Shakespeare’s Plants and Gardens

Monday 20th November

Andrew Mikolasjski is a Lecturer by trade and an author by inclination. He has written over 30 books – his latest endeavour acting as consultant contributor to the RHS A-Z of garden plants – a tome of such proportions that it needs its own carrying case!


However, our chosen topic from his extensive repertoire on this evening was the plants and gardens of Elizabethan times and how Shakespeare used them in his writings.

The gardens that Shakespeare inhabited were very different to those of the 21st century. There were limited varieties of plants available – no half-hardy annuals or repeat-flowering roses – and the idea of combination planting was completely alien. So, by the end of July flowering would have ceased and the gardens would be bare until the following spring. But the 17th century was a time of great exploration and the diversity of plants available increased by 20% in Shakespeare’s lifetime.

Gardens came in many shapes and sizes. There were the grand estates of the Royals and their courtiers, the cottage gardens of the peasants where produce was grown for the kitchen and then there were the hedgerows and common lands were medicinal herbs could be gleaned. Also, there were the apothecary gardens where plants and knowledge had been husbanded since the crusaders had arrived back from the holy lands and Arabia over 200 years ago. In Shakespeare’s time there were over 100 Apothecaries in London which then would have been the same size as Leicester. Of course, for the poorer and more rural folk, their medicinal needs were attended to by the village wise woman (or witch) who used common herbs and berries to make their remedies.

Andrew explained that he had been involved in the restoration of Kenilworth castle garden which typifies the Elizabethan approach to horticulture. It seems that in those days conspicuous consumption and luxury were to be flaunted. So it was that Robert Dudley commissioned the quickest garden makeover of the period when he anticipated a 14 day visit by Elizabeth I. Of course, he had an ulterior motive – he wanted to marry her and become even more powerful. The fact that he was already married didn’t seem to signify.

Garden Force eat your heart out because within 3 weeks the area had been transformed. It was laid out according to Islamic principles: an enclosed rectangle divided into four with a central water tank. The space was stuffed with statutory – just like the gardens of the Vatican. In fact, everything was Italianate with an aviary, bowers and beds filled with gillyflowers and edged with miniature strawberries. Even the fruit trees bore fruit – highly unlikely given the season (and in all probability artificial). Anyway, all this expenditure and upheaval was to no avail as it rained every day of her visit, the Queen went home early and Dudley didn’t even plight his troth. You could say it was much ado about nothing!


In Shakespearean times there was no cataloguing of plants, no Latin names simply the common vernacular name which was pretty broadly applied. Many plants were grouped together – Shakespeare’s ‘woodbine’ encompassed any climbing plants, including Honeysuckle. No-one seems to know what ‘gilly/jilly’ flowers were – possibly carnations. Gerard’s Herbal was the go-to guide inn 1636 – some say the frontispiece is a portrait of Shakespeare himself. There are many mentions in his plays of the use of plants for good and evil. For example, Melissa/lemon balm used in Macbeth “the sleep balm of hurt minds”. Sea holly thought to be an aphrodisiac used by Falstaff in his efforts to woo. Hemlock was used by the witches in Macbeth. Mandrake appears in Cleopatra, “give me to drink mandragora” and, of course, Rosemary for remembrance as Juliet said “doth not rosemary and Romeo both begin with the same letter!

Andrew’s style of delivery was very theatrical and the extent of his knowledge extraordinary. He certainly held us as spell-bound as the bard himself and gave us food for thought.

Margaret Paul

Eglantine Vineyard

On Thursday 7th September, 14 members of the Cropwell Bishop Gardening Club visited our own local winemaker at Costock; Eglantine Vineyard. This is what they found there:

Eglantine Eglantine Eglantine Eglantine Eglantine Eglantine Eglantine Eglantine Eglantine Eglantine Eglantine Eglantine Eglantine Eglantine Eglantine

Home Farm House and Rose Cottage: Keyworth

Thursday 22nd June

After a hot, sticky week we were blessed with a perfect evening to visit two contrasting gardens in Keyworth and I expect many of us have driven past both, unaware that two such lovely gardens existed.


The first garden we visited was “Home Farm House”, the home of Graham and Pippa Tinsley. Graham was born here and his family have lived there for several generations, adding bits of land to the grounds as they became available. Unsurprisingly, it now covers quite a large area containing two ponds, a walled garden, flower borders and mature tress including oak, acers, a bean tree, a magnificent cedar tree which had only been planted as recently as 1983 and had suffered damage from Storm Doris.

The garden itself could be described as “little gardens within a garden” with gaps in the hedges to walk through which led to a rose garden, a well-stocked vegetable patch, soft fruit trees and an orchard. One direction took you under a pergola covered with roses and a vine. After a good look round we sat at tables set out in the garden to enjoy our tea and biscuits.


A short drive away was the second garden “Rose Cottage” – home since 1998 of Richard and Julie Fowkes. In complete contrast this was a delightful cottage garden which we were told contained over 500 different varieties of plants – not that anyone was counting.

It was a mass of colour and had two ponds, one with a bog complete with frogs. There was a rockery with a lovely Edelweiss and a potting shed with a sedum roof. Most of us took the time to visit the shed and make purchases from Julie’s art display which contained paintings and cards – many of which were inspired by the garden.

Linda Field

Whatton in the Vale

"5 Burton Road,Whatton in the Vale?"

Well the address didn't give too much away did it, what were we to expect? And this was certainly a garden of surprises and delights. To begin with, we were welcomed to the right at the front of the house by two siamese cats in their vegetable garden and greenhouse, and a woodland area to the left. Two areas you might expect at the rear of the house.

Then through an archway of clematis and wisteria to about a quarter of an acre of back garden, but boy, was it a plantsman's paradise.

The general theme was cottaging with quirky paths and stepping stones linking areas of interest at every twist and turn. Colours were linked in shades of purple through soft mauves and blues to the softest pink. I'm not too good at remembering plant names but I know there were lavenders, scabious, agapanthus and verbena bonariensis (I bought one of those, so think I've got the spelling right).

Everywhere you looked there was something of interest and plenty of garden seats and gazebos to stop and stare. There wasn't the smallest space between the planting, with additional plants in containers for good measure and even a green sedum roof garden.

Our thanks to Julia and Martyn for letting us share their garden for an evening and thank you Muriel for all the arrangements. Have a look at all the planting, I'm sure you can name more than me.

Judy Thomas

Whatton in Vale Whatton in Vale Whatton in Vale Whatton in Vale Whatton in Vale Whatton in Vale Whatton in Vale Whatton in Vale Whatton in Vale Whatton in Vale Whatton in Vale Whatton in Vale Whatton in Vale Whatton in Vale Whatton in Vale Whatton in Vale Whatton in Vale Whatton in Vale Whatton in Vale

Witches Garden

We grow herbs in the back garden so that we can grab a bit to pop in, or on, our food—and that's all there is to herbs.
I appreciate that I have zero skill in the kitchen but I feel sure that I am not alone in thinking that this is all herbs have to offer. However, I now realise that I was very wrong.

The person to put me right was Lynne Tann-Watson. Lynne gave a presentation on Herbs at this evening's meeting of the Cropwell Bishop Gardening Club at the Old School.


In earlier centuries, every village had its own witch, or the equivalent, and that was the person you turned to for herbal remedies for illness, injuries and love making—as well as births and deaths.

Lynne described the history of herbs in these self contained commmunities where there wasn't the money to pay for a "doctor". To a certain extent this was still true up to the birth of the National Health Service in 1948.

As well as graphic and entertaining descriptions of a massive range of English herbs, Lynne had a large number of them on the table in front of her: we could test their smells ourselves at the end of her presentation—and buy them if we wished.


Lynne has published several books on herbs and sells herb plants at her plant centre, "The Witches Garden", near Ashby-de-Zouch.


Tony Jarrow


On Thursday 11th May, Cropwell Bishop Gardening Club made their first garden visit of 2017. It was to "Woodpeckers " at Burton where they saw an amazing collection of rhodedenrons and azaleas.

Judy Thomas

Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers Woodpeckers

The Art of Bonsai

Bonsai If you are like me then you always thought that growing miniature trees in shallow trays of soil was something that demanded an artist with a delicate hand. This evening we were shown a very different aspect of Bonsai growing by an artist who was not afraid to attack with gusto the task of training a young tree to grow more slowly.

Bonsai Almost 30 people from the Gardening Club were introduced to the world of Bonsai by local expert Corin Tomlinson who owns and runs the Greenwood Bonsai Studio on Ollerton Road in Arnold. He explained the background to Bonsai trees and described his busy life of collecting young specimens from around the world, meeting other experts, teaching students of Bonsai and also running his Bonsai business.

Bonsai Naturally he had specimens of Bonsai trees but surprised us by how much regular attention the trees require: regular pruning, repotting, wiring, feeding and, most important, watering every day.

Bonsai Following this gentle introduction to Bonsai we were taken by surprise when he plonked a big conifer onto this workbench—the kind you see in the reduced section of a Gardening Centre at the end of the season. What could this have to do with the gentle art of Bonsai?

Bonsai Corin was no longer going to just talk about Bonsai, he was going to show us the art of Bonsai in just 45 minutes! He put on a great show, peppered with stories and jokes. He made the job of converting an ordinary conifer specimen into the beginnings of a Bonsai tree look easy.

Of course, all experts have the knack of making difficult things look easy but, even so, we were left with the urge to rush home and grab that pot-bound conifer in the back garden. By the end of tomorrow it would be the envy of every one of your garden visitors—even the Chinese ones, who knew a thing or two about this art.

Bonsai If you doubt this was possible, take a look at the sequence of photos below (first the left-hand column, then the right-hand one). Those still lacking courage can always book into one of Corin Tomlinson's Training Sessions at Arnold.

Tony Jarrow

Bonsai Bonsai Bonsai Bonsai Bonsai Bonsai Bonsai Bonsai Bonsai Bonsai Bonsai Bonsai

My Life and Times in Farming

For our first meeting of the New Year we were treated to a feast of amusing and entertaining anecdotes together with an introduction to the finer points of hedgelaying from our guest speaker Clive Matthew.

Clive Matthews

Clive has over 40 years experience in hedgelaying and has won numerous trophies and titles in nationwide competitions including Supreme Champion Hedgelayer.

Having left school at fourteen, Clive told us of his early days working on his father’s farm, getting up at 5.30am for milking and being left to demolish the old piggeries whilst his parents were holidaying on the Isle of Wight!

He later found work with the Scottish Relief Milking Service, having many adventures, narrowly escaping Salmonella poisoning in one particularly unsavoury farm and being propositioned at the tender age of 18 by a ‘lady’ farmer in Exeter!

Clive Matthews

Eventually his interest in the skill of hedgelaying led to the formation in 1978 of The National Hedgelaying Society together with two others who were just as passionate to ensure that this ancient and useful art should not be allowed to die out. They recognised the importance of hedging being sustained as protection for livestock and crops, as well as providing a haven for wildlife.

Clive Matthews

We were introduced to technical terms such as PLEACHER—the cut stem which is then bent and woven into the hedge and reminded of the use of ‘Chain’ as a unit of measurement of length.

Clive Matthews

Together with a formidable collection of Billhooks, used for cutting, Clive also brought along his own apple wood MAUL a large mallet used to hammer stakes into the ground. This was much coveted by H.R.H Prince Charles when he saw it being used at Tetbury. Clive offered to make him one but refused to give his own away—even to royalty!

Clive Matthews

Thanks to Clive’s enthusiastic and informative presentation, we will not be able to look at hedging in the same way again. He certainly livened up a dull January evening and we wish him well in any future competitions.

Clive Matthews

Clive donated his fees to the charity—Disabled Christian Fellowship Holidays—which he actively supports.

G.G. January 2017