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  Northwestern University
February 22, 2001
Vol. 16, No. 18  
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Shakespeare's Garden
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A peaceful place on campus

Northwestern’s tranquil Shakespeare Garden has added color, fragrance, texture and beauty to the Evanston campus for more than 80 years.

Nestled in a quiet central section of the Evanston campus, just north of Howes Memorial Chapel at the east end of Garrett Place, the eight-bed garden is hidden from view by a double wall of hawthorn hedges.

The 70- by-100-foot plot of land was established in 1915 when it became a project of The Garden Club of Evanston members because of wartime sympathy for our British allies and to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. It was a way to celebrate the ties between England and America.

Impetus to create the cultivated plot came from the Drama League of America when it was suggested that interested parties construct gardens memorializing the Bard to mark the tercentennial of his death.

The garden was designed by renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen, who is credited for the Cook County Forest Preserve system and Chicago’s lakefront parks.

Jensen designed the original plan in an intricate "knot style" to recreate the Duke of Buckingham’s heraldic badge, as illustrated in the Elizabethan "Gardener’s Labyrinth." Planting was completed in 1920.

The flowers, shrubs, trees and herbs in the garden are mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays and are varieties best suited to the garden’s location and Midwestern climate. Among the more than 50 plants that can be planted are rosemary, lavender, thyme, hyssop, rue, lemon balm, columbine, old roses, oxeye daisy, Japanese anemone, daffodil, pansy, poppy, nasturtium and marigolds. Parsley, holly, ivy, mint and peonies are also allowed.

The Shakespeare Garden still contains many of the original hawthorns that were started from seed in France and which form the formal garden’s base. (The hawthorns of Jensen’s plan and the fact that it represents the type of project that flourished in 1916 conceived by the Drama leagues are the reasons the Shakespeare Garden was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.)

A fountain and an Elizabethan-style stone bench were installed in 1929. The bronze and stone fountain, designed and donated by architect Hubert Burnham, was dedicated in 1930. Burnham donated the plaque in memory of his mother, Margaret Sherman Burnham, an early Shakespeare Garden chairman and wife of internationally known Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham. The memorial fountain features a bronze relief of Shakespeare’s head fashioned by French-American sculptor Leon Hermant and quotations from the Bard’s "As You Like It," "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" and "The Winter’s Tale."

A new sundial (the original was no longer there) was added to the west end of the garden in 1990 in memory of Jean Whitton Haskin, a former garden club chairman.

Following a visit in 1990, John Brookes, a distinguished English garden designer and writer, suggested a few changes that are now reflected in the garden. The sundial was moved from the back to the center of the garden to create a more dramatic focus, and antique brick edging was added to give the center beds more definition.

The Shakespeare Garden is no longer considered a "knot garden" because Brooks recommended removing some of the boxwood to create an opportunity for more mixed plantings, more emphasis on perennial plants, and a more natural look that mirrors the traditional English garden.

Garden club members, many of whom have been Northwestern graduates, continue to serve as the garden’s caretakers. They assess the color and the pattern to see which plants flourish and which languish.

Summer annuals vary from year to year, depending upon the garden’s co-chairmen, which change every two to four years. This spring there will be new varieties of pansies, and new purple hyssop, and more pink dianthus and gray toned plants this summer.

For the past 85 years, major funding for the Shakespeare Garden’s plants and materials and the garden group’s other civic projects is raised from the club’s plant sales during the Annual Evanston Garden Fair held in Raymond Park each spring.

The Shakespeare Garden, the site of garden tours, numerous marriage proposals and weddings, is open to all visitors.

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Northwestern University, Sesquicentennial Office, 1936 Sheridan Road, 3rd floor, Illinois 60208;
Monica Metzler, Director; . Last revised 03/05/01.
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