Tucked between the Belvedere Castle and West 79th Street, you’ll find Central Park’s Shakespeare Garden. The charming four-acre green space transports its visitors from the hustle and bustle of New York City to the restorative quiet of the 17th century English countryside.
The garden is named for nonother than the bard himself, William Shakespeare, filled with plants and flowers mentioned in his work (of which there is no shortage–it’s estimated that 175 specific plants are referenced in Shakespeare’s plays alone). The garden was dedicated to the English playwright and poet on April 23rd, 1916–the tricentennial of his death.
Before its dedication, the garden was created in 1912 by park entomologist Dr. Edmond Bronk Southwick as a place for school children to study and appreciate nature. Originally named “The Garden of the Heart,” it featured large planting beds with flowers found in Shakespeare’s works before the entire garden was redesigned and dedicated to the playwright four years later.
Within the garden, you’ll find plaques of ten Shakespeare quotes about flora and fauna. Plaques can be found near roses (“What’s in a name?/That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet”) to holly (“Heigh-ho! Sing, heigh-ho! Unto the green holly/Most friendship is feigning, most living mere folly./Then heigh-ho the holly! This life is most jolly”), and more. The garden was even once home to a graft from a mulberry tree that was said to have been planted by Shakespeare himself in 1602. However, the tree was removed in 2006 after it blew down in the fit of a summer storm.
The Central Park Conservancy recommends a visit to the Shakespeare Garden during spring, when blooms are at their brightest and the garden comes to life with butterflies, birds, bees, and more. In particular, the garden is known for its miniature bulbs that bloom in the spring and paint the scenery with vibrant colors.
Nevertheless, the garden is a beautiful destination year-round. “There’s something blooming in Shakespeare Garden every day of the year,” says Conservancy Zone Gardener Larry Boes. “Even if it’s under the snow, the hellebores or snowdrops might be blooming.”
No matter what time of year you visit the garden, you’ll find it a quiet oasis, thanks in part to its designation as one of Central Park’s eight Quiet Zones. Besides plants, the garden also features walking paths, a series of dedicated benches, rustic fences, and even a working sundial over 70 years old. Many of these elements were added in the 1970s, when a restoration project was undertaken after the garden had become neglected and overgrown.
Adding to the garden’s air of enchantment is the Whisper Bench (officially known as the Charles B. Stover Bench, dedicated to the former Parks Commissioner). Sit on one side of the curved bench and whisper a secret, and it can be heard on the other side for a friend to hear.
Behind the garden, you’ll find the Delacorte Theater, where the Public Theater hosts Shakespeare in the Park every summer. Since 1962, Shakespeare in the Park has mounted annual productions of Shakespeare’s work, free to the public. And if you’re a true bardalator (that is, an admirer of the Bard of Avon), you can walk about a mile south of the garden to Literary Walk to find a statue of William Shakespeare.
Whether you’re looking to read a play, write a sonnet, or just sit and reflect, the Shakespeare Garden is a meditative retreat in the middle of Central Park that welcomes New York city locals, out of town visitors, and star-crossed lovers alike.
Wonderful article! The Shakespeare Garden is one of my favorite havens in Central Park, I learned so much in this piece. Thank you, and brava, Cat Reynolds!