Monday, July 30, 2012

Shakespeare Garden At Northwestern University Is A Study In Beauty


                                      I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
                                     Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
                                     Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,
                                     With sweet musk roses and with eglantine.
                                     Lull'd in these flowers with dances and delight.

                                                    A Midsummer Night's Dream (2.1.255-60)

I took a midsummer day's tour of the Shakespeare Garden at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, during my recent trip to sweet home Chicago. 

The garden, tucked in between Hawthorn trees and tall hedges on campus near the Frank W. Howes chapel, is 95 years old and is on the national register of historic places.

Looking up at the castle-like structure with spires in the background, for a brief moment it looked a little more like the Bard's native England instead of the Chicago area.

Ah, well it looks more like the back drop of Chicago from this vantage point. And it certainly felt like Chicago with temperatures in July reaching almost 100 degrees and the humidity seemed just as high. 

But the heat didn't stop at least one student from taking advantage 
of reading in the shady nooks of this lovely garden. 

Eight garden beds fill a 70 by 100 feet garden plot that is divided in half both by turf grass and a sundial. 

The beds are divided by pavers and boxwood hedges.

The garden was designed by renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen in 1915 in response to the Drama League of America's suggestion to plant gardens to commemorate the 300th year of William Shakespeare's death.  It was also considered a gesture of wartime sympathy for British allies and to celebrate strong ties between the United States and Great Britain.

As a result, numerous Shakespeare Gardens 
popped up in the United States. 
This one is maintained by the Garden Club of Evanston.

Many of the themed gardens are similar in that they feature the plants and flowers mentioned in his numerous works. You may also find some of these quotes in the gardens and
possibly a bronze bust of the famous poet.

What I hope you find is a surprisingly beautiful garden,
 like I did at Northwestern University, and a great spot to sit and enjoy the tranquility

and beauty of the whole garden,

with flowers at the height of their bloom season that lull you 
'with dances and delight.'

At this garden, Jensen planted lots of the flowers Shakespeare mentions in his works, such as balm, broom, carnation, columbine, cowslip, daffodils, daisies, flax, lavender, lilies, mallow, marjoram, pansy, peony, violets and wormwood.

Some of them you might recognize and others you might not.

You might be inspired to google some of the plants Shakespeare writes about, like I was (for example from the opening quote above, apparently woodbine is honeysuckle and eglantine is sweetbriar, or a rosa rubiginosa).

But while it is useful and fun, especially for gardeners, to identify flowers and plants (even better if you can recite both the common name and the Latin name), it certainly isn't necessary to enjoy a garden just 
for its beauty or scents.

 Next time you are in a garden, whether or not it has a Shakespeare theme, remember that even the Bard himself would advise us not to get too hung up on names and labels. Otherwise, we might not see the forest for the trees. One of Shakespeare's most famous lines, from the tragic story of Romeo and Juliet, challenges us to reconsider the importance of names:

"What's in a name. That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

This is GardenEnvy.

Copyright 2012 by Jeannine. All rights reserved.


  1. Beautiful garden, and at first glance I did think of England! And I love the quotes!

  2. Jeannine, I so enjoyed to "tour this garden with you". I am surprised how lush it is considering the temperatures that you are mentioning, but the humidity seems to do the trick. The garden is so well maintained, just a feast for the eyes. It must be great to have a public garden like this near by!

  3. Thanks deb and Christina, glad you enjoyed it! Jeannine

  4. My connection to nature is intrinsic not academic. I'm not very good at remembering flower names. I do know that other gardeners look at me strangely when I can't name a particular flower in my own garden.


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