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The Plants of Shakespeare


"Portrait of Shakespeare" by William Blake, c. 1800-1803
  • "Portrait of Shakespeare" by William Blake, c. 1800-1803

". . . a little western flower, before milk-white, now purple with love's wound, and maidens call it 'love-in-idleness'. Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew'd thee once: the juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid will make or man or woman madly dote upon the next live creature that it sees."

-- Oberon to Puck in A Midsummer's Night Dream

Act II, Scene I

Bill Shakespeare would have been 37 just 400 years ago this April 23. The world he knew was still fresh from the musky arms of paganism; recalling ancient ritual, frolickers danced 'round Maypoles and still snuck away to make love in unplowed fields to encourage the earth's fecundity. Plants and herbs grown for magical, healing or aphrodisiac purposes were as common then as the antihistamines and ibuprofens lining our SuperMart aisles today. No wonder 150 of them are referenced in Shakespeare's illustrious works.

Andrew Pearce, a Canterbury-born "plants man," was taught by his father to cultivate many of the flowers celebrated in Shakespeare's plays and sonnets. Did I mention his father was the Queen's gardener? Pearce will present a slideshow of "The Plants of Shakespeare" on Saturday.

"Spring's a perfect time to celebrate flowers and poetry," noted Sue Kates, publicity chairwoman of the sponsoring Broadmoor Garden Club. "You'll learn a lot about gardening, too. Andrew is an undisputed authority on perennials."

Small wonder. After training at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew--the "premier botanical garden of the world"--he was awarded the National Diploma in Horticulture in 1962, an honor requiring eight years of practical experience after graduating. Only one homely subject escaped his keen interest: fungi.

"I know a bank where the wild Thyme blows, where Oxlips and the nodding Violet grows."

-- Oberon to Puck in A Midsummer's Night Dream

Act II, Scene I

Settling with his family in Bermuda, Pearce took on the task of beautifying the entire island with his planted palette of color. Concerned about his sons' education--they've since graduated from the Colorado School of Mines--Pearce sent letters of interest to several American gardens, eventually serving the Denver Botanical Gardens for 18 years in a variety of roles, including executive director and senior horticultural advisor.

"I don't miss England at all," insists Pearce, a man whose accent invokes images of lush hedgerows and Double English Daisies. In fact, he is energized by the unique challenges known all too well by local planters: alkaline/clay soil, winter dryness, cool nights and an all-too-brief growing season that must have broken homesteaders' hearts. Unbowed by Nature's indifference, Pearce names Shakespearean plants that will survive the whims of Colorado weather: roses, bluebells, pansies, carnations, mints and all of the common herbs. He even enjoys planting fragile alpine gardens in the impossibly high country of Vail.

"You know, there's so much fuss today about diet, but I've known quite a few older gardeners and they ate big, fried breakfasts and never had the worries we do about health." Like his father, who planted by the phases of the moon and lived to 86, Pearce reaps the stress-relieving benefits of gardening.

Although he's traveled extensively (a visit to the Amazonian Victoria Lily was a high point), Pearce's obstinate commitment to Colorado is evident in his service of Hudson Gardens as its director of horticulture and education. The 30-acre Littleton oasis showcases nearly 20 gardens of regional summer flowers without the benefit of chemical sprays. Dedicated to horticultural beauty, enjoyment and education, Hudson Gardens is host to demonstrations, lectures and classes. Pearce hopes to add a natural labyrinth by spring 2003.

"Here's flowers for you -- hot Lavender, Mints, Savory, Marjoram."

-- A Midsummer's Night Dream

As instructor at the Arapaho Community College, Pearce points out that Nature has no qualms about mixing colors, giving his students new eyes for unlimited gardening possibilities. "They're always surprised about the number of plants and flowers that can be grown in the shade."

Gardening education is the motive for the Broadmoor Garden Club's sponsorship of Pearce's presentation. Established in 1935, the club of 65 active members promotes interest in and increased knowledge of gardening, conservation of native flora and fauna (currently, the protection of Red Rock Canyon from development) and civic beautification. "Not many people know we plant gardens at local elementary schools and places like the Fine Arts Center" and the xeriscape Demonstration on Mesa Road, adds Kates.

Shakespeare, Kates and garden lovers everywhere seem inspired by a natural enchantment that makes love's labor never seem lost, and the rest of the world much ado about nothing. "For two years at Kew, I was thinking and dreaming plants," confesses Pearce, and one doubts much has changed. He is quick to answer my question as to which flowers would delight Bill the Bard on his 437th birthday.

"Roses. The wild ones, not the hybrid tea roses we have now. In a bouquet with sweetpeas and maybe carnations."

And there it is -- the confirmation in black and white on the revered page of The Two Noble Kinsmen.

"Of all flowers, me thinks a rose is best."


The Plants of Shakespeare

A slideshow with Andrew Pearce

Centennial Hall, 200 S. Cascade Ave.

Sat., April 21, 9:30 a.m. to noon

Tickets: $12-$15.

For more information about the slideshow or the Broadmoor Garden Club, call Nancy Adams at 471-2148. For details about and directions to the Hudson Gardens, call 303/797-8565.

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