A Reader’s Request: The Herbs of Shakespeare, Act One

| 2/9/2012 9:26:09 PM

n.heraud2You can check out the Lemon Verbena Lady at her blog Lemon Verbena Lady's Herb Garden 

I always ask you for blog suggestions, and a reader from Texas came up with a couple that I think you will find interesting. Because Valentine’s Day is near, I’m going to post about William Shakespeare's herbs. Shakespeare arguably wrote one of the most poignant love stories for the ages, Romeo and Juliet. He also sprinkled herbs and flowers throughout some of his other plays, including The Winter’s Tale and A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The Pittsburgh area where I live is lucky to be the home to the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation on the campus of Carnegie-Mellon University. I mention this because one of the books I used in researching this project is Shakespeare’s Flowers, written by Jessica Kerr and illustrated by Anne Ophelia Dowden, who is one of my favorite botanical artists. If you are going to visit the Pittsburgh area or you live here, you should visit the Hunt Institute. Beginning in March, they will feature an exhibit that explores the wildflowers of Pennsylvania.

Pittsburgh also has a charming Elizabethan herb garden and Shakespeare garden that is maintained by the Western Pennsylvania Unit of the Herb Society of America. It was highlighted in my post called The Herb Channeler’s Adventures with Jekka McVicar. It contains flowers, vegetables, wildflowers and herbs mentioned in his plays. There are approximately 160 plant references in all of Shakespeare’s works.

The Shakespeare Garden in the Elizabethan Herb Garden at Mellon Park 

I have been trying to decide on a new theme for my herb garden and the plants of Shakespeare may inspire me to plant a Shakespearean-style garden. First, here is a brief history of the Elizabethan garden: The Elizabethan garden was balanced in design and following the design of the Tudor house. The gardens had hedges or borders with paths that led the visitors near the plants. Flower beds formed knots that were edged with box, thrift, thyme, santolina or hyssop. Eglantine roses were mixed with privet to form a fragrant but private hedge to surround the entire garden. The combination even kept out the livestock!