Nestled within the heart of Northwestern University’s campus lies a hidden gem of historic significance – the Shakespeare Garden. This enchanting oasis pays homage to the great playwright, William Shakespeare, and has stood the test of time, witnessing the passage of generations. As one of the oldest surviving campus gardens in the United States, the Shakespeare Garden is not just a picturesque spot for students and visitors but also a living tribute to the enduring legacy of the Bard of Avon.
The Origin Story
The Shakespeare Garden traces its origins back to 1916 when Northwestern University’s Women’s Guild took on the ambitious task of creating a space that would celebrate the works of William Shakespeare. The chosen location was no coincidence – it was adjacent to the Charles Deering Library, which housed a substantial collection of rare Shakespearean texts and manuscripts. The Guild envisioned a garden that would evoke the landscapes portrayed in Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, a space that would transport visitors to the idyllic realms of his literary genius.
Design and Inspiration
Inspired by English Renaissance gardens, the Shakespeare Garden was designed with meticulous attention to detail. Landscape architect Jens Jensen, renowned for his “prairie style” designs, was commissioned to bring the vision to life. Jensen crafted a multi-sensory experience, incorporating plants and flowers mentioned in Shakespeare’s writings and interspersing them with decorative elements like rustic benches and trellises.
Jensen’s design embraced the principles of “outdoor rooms,” with each section of the garden representing a specific play or theme. For instance, there is a section dedicated to “Romeo and Juliet” adorned with fragrant roses, while another area celebrates the enchanted forest from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with winding pathways and a canopy of trees.
The Decline and Rebirth
As with many historical landmarks, the Shakespeare Garden faced challenges over the years. By the mid-20th century, the garden had fallen into disrepair due to budget constraints and a lack of resources. Neglect and changes in gardening trends led to the deterioration of some plant varieties, and the once-lush garden started to lose its charm.
However, the garden’s revival came in the late 1990s when a group of passionate students and faculty members rallied to restore this invaluable treasure. Supported by the university administration and funding from generous donors, the Shakespeare Garden underwent extensive restoration efforts. Local horticulturists and historians were consulted to ensure the accuracy and authenticity of the plant selection, aligning with Shakespearean references.
Bringing Shakespeare’s Legacy to Life
Today, the rejuvenated Shakespeare Garden stands as a testament to the enduring power of literature and the dedication of those who worked tirelessly to revive its beauty. It serves as a vibrant outdoor classroom for students studying literature, history, and environmental science, offering an immersive experience into the world of Shakespeare. Visitors can often find students engrossed in their studies amid the picturesque landscape, finding inspiration in the timeless verses and natural surroundings.
Beyond its academic use, the Shakespeare Garden continues to captivate visitors from all walks of life. Local residents, tourists, and Shakespeare enthusiasts from around the world find solace and inspiration in this tranquil sanctuary. The garden’s rich history and its connection to Shakespeare’s works make it a must-visit destination for anyone who admires the literary genius of the playwright.
The Shakespeare Garden has also become a hub for community engagement and events. The Women’s Guild, which initially established the garden, continues to be actively involved in its preservation and programming. Various activities, such as outdoor theater performances, poetry readings, and garden workshops, are regularly organized to bring people together and celebrate the cultural significance of this historical landmark.
The Shakespeare Garden at Northwestern University stands as a living testament to the enduring legacy of William Shakespeare and the power of literary heritage. Its journey from inception to decline and subsequent revival highlights the importance of preserving historical landmarks and the need for ongoing community support. This enchanting garden continues to inspire and educate, weaving together the timeless words of Shakespeare with the beauty of nature, making it a cherished destination for generations to come. So, whether you’re a literature enthusiast, a history buff, or simply seeking solace in a serene natural setting, a visit to the historic Shakespeare Garden is an unforgettable experience that will leave you enchanted and revived.