Shakespeare in the Garden

Feverfew and lavender bloom in companionship for healing amongst the steps and boulders
When I read Romeo and Juliet as a sophomore in high schoolI never guessed I’d develop a passion for growing flowers and herbs. A typical, oblivious teenager, I overlooked Shakespeare’s references to roses, garlic, and rosemary without the slightest care or understanding.
'Doth not rosemary and Romeo begin both with a letter?' asks Juliet's Nurse of Romeo, both of them being aware of the herb’s emblematic meaning of fidelity and love.
From that introduction to Shakespeare’s works to this fine day on the cusp of summer, William has waited patiently to capture my imagination with his pithy botanical putdowns as he did his Elizabethan and Jacobean England. At last I mature in what the Bard of Avon named the “fifth age of man.”
Well into this stage of “the justice”, I grow old with Shakespeare in my gardens; discover with delight his knowledge of the natural world and wisdom he drew from it. Scenes unfold from garden to garden as I weed peonies, cull runaway rudbeckia from their bed, and listen to the audio book of As You Like It.
This is an ideal environment to visualize Shakespeare’s plays and become familiar with his language and world. Although he never uses the words “flower” and “leaf”, the forest is vivid as my peonies, maples and pines, his trees a magical horticultural mix of Oak, Hawthorn, Palm-tree, and Olive.
I hear the theme of “nature heals” in this comedy of familial and romantic love. For Rosalind, the heroine, and everyone else who enter the Forest of Arden are better for it. I see Fortune and Nature often work at odds.
Fortune may bestow wealth, position, and power on a person by underserved means. However, if this person lacks the nature of nobility, foresight, courage, and compassion, they may mismanage their gift to their own ruin. Conversely, Nature may grant a bounty upon on a person whom Fortune has snubbed. This person will have the faculties to gain independence and wealth, albeit with work and struggle.                 
I left my hoe and lay down under a maple tree to stretch my back and ponder Will’s philosophy on Nature and Fortune. Praise to my lineage, mine is the gift of Nature. Like Shakespeare, my grandfather knew the healing properties of his native wildflowers, herbs, and trees.  Love and care for his land granted prosperity and food to his family and neighbors during the Great Depression.
           Mine is the love of family and gardens, a flower in every room with soft and deep shades of bloom to color gray and empty spaces. Mine is stacks of books, poetry waiting to speak sonnets, haiku, and villanelles.
Dear Reader, mine is the empty page wanting words of hope, faith, and love in all manner of literary devices. What a privilege to garden with the Master of letters, to carry the spirit of his words and world to your hands.

Author’s Note: In A Shakespearean Botanical, Margaret Willes cross-references each mention of a plant in Shakespeare's work with what his contemporaries would have known about plants.