A Prairie-Style Shakespeare Garden
Tucked away in a corner of the Northwestern University campus is a beautiful garden with an unusual history. That history began in 1915, when the Garden Club of Evanston joined in a nation-wide effort to create gardens memorializing the 300th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.
Surprisingly, the designer was Jens Jensen, advocate of naturalistic and prairie-style gardens. This was one of only two formal gardens designed by Jensen during his career, the other being a rose garden he created for Henry Ford. This garden was intended to showcase plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays, but it is also full of prairie natives.
An intimate garden, just 70 x 100′, it is surrounded by a double row of hawthorne hedges.
Openings in the hedges reveal secluded benches, which look perfect for both contemplation and assignation.
At one end there is a curved concrete bench overhung with serviceberry (Amelanchier). Both the serviceberry and hawthorn are Midwest natives. We watched the robins plucking ripe berries from the branches.
At the opposite end there is the Shakespeare monument, which includes a plaque of botanically-themed verses.
In between there are four symmetrical rectangular beds with a sun dial in the center.
The garden today is much less formal than the one originally designed by Jensen, in part the result of changes made in 1990 by the English garden designer John Brookes. Most of the boxwood was removed, and more perennial flowers were added. While the structure is still symmetrical, the plantings are not – though there is a good deal of rhythmic repetition.
There are supposed to be 5o plants mentioned by Shakespeare, but I only recognized a few, including daisies and roses, poppies and pansies.
Several large and robust meadow rue were scattered about, and I wondered if they were intended to be a reference to the rue that is mentioned in Shakespeare. Completely different genus, but I suppose this could be the garden design equivalent of artistic license.
Praire perennials like wild indigo were also repeated throughout the garden.
Looking to the south you could see the towers of Garrett Theological Seminary, adding to the late Renaissance atmosphere (though I think Garrett is Methodist, so it probably belongs more in a Reformation garden).
While the Evanston Shakespeare Garden is by no means a replica of a Shakespeare-era garden, it is a tranquil and beautiful spot, perfect for reading poetry – to oneself or someone else.