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A Bard in the Herb Garden

by Carole McCray

Herbs have long been associated with history and literature.   You acquire a sense of the past when you create a Shakespeare garden, based on the   References to flowers and herbs that can be found in Shakespeare’s writings.  He showed a fondness and familiarity of wildflowers and cultivated plants native to his Warwickshire countryside. Throughout his plays and sonnets, he refers to more than eighty herbs and flowers.  At least twenty-nine of Shakespeare’s plays are set in gardens and orchards. 


§         A Shakespeare garden should follow the design of the formal Elizabethan style knotted garden, a popular design in the sixteenth century, with a well-defined pattern and geometric shapes.

§         The feeling of balance and order should prevail in a knotted garden.  A classic evergreen hedge like boxwood is ideal to outline and contain the Shakespeare garden.

§         In a formal garden, plants can, also serve to outline the garden.  Germander, hyssop, santolina or lavender are good choices.

§         Add to the formality of the garden with an ornamental rosemary topiary in the center of the garden or several topiaries throughout depending on the garden size.

§         You might include attractive markers to note the quotation of each herb plant and the play or sonnet where it was mentioned.


Herbs need five to six hours of sun each day and should be in a well-drained spot.  Your Growise Center will provide additional information to help your plants thrive.

CHAMOMILE—sweet apple-scented, hardy perennial used in potpourri and scented pillows; tiny daisy-like flowers can be infused for tea.  “Though the chamomile, the more it is trodden on the faster it grows, yet youth, the more it is wasted the sooner it wears.”  King Henry IV, Part 1, Act II, Scene 4.

FENNEL—every part of this perennial from seed to root is edible.  “There’s fennel for you and columbines.”  Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5.

HYSSOP—hardy, semi-evergreen deciduous shrub.  Anise-scented pink or purple flowers loved by bees and butterflies.  “We will plant nettles or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme.” Othello, Act I, Scene 3.

LAVENDER—fragrant scent with deep purple or pale lavender spiky flowers on silver or grey-green feathery foliage.  Popular culinary and decorative herb.  Check different cultivars and zone hardiness as to whether lavender is annual or perennial.  “Here’s flowers for you; hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram.”  The Winter’s Tale, Act IV, Scene 4.

MARJORAM—shrubby perennial with white or purple tiny flowers; culinary with spicy-scented leaves.

MINT—hardy, invasive perennial.  Grow in pots to contain it.  Choose peppermint, spearmint, apple, orange, lemon or ginger.   Flavors fruit salads; cold drinks.  Spearmint is a refreshing garnish for spring peas and new potatoes.

WINTER SAVORY—hardy perennial.  Aromatic, peppery eaves used in many bean dishes.  Called the “bean” herb.  Bears tiny pink to white flowers; makes a good edging plant.

PARSLEY—hardy biennial needs protection in cold weather.  Choose either curled parsley, Italian or French; the latter two are more flavorful.  “I knew a wench married in an afternoon as she went to the garden for parsley to stuff a rabbit.”  The Taming of the Shrew, Act IV, Scene 4.

ROSEMARY—tender perennial.  Grow in large pot in cold weather climates; bring indoors during winter.  Culinary and decorative with blue, pink or white flowers depending on variety.  “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray you, love, remember.”  Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5.

THYME—can grow as a shrub for low hedging.  Common thyme is popular with cooks; mix with parsley and bay in bouquet garni.  Other thymes—lemon thyme, woolly thyme and a variety of creeping thymes make aromatic carpets.  “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows.”  A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Act II, Scene 1.

A fascination exists about herbs because of their practical and historical associations.  In creating a Shakespeare herb garden, you will gain knowledge and derive pleasure in planning and having a garden rooted in centuries past. 

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