Sweet briar.

I did have the following wild flowers: Oxlip, Cowslip, Daisies, Hyssop, Harebell, Clover, Ivy, Buttercup (Shakespeare called cuckoo-buds – it took me AGES to find this out and I ended up emailing a stately home that had a Shakespeare garden for their help!),

From Love’s Labours Lost:

When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight.
And these plants Lily, Honeysuckle, Pansies (he also called Love-in-Idleness – however, this is a very small pansy). Photo from:

From Midsummer Night’s Dream:   

Yet mark'd I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love's wound,
And maidens call it love-in-idleness.

I also had Rose, Primrose, Carnation (Shakespeare called Gillyvor), Holly, Violet.

From Hamlet:

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 withered all when my father died.

Rosemary is particularly associated with remembrance of the dead, and Pansies get their name from pensées, the French for thoughts. Fennel represents marital infidelity and Columbine flattery or insincerity. Rue, also known as Herb of grace, is very bitter and stands for regret, repentance and sorrow. Daisies are a symbol of innocence and the Violets mean faithfulness. Don’t think I ever got any Columbines (also known as Aquilegia).

Now Rue – I discovered – is toxic! I was sitting next to it in the bright sunshine one summer and the yellow flowers rubbed against my skin (photo from

Within 24 hours I came out in a horrible red welt. At that time I had no idea what had caused it until a few weeks later when the same thing happened again and the penny clicked! So I replanted that close to the fence but it never flowered again so I don’t know if it needed the bright sunshine or it just didn’t like being dug up.

From A Winter’s Tale:

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.

I tried planting Marigold and Lavender but they never grew in my soil. But most other ones grew very well – in fact, much better than other areas of my garden. I put this down to the fact that these are mostly English plants and could cope with a Yorkshire winter.

As for Roses – I actually have a separate rose garden with Roses following the colour wheel from white through orange, pink, and red. But since I live in Yorkshire the white rose is naturally my most prolific bush!

From Henry VI part I:

Let him that is a true born gentleman
And stands upon the honour of his birth
If he suppose that I have pleaded truth
From off this briar pluck a white rose.

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