Shakespeare's fans have taken advantage of the author’s many plant references to create gardens inspired by the Bard himself – Shakespeare Gardens!
We have one right here at Björklunden vid Sjön, Lawrence University’s northern campus outside of Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin. This garden, managed by Door Shakespeare, is nestled within a stunning 450-acre campus on over a mile of Lake Michigan shoreline.
The garden is meant to be more than just beautiful. Amy Ludwigsen, executive director of Door Shakespeare explains, ”The garden is part of our program. It is where we host visitors and hold pre-show events. It is part of what we do.”
Trained at the Royal Conservatoire in Scotland, Amy is passionate about William Shakespeare. “There are misconceptions about him: that his works are too long, hard to understand. But these are our stories. Our goal is to bring the magic of his work to all audiences and we do this by integrating excellent theater with education for all ages.”
To welcome the largest possible group, “the garden brings people into Shakespeare’s work by creating a place to get their bearings, to start the experience. Our investment in the garden is about embracing our greatest gift – our location.”
Meant to be seen first from Björklunden’s main lodge, the entry to this garden is magical. A rustic sign, “To Garden,” points the way through a dense woodland path. Then a sunlit clearing becomes visible in the distance. Garden gates are left open in a welcoming gesture. White daisies brighten the shaded approach.
Inside, a low stone wall covered in moss frames a rectangular garden. Four wooden gates provide access to curving paths that meet in the middle. Stick benches host lichens and tempt visitors to relax. A dining table and canopy create a place for conversation. On this late-summer day boxwood, daisies, lavender, and coneflowers dominate the garden. Climbing hydrangea takes over the shady corner - beautifully twisted branches cling to wooden fence posts. The contrast between the formal garden and the mature pine and birch trees that surround it gives one a sense of discovery.
Mark Breseman, director of Björklunden explains that, “Björklunden vid Sjön, Swedish for Birch Grove at the Lake, was created by Winifred Boynton starting in 1928. Her goal was to create a place removed from confusion and aggression, a sanctuary for all.”
“The property includes forest, beaches, meadows, a lodge, and Winifred’s famous chapel. This nearby garden was originally an extension of the more formal landscape near the house and built for viewing the grass tennis courts. In the 1950’s the space was an annual display garden.”
Over time, the small garden pictured above was left to its own devices, but the stone, woodwork and specimen plants retain a sense of place.
When Ludwigsen joined Door Shakespeare as its Director in 2012, she recalls, “I saw the garden as a central feature.” “Because the stage evolves each season, the goal for the garden was to build something that was permanent. That people would look forward to returning to each year.”
Skeptics thought it couldn’t be done, but Ludwigsen connected with board member Kit Conner and her cousin Prilla Beadell, a Lawrence alumna, who took the lead in renovating the space into what we see today.
Conner, the driving force behind the garden, explains, “My cousin Prilla and I were inspired to create a Shakespeare Garden in memory of our grandmother who loved to read us Shakespeare as kids.Despite the challenges of roaming deer, we filled the space with shrubs and flowering perennials that are referenced in Shakespeare’s work.”
Winifred Boynton would be proud. The garden today is enjoyed by all ages – whether for a quiet walk, a pre-show discussion, or for elementary school kids making their own Romeo and Juliet masks.
Conner and Beadell are now focused on fine-tuning the plantings and working with local garden groups on a maintenance plan.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. Don’t miss a visit to this beautiful place or the opportunity to create your own Shakespeare garden!
Subscriptions to the 21st season of Door Shakespeare are now open.