In Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Oberon, King of the Fairies, sends the sprite Puck to an enchanted garden to craft a love potion: “I know a place where the wild thyme blows; where ox-lips and the nodding violet grows.”
by Leanne Star, CAC docent, class of 2011
That enchanted garden exists on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus, replete with wild thyme and some 50 varieties of plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s work. A double wall of hawthorn hedges shelters the plantings to create the effect of a secret garden in the midst of campus.
Northwestern’s Shakespeare Garden dates back to 1915, when the Garden Club of Evanston coaxed the university to provide land for America’s first Shakespeare Garden, modeled loosely upon Anne Hathaway’s Stratford-on-Avon garden. The members of the club conceived the garden as a way to express sympathy for the British during World War I and to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
For a master plan, the club looked to renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen. Planting began in 1920, and the garden was deemed complete in 1930 with the installation of a stone fountain and bench at its east end.
The fountain highlights the connection between Northwestern University and 19th century architect Daniel Burnham. The Burnham family lived on a six-acre estate in Evanston, and Burnham’s firm designed Fisk Hall (1899), one of a dozen buildings explored on CAC’s new tour, Northwestern University. Burnham’s architect son Hubert designed and donated the fountain in memory of his mother, Margaret, who chaired the garden club.
In 1988, the Shakespeare Garden was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, garden club members continue to plant new flowers each spring and put new bulbs in the ground each fall, ready to burst into bloom when the garden reawakens.
To locate the garden, look behind the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center, 2133 North Sheridan Road. Fun fact: The Ford Center, completed in 2005, was the first campus building designed for LEED certification, garnering points for its Silver rating by capturing groundwater to irrigate the Shakespeare Garden.
The CAC looks forward to resuming walking tours and other activities as soon as it is possible to do so safely. Please visit our COVID-19 information page for the latest updates.