Shakespearean

Gardens

Stratford Shakespearean Gardens are beautiful and diverse.  Extending west from Huron Street, you will find the entrance just before the Huron Street Bridge. 

 

The garden is somewhat lower than street level, so it is necessary to negotiate some stairs to reach the grounds. 

A second entrance on the garden’s south side, near the Service Ontario office, involves fewer stairs and a little easier entrance. There is a wheelchair ramp at the end of the hedgerow for even easier accessibility.

Photo: Fred Gonder

This garden has quite a history.  The feature most visitors notice immediately is the 65-foot (20 meter) chimney, all that remains of the Dufton Woolen Mill that originally occupied the site.  The mill was built in 1874 and burned in 1919, leaving only the chimney that still stands as an imposing landmark.

More than a decade after the mill fire, R. Thomas Orr, Stratford businessman and architect, introduced the idea of using the site for a garden honouring Shakespeare.  Mr. Orr must have been very persuasive.  This undated photo shows that the existing site was quite pleasant, with well-kept lawns, shrubbery, and a path for strolling along the river and a bridge to the small island. 

Photo: Fred Gonder

Did You Know?

Mr. Orr actually deserves great credit for Stratford’s entire park system. In 1919, Canadian Pacific Railway had approached Stratford about creating new rail lines on both sides of the Avon River.  Mr. Orr thought that would be a huge mistake and promoted his vision of a park system so effectively the railway’s request was defeated in a plebiscite. 

 

This ended up being a very wise community decision that led to the creation of 115 acres of formal parkland in Stratford, as well as 60 acres of natural area.

Photo: Stratford-Perth Archives

The garden was first conceived as including only plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.  That emphasis has changed over the years.  Many plants in the garden are definitely “Shakespearean” (look for fine stands of herbs such as fennel, rue, tarragon, and rosemary), but visitors are sometimes surprised to find decidedly non-Shakespearean plants as well. 

You may wish to pause to admire the gazebo and nearby formal beds of hosta, ferns, begonias, grasses, and amaranth. The gazebo is frequently a setting for weddings, and you may find a ceremony in progress.  It is customary for visitors to applaud at the close of the ceremony.

Photo: Fred Gonder

There are other surprises to be found in the garden.  Look for a patch of goutweed.  Goutweed?  That highly invasive plant gardeners struggle to eradicate?  True, but goutweed is also a plant that would have been known to Shakespeare.  It has had many names over the years (among others, ashweed, masterwort, ground elder and bishop’s weed), and traditionally it has been highly regarded as a cure for, well, gout. It is also said to be a tasty table green when harvested young.

 

Goutweed lives in a well-tended patch in this garden, representing a plant that would have been very familiar to Shakespeare, so if you happen to notice it, please resist any impulse you may have to pull it out.

Photo: Fred Gonder

With quiet places for conversation, abundant shelter from the sun, and strategically placed benches and picnic tables, the Shakespearean Garden is a great place to enjoy nature.

In your garden explorations, you may meet some of the hard-working garden crew who mow, trim, weed and groom.  If you do, please take a moment to compliment and thank them for their work.  It’s a demanding job, and they’ll appreciate your appreciation. 

Photo: Fred Gonder

Visitors are sometimes surprised to see Shakespearean Gardens’ large lantana, a tropical species Stratford gardeners usually enjoy as an annual. This lantana spends winters in a greenhouse to be replanted year after year for the enjoyment of garden visitors and butterflies.

Photo: Doug Reberg

JOIN OUR MAILING LIST

Stay in the loop and learn about upcoming projects and events, and how to join Garden Stratford (Stratford and District Horticultural Society).

The Stratford and District Horticultural Society 
Celebrating our 141st year in 2019

Funding: Destination Animation Partnership Fund, Stratford and District Horticultural Society

Historical Consultants: Lutzen Riedstra, Dean Robinson, Stratford-Perth Archives

Research, Writing: Doug Reberg

Web Design and Construction: Ryan Carruthers, Jamie Park

Photo Credits: Nancy Burnett, Doris Dodd, Fred Gonder, Mike Matthews. Anu Macintosh-Murray, George McDemott, Dennis Rawe, Doug Reberg, Amanda Ryan, Stratford-Perth Archives, Joan Daynard

Thanks also: Brenda Biggin, Sally Hangeveld (Stratford Public Library), Anita Jacobsen (Head Gardener, Stratford Festival), Quin Malott (Manager, Stratford Parks Forestry and Cemetery), Dan Martin (Manager, Stratford Parks and Forestry, Retired), Tom Robinson, (Shakespearean Gardens), Ann Swardfeger, (Publicity Director, Stratford Festival), Krysta Tomasevic and Colleagues (Perth Health Unit), and the Gardeners of Stratford

 

Gardens of Stratford is a commemorative project of Stratford and District Horticultural Society, celebrating its 140th year in 2018.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
© 2017 Gardens of Stratford, Ontario