Shakespeare regularly travelled through rural England. There he felt the seasonal rhythms of life and the value of fruit, vegetables and flowers for people. Horticultural allusions are built into his works and chimed well with his audiences.
A 400th anniversary parade drew thousands of people from around the world who laid copious floral tributes onto his grave in Holy Trinity Church. Yearlong celebrations are being organised by the Royal Shakespeare Company and many are broadcast by the BBC.
A more tangible tribute, however, is the remodelling of his New Place garden. This was Shakespeare’s family home. A new design comes from landscape consultancy Gillespies. Visitors will enter via a gatehouse guarded by two medlar trees, planted by London’s Worshipful Company of Fruiterers.
This gives onto a footprint of the original house in bronze with a central motif of colourfully planted borders. Beyond is a circle of pleached hornbeams within which is "Shakespeare’s chair" set next to a glowing pool of enlightenment and knowledge.
Visitors proceed into a Jacobean-style knot garden designed by Ernest Law, who led the revival of this form in the 1920s, that cherishes those lost in the 1914-18 war. Visitors experience a unity in the garden between modern expressions of Shakespeare’s works in interpretations such as West Side Story with the originals in medieval English.
Horticulture has deep roots in both the arts and sciences. We should rejoice in continuing contributions to the living Shakespeare. Horticulture provided content and context in his works and now biological substance for New Place’s garden.
Professor Geoffrey Dixon is managing director of GreenGene international