How my high school English teacher made me a better gardener

"An endless amount of interest is gathered round the literary history of plants. I like to grow any plant that is mentioned by the old Greek and Latin writers - such as Theophrastus, Aristotle, Virgil, or Pliny and still more do I delight in the plants of English literature. I doubt if any national literature has been so full of flowers as our own, and especially in our poetry. Among the older writers Gower, Chaucer, Spenser, and Shakespeare and, indeed, almost all, love to speak of gardens and flowers. The plants named by them are far more than most people are aware of and a very slight acquaintance with their writings will add to the pleasure of a garden."  (Canon Henry Ellacombe, In a Gloustershire Garden, 1895)

"A very slight acquaintance with their writings will add to the pleasure of a garden."  

I made my first "slight acquaintance with their writings" in classes in English Literature and Shakespeare in high school.  Mrs. Mellencamp taught both classes and I recall that I enjoyed them but didn't make any particular connections at the time between English Literature or Shakespeare and gardening.

My acquaintance with their writings is still slight, but lately, I find myself more and more running into these old writers of English literature and poetry, while reading old gardening books by garden writers like Canon Ellacombe and Elizabeth Lawrence.

How does this make me a better gardener? I think it is making me become a more thoughtful gardener, renewing my interest in a garden as a place of history and meaning. It gives me ideas for my garden. It makes me want to have at least part of my garden conjure up a bit of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

“I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine.
There sleeps Titania some time of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.”

(A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

Thank you, Mrs. Mellencamp, one of my high school English teachers,  for those first acquaintances with the writings of English literature and Shakespeare.  I know they have added pleasure to my garden, and that alone, has made me feel like a better gardener.


  1. It is interesting how our gardening follows our thoughts through anything we read with flowers or gardens mentioned.

  2. It is interesting how everything we learn and experience in life has a broader meaning that we sometimes don't figure out until we are older. A good friend just recommended a book to me "The Language of Flowers" which is now on my reading list. You may enjoy it as well if you have not read it yet.

  3. Having a sense of and connection to history gives our lives more meaning. It can only enrich our gardens by planting them with such thoughts in mind. Teachers are too often underappreciated, when they have such a great impact on our lives, and a great teacher can make such a difference. You're lucky to have had one. BTW, is your teacher related to the musician?

  4. What lovely thoughts, Carol. Shakespeare in particular had a way with conjuring gardens in his tales in addition to painting with words. Gardening and writing do go together. Anything that makes us stop and reflect is a good thing.
    HA to MMD

  5. I agree with Farmer McGregor's daughter. A sense of history definitely connects us to the land and gives meaning to our gardens. I do this consciously in my Quebec garden, Glen Villa, and look for ways to encourage others to incorporate personal stories in their gardens. It adds so much.

  6. We agree learning makes us better in general!

    Take the family to The Children's Museum of Indianapolis to learn!

    Do you know a family that would like unlimited visits to The Children's Museum of Indianapolis for one year?

    All you and any of your readers has to do is “Like” our page,, and enter to win a Family Membership ($145 value). Also, share the promotion with three friends and you will be entered to win again!

    More details here:


  7. That's a lovely post! Made my heart smile. :)


Post a Comment

Comments are to a blog what flowers are to a garden. Sow your thoughts here and may all your comments multiply as blooms in your garden.

Though there is never enough time to respond to each comment individually these days, please know that I do read and love each one and will try to reciprocate on your blog.

By the way, if you are leaving a comment just so you can include a link to your business site, the garden fairies will find it and compost it!