I have now spent a little more than three weeks sheltering in place, as a high risk for the coronavirus because of my age. As a single person living alone, I can attest that this is no picnic. I miss people.

And as an avid gardener, April is usually a busy month for me. Those of us who have a passion for digging in the dirt would be outside at work now. Garden center open houses, Master Gardener conferences – featuring icons such as Doug Tallamy, Rick Darke, and Dan Hinkley –  are all canceled.   Hopefully, they will be back next year.   

When my cable cut out a couple of weeks ago because of a major cable break, leaving me without a phone, a computer and a TV,  I questioned my sanity.  A series of breathing exercises and a glass of wine led me to a stack of books I title, “wouda, shouda and coulda.”  These are books I hoped to read one day, but never seemed to get to.

On the top of the pile was "Shakespeare’s Gardens" by Jackie Bennett (Frances Lincoln in association with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust). I was saving this to read before I took my bucket list trip to Stratford-upon-Avonn. But as a true anglophile with a passion for English gardens, this book was a perfect panacea to calm my anxiety attack and take me to another place I would rather be at this time.

An ironic twist: In 1564 a young couple living in Stratford-upon-Avon in England decided to go into self-imposed isolation  in hopes of saving their 3-month-old son from one of the many outbreaks of the dreaded bubonic plague, also known as the black death. They had already lost two children from the plague. While their period of time in isolation is not known, their mission was successful and their child, William Shakespeare, survived and went on to become the renowned English poet, playwright and actor.

In Shakespeare’s time, gardens were a necessity and in cities and towns they were planted in front yard:  vegetables for food, herbs for medicine, cleaning and flavoring and yes, flowers for aesthetics.

Shakespeare was born into a time of travel and adventure and for garden lovers, there was much to be excited about. Explorers returned with seeds and plants from both the Old and New Worlds, like  nasturtiums from Peru and marigolds from Mexico.

The wealthy took their cues from the French and Italian Renaissance garden designs. Bennett walks the reader through William Shakespeare’s life as a lover of nature and gardens – a tour I shall take my time reading.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at

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