“An endless amount of interest is gathered round the literary history of plants. I like to grow any plant that is mentioned by the old Greek and Latin writers – such as Theophrastus, Aristotle, Virgil, or Pliny and still more do I delight in the plants of English literature. I doubt if any national literature has been so full of flowers as our own, and especially in our poetry. Among the older writers Gower, Chaucer, Spenser, and Shakespeare and, indeed, almost all, love to speak of gardens and flowers. The plants named by them are far more than most people are aware of and a very slight acquaintance with their writings will add to the pleasure of a garden.” (Canon Henry Ellacombe, In a Gloustershire Garden, 1895)
“A very slight acquaintance with their writings will add to the pleasure of a garden.”
I made my first “slight acquaintance with their writings” in classes in English Literature and Shakespeare in high school. Mrs. Mellencamp taught both classes and I recall that I enjoyed them but didn’t make any particular connections at the time between English Literature or Shakespeare and gardening.
My acquaintance with their writings is still slight, but lately, I find myself more and more running into these old writers of English literature and poetry, while reading old gardening books by garden writers like Canon Ellacombe and Elizabeth Lawrence.
How does this make me a better gardener? I think it is making me become a more thoughtful gardener, renewing my interest in a garden as a place of history and meaning. It gives me ideas for my garden. It makes me want to have at least part of my garden conjure up a bit of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine.
There sleeps Titania some time of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.”
(A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Thank you, Mrs. Mellencamp, one of my high school English teachers, for those first acquaintances with the writings of English literature and Shakespeare. I know they have added pleasure to my garden, and that alone, has made me feel like a better gardener.