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New planting scheme pays homage to Shakespeare’s life

For National Gardening Week, we take a look at the new planting scheme at Shakespeare's New Place, inspired by Shakespeare's life.

Jane Shaw

Here’s flowers for you

— The Winter's Tale, Act 4 Scene 4
New Place Great Garden Borders
The long borders at Shakespeare's New Place

The gardens at Shakespeare’s New Place are a fitting place to celebrate Shakespeare’s ever-growing influence; an inviting, tranquil space which feeds the imagination. 

New Place was Shakespeare’s last abode, in Stratford-upon-Avon at least. A year before he purchased New Place in 1597, his son Hamnet died, aged eleven. His most torrid tragedies were subsequently written within its boundaries - Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello.

New Place marks the end of Shakespeare in his corporeal state — a human being brimming with creativity, yet beset by faults and torments. To mark this we set about a theme for the long borders in the Great Garden based upon his life, all of our lives - the light at the beginning and the slow, although often joyful, imperceptible, descent into darkness.

NP Borders Planting

There are 12 borders, set in pairs, one opposite the other. The two that you first approach will be light and airy; as you make your way to the last two borders you will be aware of a darkness descending, flowers that are almost black in colour, stems that are dark red. 

We know, it is a stretch of the imagination, but bear with us. Sit down to a Shakespeare tragedy and embark on a similar journey - with every step you will follow the heart of nature, and Shakespeare’s duality - the contending energies of creation and dissolution. Light to dark as the curtain of the theatre descends.

But do not despair - in the darker-coloured borders a Falstaffian light, the flickering flame of a Tudor’s candle will still penetrate the gloom. 

With maiden flowers, that all the world may know

— Henry VIII, Act 4, Scene 2
NP Borders planting - during

The backbone of each border consists of a quartet of a deciduous shrub, Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’; two evergreen perennials, Phormium and Armeria; a grass, Molinia caerula ‘Variegata’.

Some borders have one Philadelphus, others are greedy and have two blooming in them. They deliver a plethora of highly-scented white flowers from late spring to early summer. 

The Phormiums and Armerias, five or three in each border, will snake around the shrubs, forming a serpentine weave through the entire length of the border.  

Molinia caerula ‘Variegata’ (Purple-moor grass) is a neat, deciduous grass – shirt tucked-in, collar starched - yet in summer it sends out a beautiful spray of feathery plumes that form showers of pale buff in autumn. 

Eryngiums, Euphorbias, Geraniums, Hylotelephiums, Thalictrums, Gauras, the mighty Cephalaria gigantea, and others, will, hopefully, add flesh to the backbone of our vegetative homage to Shakespeare’s life. 

Standing by Greg Wyatt’s statue of The Tempest and before you step, or leap, into the Great Garden, we would (eventually, when completed) like to invite you to gaze at the borders in their entirety. Look upon the slight alteration of colour in the long borders, the weft and weave of foliage and flowers of a lighter hue that slowly bleed into darker shades.

NP Wild Bank
The Wild Bank, inspired by renowned plantswoman Ellen Willmott

The length of the long borders is nearly 40 metres, beginning with the lighter plays, the comedies, and ending with the tragedies at the end; and this, quite fittingly, leads you to the aptly named Wild Bank, which is inspired by renowned plantswoman, Ellen Willmott. 

Stratford-upon-Avon residents (CV37 postcode) can enjoy free access to Shakespeare’s New Place, on presentation of proof of address.