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The Gardens of Shakespeare's New Place: November

A grey squirrel with attitude has sabotage in mind for our bulb planting. Time for an interlude, a mulberry gin, and a rainbow and unicorn day-dream.

Jane Shaw

XI. October 2018

Finally, finally, the end of the month arrived and the last thousand bulbs of ‘Purple Prince’, ‘Professor Einstein’, and others with equally daft names, were dug in to the New Place borders to an imaginary soundtrack of Jingle Bells and silent whoops of relief.

New Place, rainbow over glasshouse
Rainbow over New Place's glasshouse - unicorn, strangely absent

Towering clouds, torn apart by sun and rainbows, loomed over New Place. Gusty rain that fell like icy pin-pricks on the skin soon followed, and then — a few calm, icy mornings with the crackling sound of ice-scrapers swiped over car window-screens.

The Christmas lights in Stratford-upon-Avon were switched on and all were jolly,  knocking back tipples of Baileys Irish Cream. Well, some were — others were crying frustrated tears into their hot chocolate, wishing that the ‘festivities’ would begin a little later, that Brexit uncertainties would end, that President Trump would stop twittering, and that newspapers would stop printing un-festive-like headlines such as: The Earth is in a Death Spiral.

At New Place the gardening month was dominated by bulb planting. We soon came to realise that we were not alone in our task. A grey squirrel, with an insolent demeanour that made him easy to anthropomorphise, had casually dug up a few bulbs we had planted. We were oblivious as usual, adopting the classic gardening pose for planting— buttocks in the air, hands in the soil.

Mulberry Gin Liqueur
When not at work, toiling the soil, Tony the squirrel recommends gin liqueur flavoured with the bloody fruits harvested from our black mulberry tree

On a rare occasion that we came up for air, the squirrel strolled past us with a decadent, devious, smile around his chops. We gawped, open-mouthed.

Bulb remains dripped from in between his incisors.

Later in the day, we noted that he was casually observing us planting bulbs from a tree branch — it was not beyond the realms of possibility to imagine him puffing nonchalantly on a fat Cuban cigar, wearing a tuxedo, bow-tie tails hanging either side of his open shirt collar, chest hairs poking out. 

It was odd. Sincerely. Like looking at a squirrel playing Al Pacino as Tony Montana in the 1983 film Scarface, planning an attack on a rival drug gang. 

New Place, black mulberry tree, autumn
Shakespeare's black mulberry tree

Meanwhile, in the Knot Garden, a sliver of time was found to cut back the pockets of teucrium, oregano, santolina, and creeping thyme. With plant growth removed it is now obvious that two of the knots require a radical make-over that will take place at the next available opportunity — spring 2019.

We are determined to restore symmetry to Shakespeare’s old scullery area, despite earth luxuriating in a death spiral.

Interesting plant fact

(Top Tip(s) is once again abandoned as I find it impossible to think of anything other than recommending wearing socks woven with the wool of angora goats)

"The Tortuous Beeches of Europe — Imagine tree branches that writhe like serpents, rejoining each other, twisting around each other, over and over again. All are roughly the same age, and they exist in a straight line covering Denmark, Germany, Northern France and Brittany. They are a group of formally ‘normal’ trees locked together in an extraordinary assemblage by what is believed to have been a radioactive meteorite strike shooting over the aforesaid countries about a century, or more, ago.

Interestingly enough, their form, whatever it is caused by, is replicated by the seed of the affected trees."

I wrote the above down in a sketch book when I worked in a Greek garden near Athens, interested by this tale of cosmic doodling, but unfortunately cannot remember where I came by the information. It must have been from a book in the library of the curator in whose garden I worked. She was a smoker, an ouzo drinker, aged 74, spry, willowy of limb, a saviour of stray dogs and cats, passionate about plants, full of sadness, joy, and ever fascinating. 

That is another story.

Back to Shakespeare and New Place —

Plant of the Month

The watering can is placed next to a sign welcoming visitors to Shakespeare’s Great Garden. To be honest, its main function is to fill a gap behind a box hedge that buttresses the first border of the Great Garden and a yew tree.

New Place, watering can
Defensive measures employed to prevent children being sucked into a black hole

This gap - this black hole - could easily lose a few small children in its dark, dank, depths. To avoid such an event arising we raided the shed and its ‘museum’ of old gardening tools. Battling against a town of spiders’ webs, we finally brought out this lovely old watering can.

‘Perfect to cover the black hole that eats children,’ we cried, pouring away the dust of ages from its spout.

And so the can has performed as a defensive wall against children falling into the outer reaches. At least until the yew tree has a growth spurt, which as we know, may take some time.

A yew likes to ruminate.

We removed the can from its designated area in order that its full effect could be admired in the photograph.

Or not. The unicorn is still absent after all.

George, our indefatigable apprentice, snipped-snipped at plants along the long border and deftly placed into the watering can — asparagus fern foliage, aster seed heads, verbena bonariensis flower heads, sedum flower heads, solidago canadensis seed heads, eryngium giganteum seed heads, the latter two of which are unfortunately not visible on the photograph.

Every time I pass the watering can a feeling of warmth enters me*. It could be a hot flush will pass through my mind, which inevitably warps into imagery of our hoodlum-squirrel puffing on a fat cigar and, only then, do I realise that it is not the sight of the can generating a feeling of warmth, but that darn irreverent squirrel. It is amusement, a physical reaction to his sassiness. Although it might be heated further by a tinge of frustration and delirium, I’m not sure.  

Again, it could just be a hot flush.

The can of flowers makes me think of Stephen Hawking and Cruella de Vil.

All our best wishes for December from the Gardening Team at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust  

* Angora goat wool socks will keep your feet warm in winter. In addition, they do not require washing every day. Double-up on extra icy days.

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