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For the bookworms among us, one of the best things about a garden on a quiet day is having a calm and relaxing place to sit and read. But, here’s an idea: take the story out of the pages and put it in your landscape.
The Secret Garden, beloved novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, tells the story of a downtrodden little girl that discovers the key to a locked and mysterious garden. Through the garden, she becomes close with her cousin and a boy from the village, and together they bring the long abandoned place back to life. The book is filled with wonderful descriptions of flowers left to grow wild, creeping up sun dials and walls, and filling the air with fragrance. She mentions roses, columbines, delphinium, poppies, larkspur, crocus, daffodil, and snowdrops—unfortunately, illustrations can’t do it justice. But, Burnett gives you everything you need to try and recreate at least a little piece of the magic of the story.
Try reading through your favorite books, plays, and poems, and consider planting a literary garden. You can try to replicate a particular place in literature, or simply plant an array of plants that occurs in a body of work from your favorite author. Bring the imaginary to life with your own unique interpretation.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
From trees to flowers to edibles, plants played a crucial role in the histories and explanations of the pantheon of gods and goddesses that ruled over the ancient Greek world. The mythology of these deities served as a tool for Greek civilization to make sense of the world around it, and the plants in these stories are often important tools in the interactions between mythological characters. Greek myth also simply explained why certain plants with which Grecian society was familiar existed in the first place.
William Shakespeare employed plants frequently in his plays and poetry, particularly those that he would have seen readily in his native England. Literary scholars have paid particular attention to Shakespeare’s use of plants during specific scenes or lines—plants or flowers often signify a deeper meaning about a person or event. The mere mention of a flower could conceal an insult, joke, or could foreshadow the ultimate fate of a character involved in the scene. Shakespearean gardens can include any of the more than two hundred plants mentioned by Shakespeare in his work. Shakespeare gardens have been installed in Central Park in New York City, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and in the Cultural Gardens in Cleveland.
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts. There’s fennel for you, and columbines. –There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me. We may call it “herb of grace o’ Sundays. –Oh, you must wear your rue with a difference. –There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died. They say he made a good end.” — William Shakespeare, Hamlet.
Ophelia, having succumbed to madness after the murder of her father and rejection by her lover, Prince Hamlet, passes out flowers (either real or imaginary) to her brother, Laertes, Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude, and the queen’s husband, Claudius (Claudius is the brother of Gertrude’s dead husband, and Hamlet’s uncle). Though she seems to be speaking nonsense, the symbolic meanings of the flowers she passes around may be expressing her true feelings toward each character. Rosemary and pansies symbolize remembrance and thoughts, which may represent her thoughts on her father. She presents Gertrude and Claudius with fennel and columbine, which may symbolize ingratitude, adultery, flattery and cuckoldry—perhaps a comment on Gertrude’s marriage to her brother-in-law or disparagement of Claudius. Rue symbolizes repentance or sorrow, possibly Ophelia saying that they should repent or speaking on her own sorrow (and foreshadowing her eventual death—rue can be poisonous). Daisies represent innocence and failed love, and violets, faithfulness, which she does not have or pass out since her father’s death. What Shakespeare actually meant when using these flowers remains unclear, and Ophelia’s flower speech is still up for interpretation.
The mention of plants in poetry is as old as poetry itself. Pastoral and romantic poets, in particular, valued the beauty and simplicity of nature above all else, and plants are found in much of their imagery. Plants are used in poetry to invoke mood or emotion in the reader, to allude to past works, people, or places, and to add symbolism where a specific plant carries cultural significance.