Archive for the ‘Gardens’ Category

Shakespeare’s Garden by Jackie Bennett with photos by Andrew Lawson is a photo essay of the gardens that Shakespeare may have been familiar with as he was writing his plays and sonnets. Plants and flowers were common in his works and Bennett tries to describe the gardens of the day and those he may have seen.


(The photo on the cover is indicative of the numerous photos throughout the book.)

Gardens in Shakespeare’s time served many purposes. Ornamental gardens were just being introduced. Most gardens served a purpose–to feed a family, to produce herbs and plants for medicinal purposes, to feed livestock. As Shakespeare’s popularity and fame increased, he traveled between London and Stratford on Avon. He came into contact with royalty and commoners. As a result, he would have been familiar with both royal gardens as well as common gardens of the working class. He would also have been familiar with the medical and household uses of many of herbs and flowers.

Many of the Shakespeare properties have been purchased by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT) and have been restored. Shakespeare’s Garden was published in association with the Trust.

Per the publisher: “From his birthplace in Henley Street, to his childhood playground at Mary Arden’s Farm, to his courting days at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and his final home at New Place – where he created a garden to reflect his fame and wealth. Cared for by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, these gardens are continually evolving to reflect our ongoing knowledge of his life. The book will also explore the plants that Shakespeare knew and wrote about in 17th century England: their use in his work and the meanings that his audiences would have picked up on…”

While the narrative describes the gardens and there are tidbits of botanic quotes from Shakespeare’s plays, it is the photos that bring everything to life. Andrew Lawson’s photos will make gardeners drool. While I was hoping for more of an explanation of the meanings of the flowers and plants Shakespeare used in his works, and there was little of that in Shakespeare’s Garden, I was not disappointed by the book. I wish I could have a fraction of one of the gardens photographed in the book. Shakespeare’s Garden is definitely worth the time. It is totally enjoyable.

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Here’s another floral gem of a book about flowers and their names and uses, Shakespeare’s Flowers by ShakespearesFlowersJessica Kerr and illustrated by Anne Ophelia Donden. Let’s recap for a second, though. We have Who Named the Daisy, Who Named the Rose by Mary Durant and A Garden of Words by Martha Barnette.

Kerr, an expert of flowers in Elizabethan England, picks a dozen or two flowers, prints excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets and explains what it means, what the flowers were used for and how they might have made their ways into English gardens. As you can see from the illustrations shown here, they are marvelous.

ShakespearesFlowers1For instance, did you know that the rose, shown here, was mentioned in Two Noble Kinsmen, Love’s Labors Lost, The Taming of the Shrew and Hamlet as well as Romeo and Juliet? As a matter of fact, Shakespeare mentions it 70 times in his plays and sonnets. It is so beloved that it never had another name? And the dew from rose petals was used  in making costly cosmetics. And of course, the rose is symbolic of the 32 year War of the Roses.

Kerr covers the well known flowers such as daisies, ShakespearesFlowers2violets, and marigolds and herbs such as rosemary, thyme and spearmint. She also picks less common ones, such as rue. She even discusses weeds. When you rue something you regret it or want to repent. This is associated with bitterness and rue has a bitter, sour flavor. Herbs such as rosemary and rue are still carried in the processions of the Lord Mayor of London, a carryback to when it was thought of as a preventative against the plague and “…a little nosegay of rue is placed beside a judge in court to this day.”

I find it fascinating how flowers and herbs all had medicinal value ‘in the old days’ and sometimes I wonder how much better off we really are with big pharmaceuticals. It is amazing the traditions and rituals that arose from the belief in the medical, spiritual and superstitious powers of flowers.

To close this, if you are at all interested in flowers and the etymology of their names, Shakespeare’s Flowers would be a welcome addition to your library.


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WritersGardenWhat is it about authors and gardens? Is it the authors’ artistic natures that attract them to gardens? There are authors well known for the gardening interests such as Jane Austen, Emily Dickenson and Beatrix Potter, whose gardens are artistically recreated in her books. For more on that, read the wonderful Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life by Marta McDowell which features photos of her gardens, Potter’s drawings of flowers and scenes from her books.BeatrixPottersGardeningLife

The Writer in the Garden edited by Jane Garmey includes essays by such diverse authors as E. B. White, Alexander Pope, Edith Wharton and M.F.K. Fisher.

However, it is Jackie Bennett’s The Writer’s Garden: How Gardens Inspired Our Best-Loved Authors that stands out. She has produced a wonderful pictorial essay on 20 British authors who loved and were devoted to their gardens. The authors range from Laurence Sterne (1713-1768) and his Shandy Hall and John Clare (1793-1864) and his Heplston to Charles Dickens (1812-1870) and his Gad’s Hill Place and Henry James (1843-1916) and his Lamb House to Roald Dahl (1916-1990) and his Gipsy House and Ted Hughes (1930-1998) and his Lumb Bank.

Bennett provides a smattering of the authors’ biographies, descriptions of their gardens and the impact on the authors’ works and enough photos to make every gardener jealous. The photos of the English countryside make it appear just as you imagine it from reading Jane Austen, the mist, the open spaces, the hills.

There’s the odd tidbit, such as Lamb House originally inhabited by Henry James was later inhabited by the author E. F. Benson or that Roald Dahl had a gypsy caravan on his property. Many of the estates were donated to England’s National Trust and can be visited by tourists. Others are artist’s colonies/retreats, in an effort to maintain the author’s vision.

The appendices include Garden Visiting Information, Source of Quotes and Further Reading. What a great vacation it would be to visit each author’s house and view his/her garden.

If you are at all interested in literature and gardening, this is the book for you. It is no coffee-table book. It is a book to be read, its photos to be viewed again and again.

I’m sure there are more than the 20 British authors mentioned in this book who were interested in gardens. I’d love to see Volume II or a book featuring American authors.

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BeatrixPotterWe all know Beatrix Potter from her creation, Peter Rabbit and Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail. And we know she was a wonderful artist. But what I didn’t realize was she was much more than an artist/writer. She was an avid gardener and a conservationist. Gardening was a prominent part of her life and her homes in the English countryside were donated to a land trust and have been preserved.BeatrixPotterFlowers2

Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life is a wonderful book. Divided into four parts, the first is her biography. But instead of being a mere narration of her life, it emphasizes her many drawings of flowers, giving examples and explaining how her real life gardens made their way into her books. Her artistry, even at the young age of 10, was apparent and the watercolor with pen and ink drawings throughout the book are testament to her abilities.BeatrixPotterFlowers

The second part of the book describes her garden in the four seasons, with enough current photos, drawings by Potter and quotes about her garden to give readers a fantastic idea of what her garden looked like, how she felt about it and how she tended her garden.

The third section prescribes a tour of Potter’s various homes and gardens.

BeatrixPotterFlowers3The last section, part of which I found most interesting, was a listing of all the plants Potter grew in her garden and a list of which of her plants appeared in which of her books.

If you love flowers and gardening and watercolors of flowers and Peter Rabbit, you will love this book. Small in size. Big in color. It makes me want to visit Potter’s various homes in the English countryside. Just wonderful.

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