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The Gardens of Shakespeare's New Place: June

A fiery globe flings heat over our nation, our towns, villages, and grasslands… wastelands. There are murmurings of hose pipe bans, while many, not all, dream of England’s young football squad winning the Fifa World Cup, Andy Murray returning to Wimbledon, and the end to Brexit negotiations…

Jane Shaw
NP; bee on lupins
Bee enjoying some nectar

VI. June 2018

‘Shame about the lawn,’ some mutter as they squint against the sun in an effort to survey the brown patches on its surface.

Near to the steps that lead to the lawn from the Knot Garden a rectangle shape of dying back grass is clearly visible against green turf. A beige anomaly which becomes more apparent from the middle to the end of the month. It is in the shape of a marquee’s ground-cover — the awning of which once protected crates full of bottles of alcohol when a party was held for the great and the good to celebrate the re-opening of New Place after its renovation in 2016. The rectangle is a pale memory of the event, strangely the first area of the lawn to die back whenever water is scarce.

We are told that the earth is barrelling around the sun at a rate of 18.6 miles per second in order to make it around its yearly orbit of 607.6 million miles. This year for the inhabitants of Stratford-upon-Avon it would not be impossible to believe that it has run out of gas — we and an immobile earth sit burning, sizzling, waiting for a push onwards.

I have quite a ‘farmer’s tan’ at present, the look of a patchwork doll. The back of my neck and arms are brown, as is that slither of skin between my trousers and T-shirt, the hem of which inevitably rides-up from out of my waist band when bending down. I’ve given up on caring who catches a glimpse of that particular area. Other gardeners have had tattoos inked there to incite a reaction from passers-by - you can imagine…

As for the rest of me, it would blend in nicely with a snowstorm.

At this time we are not using sprinklers in an effort to bring about that archetypal English lawn - lush, nitrogen-pumped green, and striped by mowing. It would not reflect the conditions, appear unnatural, and be a complete waste of resources, considering that the forecast is for endless sun. Soon the green patches will fade and knit the lawn into a block of solid beige.

Beneath the earth there resides seams of quieter stuff. Living matter that is at rest for now. Once the rains come, as they must, the grass will return. 
We hope.

Those weary of the sun take refuge under the roof of the ‘Cow Shed’ a raised area in the shade of beech, lime, and horse chestnut trees. It was designed by Guy Pemberton in 1927 at a cost of £68 and 10 shillings.
From its vantage point they can view our hardier, or foolhardy, visitors slathered in sun-tan oil and sweat, battling it out at croquet, each crack of a ball kicking up dust from New Place’s weary lawn. 

Wind-Up Shakespeare toy
Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. Wind-Up Shakespeare toy available in all SBT shops and online. Fun for the little'uns and quite an office toy

As for the rest of the garden: the two fallow borders have finally been planted. Not in the most ideal conditions as we are forced into using water-water-water-water on the young plants that need to establish their roots in the ground.

In the Knot Garden the bed lush with lavender hedges is positively thriving, buzzing with bees, butterflies, and visitors, many a nostril pushed into their scent-rich foliage.
It is intoxicating, addictive, sleep-inducing.

We weed, we stake, we cut-back, we tidy, we inhale. We drug ourselves with plant oils hot in the air. A lethargy pervades everything that is sentient, children included. Lingering thoughts of a siesta, a snooze on a deckchair in the shade, drifts here, there, and everywhere.
The Knot Garden appears a lot better than it did after winter, but as stated in previous blogs, it is not as pleasing to the eye as it should be, a symmetry, a linking of the four beds is lacking.
To be continued…

Meanwhile, back in the overheated long borders, oriental poppies, beloved of painters such as Georgia O’ Keefe, entice our guests to step into the borders and take a photograph. On writing, at the end of June, they are now all gone, flotsam and jetsam in the compost heap. Since I’ve been here, four years now, it is noticeable that they are the one large bloom that draws our visitors to leap into the borders and mud for a ‘wow’ photograph. Their footprints are an annoyance, but always forgivable for the love of a plant.

When I worked at Shakespeare’s Birthplace visitors said to me that they were the biggest poppy blooms they had ever seen. They are magnificent, but with something that good there is always pay-back — once over, their foliage dies down in a miserable heap so they need flowering plants around them to conceal their yearly demise before their rebirth in the following year.

Our runner beans — ‘Achievement’ (red flower) and ‘Moonlight’ (white flower) — climbing up the tee-pees in the long border are once again disappointing. We are quite certain that it is because they have not been planted out soon enough. Other jobs have taken priority. To give them a boost we have fed them with a tomato fertiliser and they are looking a little perkier.

I hate to imagine what a couple of seasoned allotmenteers would make of it all:

First allotment holder: ‘They’re too late getting ‘em out. And can’t have dug in manure in autumn.’
Second allotment holder: ‘Mmm…’
(Both will take a long look at our tee-pees and the struggling runner-bean plants).
First allotment holder: ‘That’ll be the reason alright… ’
(They will each display empathy for their fellow gardeners, the gardening team at SBT, by a slow, sad, shake of their head - losses and disappointing results tend to hurt our sensitivities - but after a pause they will not fail to reveal a hint of smugness, a small smile at each other, a wry lift of a bushy eyebrow, reminding each other of their overflowing tee-pees at home).

To quickly exit this topic of vegetable failure, let us instead recall a rare overcast, grey June day, at the beginning of the month, when an amusing exchange occurred between a young visitor and a gardener in a playful mood.

It occurred at Hall’s Croft, the old home of Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna, and her husband, John Hall.

A father and his young son, perched atop his shoulders, are perusing the sun dial at the top of the two herbaceous borders. The father explains what it is, a clock, to which the son, a flop of blonde hair swinging around a shaved undercut, asks his dad the time. He replies. The son peers at the dial again with a frown. As our gardener passes with a barrow full of ground elder, a perennial problem in the two borders despite every best effort to remove it, the son eagerly exclaims to both father and gardener:

‘I don’t think this dial is working!?’ (Remember, it is an overcast day, like living under the much scraped lid of a Tupperware box).
Our gardener stops, puts down his barrow and smiles at the boy, with a wink at his father. He studies the dial and declares after a prolonged ‘Ahhh…,’ and a scratch of his beard, that, ‘It must need new batteries.’
‘Ooooh…,’ murmurs the boy in acknowledgement, searching the sundial for its battery compartment and swiping his hand across its top.

Both gardener and father chuckle and then explain to him that it works by sunlight and shadows. Not by Duracell. The son groans and gently berates his dad and the gardener, each smiling at the other before continuing their day.
Once again the son sweeps his hand across the dial, his swipe fortuitously landing on the tip of his father’s nose. The tiny yelp produced pleased his offspring.

Top Tips’ are abolished for the summer — what could be more fascinating than the seventeenth century case notes of the physician John Hall, Shakespeare’s son-in-law (1575-1635)…

It is interesting to note, and should have been added before, that Elizabethan and Jacobean physicians required no minimal medical qualification. It is also enthralling to recall that the scrapings from the skull of an executed criminal were considered a remedy for illness, as was the compaction of half a newly-killed pigeon on plague sores.

It is also of note that John Hall recognised that certain decoctions of flowers and herbs could restore vitamin C to scurvy sufferers a hundred years before James Lind discovered lime juice as a cure —

Mary Talbot of Grafton, Worcestershire
Sister to the Earl of Shrewsbury. The liver spots on the thighs, erosion of gums and other symptoms indicate that Mary Talbot was suffering from acute scurvy. Hall first purged his patient with Pilula Ruffi and Tartarus vitriolatus. She was required to drink only medicated beer containing scorbutic drugs and salt of scurvy-grass was to be added to her food. This salt was obtained by evaporating the juice of scurvy grass to to a thick consistency and then allowing it to cool. An electuary made from flowers of scurvy grass was also prescribed.

Plant(s) of the month

Allium ‘Christophii’

New Place; Allium christophii

Small star-shaped purple and blue flowers ‘orbit’ the centre of a large globe on a single stem. If left to die back the huge flower-heads are a lovely structural background-set for plants still flowering.

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