Happy St. Valentine’s Day, a celebration of love marked by flowers and sweets. One of the most popular gardens dedicated to love is the red and white Shakespeare garden. Shakespeare chose these colors because they were used to portray the two sides that fought during The War of the Roses, from 1455 to 1485. This fierce struggle between the houses of York (symbolized by a white rose) and Lancaster (a red rose), ended when Henry VII married Elizabeth of York, thereby founding the Tudor dynasty. Shakespeare ends his sequence of Tudor history plays with Richard III, when Henry declares,
“We will unite the White Rose and the Red.
Smile heaven upon this fair conjunction,
That long have frown’d upon their enmity!”
The union of love and hope for peace is celebrated by the Tudor Rose, which is not an actual rose, but the traditional heraldic symbol of England with white interior petals surrounded by outer red petals.
Many major cities in the world have their own Shakespearean gardens. And we can build a small tribute to Shakespeare and to romance now, right in our own front and backyards. Using red and white ornamentals, along with one or two red and white vegetables planted in beds or in containers, we can create large swaths of these two symbolical colors. To achieve a dramatic effect of the two adjoined colors, the plants should be arranged closely together.
If roses are preferred, planting an in-ground block or several closely grouped containers of Red Knock Out roses next to a block of White Knock Out roses will give many weeks of color throughout the summer months. Besides roses, other ornamentals lend themselves to a display of color in blocks and can be planted now. Dianthus (“Sweet William”) is available in garden stores today in many shades of red and in pure white. There are also striking varieties of white with crimson centers. Pansies are a shorter plant developed in pure white and shades of burgundy. Pansies can be planted closely together in a burgundy group and white group in front of taller, more loosely textured Dianthus. Short, mounding and sometimes draping Alyssum is also available in all white and in purple. Poppies, snapdragons and stock can be used to make white and red groupings suited to the Bard and to our celebration of love. Finally, cyclamen offer a vivid pairing of pure white and red as they hold their flowers well above their silver-patterned foliage.
Cyclamen grow from a perennial tuber (actually, a corm, which is flatter than a bulb with a swollen, solid stem base serving as storage tissue but without the storage rings common to bulbs). Several cyclamen varieties have been developed, but one of the best for putting on a Shakespearean show of colors is cyclamen persicum, which are often grown indoors but can be planted out of doors in our area as long as they are not in all-day sun. These are now available locally as transplants. This variety has been bred to sport large flowers (from which all traces of this plant’s original fragrance have, unfortunately, disappeared). These bloom from late fall to spring, and will probably drop their leaves and go dormant some time during the summer months. Stop watering them at this point. This variety should be planted with the top half of the corm remaining above the soil surface. If they remain in pots indoors, repot them in late summer, begin to water them again, and place them in bright light.
A new variety has been developed that is small, but retains the fragrance of the original plant. Dwarf, or miniature florists’ cyclamen, are only one-half or three-quarters the size of standards, but they can bloom in seven to eight months from seed. Miniature strains, called “Miracle” and “Laser,” grow 6 to 8 inches tall with a full show of flowers.
Floral displays can be complemented by a block of taller, red-stemmed Swiss chard (varieties “Ruby Red” or :Red Magic”) and the tallest of all, a white-stemmed chard called “Fordhook Giant.” (431)
Shakespeare may well have had gardens of his own at his property in Stratford-upon-Avon, called “New Place,” but he didn’t spend much time there, preferring the cultural scene in London. If you’d like to view a Shakespeare garden closer to home, try the McAshan Herb Gardens in Round Top; the Shakespeare garden just off US 259 next to Kilgore College’s campus; the Texas Discovery Gardens in Dallas; or the Mercer Botanic Gardens in Humble.