MR. HUNTINGTON'S GARDEN | Putting the Bard in Shakespeare's Garden

Posted on Fri., April 22, 2011 by James Folsom
Shakespeare Garden

While out in the Shakespeare Garden yesterday, one of the guards reminded me that April 23 (this Saturday) is the day we celebrate Shakespeare's birthday. We have replanted the garden just in time to bring a bit more life and color to the clearing over which Shakespeare presides.

But the job is never done, and the dell was full of activity. Volunteers, along with several staff members, were sacking out fading snapdragons and readying the soil for summer planting. The purple osteospermum was being shorn in order to determine whether it will return nicely or need replacement. Beds were edged, and the relentless crop of weedy bulbs that threatens this area was given another weeding.

And skepticism was ripe. On repeating the news of Shakespeare's impending birthday, I was reminded that a lot of assumptions are needed to coax this version of reality from the lack of good recordkeeping back in the 1600s. But I remain undaunted; Saturday is Shakespeare's birthday and my wish is that people walking through the Garden will enjoy the fact that he was born.

Now I think it's time to restore the plaques that were present at one time, plaques that give quotations from Shakespeare referring to the various kinds of plants in the Garden. What a déjà-vu-all-over-again feeling for me, since one of my very first assignments on beginning work at The Huntington in 1984 was to find the right quotations, make certain we unerringly cited text correctly from the Riverside edition of Shakespeare, and get plaques designed and manufactured. The project was to be completed with the newest label-making technology out there—metal photo. That meant plaques were bright aluminum with black print. They seemed very expensive at the time, and the budget allowed us to make about 35 different citations. Curiously, a few still exist, and they are in amazingly good condition—practically new. If it weren't for the fact that I've never liked the look of that raw and shiny aluminum in the gardens, I'd be tempted simply to go with the same technology again. But something a little more natural seems in order.

Bust of Shakespeare

Some of my favorite quotes you are sure to see:

"The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes."

"The Count is neither sad, nor sick, nor merry, nor well; But civil count, civil as an orange, and something of that jealous complexion."
—Much Ado About Nothing

"Daffodils, That come before the swallow dares, and take The winds of March with beauty."
—The Winter's Tale

"We have the Receipt of fern-seed, we walk invisible."
—Henry IV

"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."
Midsummer Night's Dream

Related link:
Download free talks by visiting scholars about "Shakespeare and His World" on iTunes U.

Jim Folsom is the Telleen/Jorgensen Director of the Botanical Gardens at The Huntington.