by Anita Jacobsen, Head Gardener, Stratford Festival
Anticipation! You can feel it everywhere at the Stratford Festival this time of year. Every week brings new faces and new energy as people return to the shops and rehearsal halls. Hallways that were silent now are filled with the sounds of old friends reconnecting, of strains from the orchestra, and scenes running through on stage. The focus indoors is to create and produce – to take a vision and bring it to life for an audience to enjoy for a brief period of time.
But the anticipation doesn’t stop at the box office door. You can also sense it in the gardens surrounding the theatre, in everything from the snow rapidly retreating, revealing snow drops bravely blooming; to crocus opening wide as the sun peeks through the clouds; to the smell of wet rich earth. Like the artists working indoors, our focus is to bring our own creative vision to life.
There are a couple of major differences between our “production” and those you see inside the theatre. On stage, the show unfolds over the course of an afternoon or evening. In our garden, the show is already underway, the work is in progress, and the whole event won’t be over until the snow comes again next winter.
But there’s a whole season of scenes to unfold in the garden before we have to hunker down for another long winter – and there’s a lot of work to do. Now that the snows have cleared, you have to look down and look closely for those show-openers in the garden.
One of my favorite early flowers here at the Stratford Festival are the winter aconites, not only because they defy the cold, sleet, and uncertainty of March and April weather to open their cheery yellow blooms to the sky, but also because they readily self seed and naturalize in the garden. Find these little bulbs in garden centres in the fall, where you buy your tulips and daffodils.
I love checking out our patch of Ivory Prince helleborus that we have in the shade bed by the Elizabethan Garden. At this time of year, the plants are loaded with burgundy pink buds that will soon open up to creamy white cup-shaped flowers. As the flowers age, they become streaked with shades of chartreuse and rose. The leathery, glossy, deeply lobed leaves form attractive clumps that remain evergreen through the winter. Helleborus are also known as Lenten Rose, as they begin to bloom late winter to early spring, during the season of Lent. These plants are ideal to plant en mass in a shady area with moist, rich soil.
The Elizabethan Garden is an interesting place to visit in spring. Here we have a collection of antique perennials and heirloom bulbs, all of which could have been found in a garden during Elizabethan times. On sunny days the cloth-of-gold crocus are already fully open, attracting early bees to the garden. These small golden orange crocus feature purple streaks on the outside of their petals and were in gardens dating back to 1587. Soon the yellow fragrant Campernelle jonquils will be blooming. These daffodils have been around since at least 1601, and are extremely hardy and reliable. Shakespeare loved cowslips, a type of primula with butter yellow flowers, mentioning them in at least three plays. Cowslips will soon put on their show, along with other historical perennials such as Sweet William, Orris Root, Columbine, and Byzantine Gladiolus.
For many visitors at the Stratford Festival, the Meighan Gardens are their favorite destination, for good reason. Week by week the scene changes, taking on new colour and added dimension. First thing in spring, cheerful bands of colorful crocus wave through the brown foliage of last year’s plants. But look closely! Already the shoots of many perennials are already emerging, waiting for a little warmth and the April rains to start them stretching up. Day by day, more buds unfurl and flowers bloom, such as the delicate bloodroot and little anemone blanda, taking their turn in the limelight. Soon daffodils and hyacinth send out their perfume into the air tempting people into the garden to take a closer look. Once the tulips join the stage, you know spring in the Meighan Garden is in full swing. But this is still only the beginning. As opening week approaches, regular visitors try to predict when our gorgeous peonies will burst into bloom. There is still so much to look forward to, no matter when you have planned your visit.
Don’t miss out on a single exciting event: come early and come often to catch all our acts as the season plays out in our fabulous gardens here at the Stratford Festival.
You can enjoy guided garden tours from June 5 to September 14, 2013, at 11:00 a.m. – visit our calendar and look for the flower symbol!