British Garden

By Mark Tebeau

Originally inaugurated by Leo Weidenthal, Shakespeare Garden (now British Garden) was the seed that eventually led to the formation of the Cultural Gardens. Dedicated in 1916, the Shakespeare bust and the Shakespeare Garden originated as part of a celebration that stretched across the world. Cities and nations located within Britain’s sphere of colonial influence erected monuments, planted gardens, and held celebrations commemorating the bard’s death. A Shakespeare Garden might have included reproductions of Elizabethan architecture and have cultivated plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s work such as daisy, flax, rosemary, lavender, oak tree, olive, rose, etc. In the 1930s, after Weidenthal’s collaboration with Jennie Zwick (executive secretary of Cultural Gardens) and Charles Wolfram (25 year president of Cultural Gardens), Shakespeare Garden and Poet’s Corner took on a new identity as part of the Cultural Gardens and was renamed the British Garden.

Writing in “The Paths are Peace”, Clara Lederer describes the Garden in the following way: “At the entrance are gateposts of English design and the garden boundaries are defined with hedges. The central flagstone walk is lined with multi-hued border plantings, and, together with other hue-bordered paths, converge on a bust of Shakespeare flanked by trees. A mulberry tree grows here from a cutting sent by the late Sir Sidney Lee, famed Shakespearean critic, from the mulberry Shakespeare himself planted at New Place, in Stratford. In addition to elms planted by E. H. Sothern and Julia Marlowe, the garden is adorned with oaks planted by the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, and by Phyllis Neilson Terry, niece of (Dame) Ellen Terry”… “The Byzantine sundial was presented by the distinguished actor, Robert Mantell. Also formerly included were jars planted with ivy and flowers by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Rabindranath Tagore–the “Shakespeare of India”– and Sarah Bernhardt.”

“The garden plot was laid out under the direction of City Forester John Boddy, and was copiously planted with hawthorn, daffodils, violets, fleurs-delis, daisies, pansies, and columbine–the flowers given immortality in the poetry of Shakespeare.”