Shakespeare’s favourite flowers | Sunday Observer

Shakespeare’s favourite flowers

22 November, 2020

Over the years, every time I visit Stratford upon Avon, the glorious flowers that Shakespeare nurtured and adored so much that appear in his plays, have fascinated me beyond words.

Lovingly cared for by Dr. Levi Fox, Director of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust at Stratford - upon Avon, they stand tall in a mass of vibrant colour, shapes and leaves blowing in the air searching for the Bard.

As I walk through them, my adoration still extols, extending to where they stand today in a display of glory the way that the Bard commissioned during his time at his Birthplace where his spirit abides.

Shakespeare, poet and dramatist, was by birth and instinct a countryman and the influence of his native Warwickshire reflects itself throughout his plays and sonnets. Innumerable passages provide evidence of his love and knowledge of flowers. Plants and herbs, while his enchanting descriptions of pastoral scenes and the wonders of the changing seasons disclose and intimate acquaintance with gardens and the countryside.

Great impression

His early environment clearly made a great impression. Both Shakespeare’s parents came of farming families based in the country a few miles from his birthplace, Stratford-upon Avon, itself a little market town, closely linked with the surrounding countryside and situated in the very heart of England. The River Avon, alongside which the town had originated centuries before as a river-crossing settlement, divided the Arden woodland country to the north, the remains of ancient forest, from the open fields and pastures to the south.

It was in this setting that Shakespeare grew up and though left Stratford to make his name and fortune in London, he never lost his affection for his native town and countryside.

It was in land at Welcomb on rising ground looking across the river valley over which he must have often wandered as a boy that he invested his money earned as playwright and part owner of the Globe theatre; and he chose New Place at Stratford for his retirement, there to enjoy its orchard and garden which can still be seen at New Place.

Moreover, he was capable of allowing his sensitive feeling to absorb their beauty and fragrance and then to use his matchless gift of poetry to describe their characteristics and through imagery to relate them to human life.

It is clear from his accurate descriptions that Shakespeare was familiar with all the wild and cultivated flowers of his time.

To the poet even the most common flowers in meadow, hedgerow and wood were full of meaning, no less than the birds and all other living things.

He depicted the beauty of the flower beds both at sunrise and moonlight, with the colour and fragrance of the rose, the pinks, marigolds and columbines, to mention only a few. He knew and understood the properties of herbs and the purpose for which they were employed. He was equally familiar with the trees and plants of the garden and orchard as of the woodland and hedgerow and he had an accurate knowledge of the processes of pruning and grafting.

In short, Shakespeare recalls the restful, old-fashioned loveliness of cultivated flowers in innumerable passages of his plays. No other writer has portrayed the atmosphere and character of Tudor gardens with such poetic feeling and sureness of touch or left behind such a rich legacy of floral imagery.

Shakespeare mentions roses in his plays and sonnets more frequently than any other flower. To him they were clearly favourites, both for their unsurpassed beauty and incomparable fragrance; and some of his most exquisite poetry was inspired by them.


Particular roses that can be identified are the rich-scented damask roses of red and white; the fragrant Provencal or cabbage rose; with its trailing briars and clusters of pinkish-white flowers which adorn the hedgerows in June, and with glowing scarlet hips in autumn; the musk-rose commonly used with honeysuckle and eglantine to provide overgrowth to shade arbours in gardens; and the white and red roses, emblems of the Houses of York and Lancaster.

On no fewer than eighteen occasions Shakespeare refers to the violet in matchless poetic terms and imagery which portray every aspect of this modest tiny flower: its colour, sweet perfume, habit of growth-’nodding’ signifies bending or hanging down - and purposes for which it was employed. The wild, sweet-scented violet with its delicate flowers ranging in colour from blue-violet through purple to white grows profusely on shady hedge banks and is one of the first spring flowers to appear.