Friday, June 01, 2007

Shakespeare Garden at Plainfield: History


Plaque, entrance pergola of Plainfield's Shakespeare Garden

The Shakespeare Garden, initiated by Mr. Howard C. Fleming of the Plainfield Shakespeare Society in 1927, and planted by [the Plainfield Garden Club], was originally meant to be but a small garden in a corner of Cedar Brook Park.

Plan of Plainfield's Shakespeare Garden, designed by the Olmsted Brothers firm,
famous for planning Central Park and Brooklyn's Prospect Park

However, the Park Commission was more ambitious and hired the Olmsted Brothers of Boston, landscape architects [successors to the firm which designed Central Park, and Brooklyn's Prospect Park], who laid out two beds, each one hundred feet long, plus seventeen flower beds. When our members saw these yawning stretches of bare earth, they exclaimed, "How will we ever fill them?"

Fill them they did, under the expert guidance of Mrs. Samuel T. [Annie Burnham] Carter, Jr., who remained chairman for at least eighteen years. Only about forty-four plants and shrubs are mentioned in the Bard's writings, so other material from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were used.

The beds, all laid out geometrically, were edged with brick, according to the custom of the times. To give the garden literary interest, stake labels were placed in the beds with the botanical and folk names, and quotations about the flowers.

Cedar Brook Park is part of Union County's park system.

Since there were only seven or eight such gardens in the entire country, ours at once attracted admiring attention. Indeed, not many years later, it was called the second finest in the United States by a horticulturalist from the New York Botanical Gardens.

Only the old varieties of plants were used in the garden, many obtained from England. During wartime [World War II], when seeds could not be obtained, Mrs. Carter and her committee managed to keep the garden gay and fragrant with flowers which, she wrote hopefully, "cheered the war weary."

Rock garden plants were added, herbs and a rose bed of old-fashioned roses including the Rosa Damascena, the original rose of Damascus and the climbing "Maiden's Blush" which rambled over Anne Hathaway's cottage.

Trees were planted, among them holly, English hawthorne, mulberry, and Taxus (yew), clipped in topiary style.

Sundials were the latest rage in England during Shakespeare's time, so our garden was given one, encircled with English ivy.

A rustic arbor was built, leading into the garden. The arbor is shaded by a honeysuckle vine called woodbine, and bordered by wild-thyme and eglantine with its sweet fruity fragrance.
--Selected from "The Plainfield Garden Club, 1915 - 1965," by Victoria Furman.With the kind assistance of the Special Collections Librarian, Plainfield Public Library.
-- Dan Damon

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About Me

Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.