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Thursday, July 8, 2004 07:07 pm

Botany according to the Bard

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William Shakespeare, the greatest writer in the English language, lived during the Elizabethan period (1533-1603), a relatively peaceful political time that gave birth to enormous developments in landscape design and an avid search for new and exotic plants, seeds, and bulbs.

Although much about his life is unknown, Shakespeare certainly had a love and knowledge of gardens and plants, their symbolism, and their uses. In his plays he mentioned myriad plants, herbs, trees, and shrubs -- some by names less familiar to us today than to audiences of his day.

Shakespeare assumed that his audiences shared his gardening knowledge, that they would understand his references in the plant world. After all, his plays were part of the popular entertainment of the times. "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance ... and there is pansies, that's for thoughts" (Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5).

In his works Shakespeare referred to almost 200 plants, showing an intimate knowledge of plant growth, propagation, grafting, pruning, weeding, ripeness, and decay. Many plants we enjoy simply for their beauty today were used in other ways in his time.

University of Illinois Extension Sangamon-Menard master gardener Myrna Golay of Sherman will present a free program on the "Shakespeare Garden" at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 13. Boasting everything from strawberries to gillyflowers, a special plot planted in an S shape will show some of the plants that Shakespeare mentioned in his works. The master gardeners who devised the garden have selected more modern cultivars that fare better in our Midwestern climate than in olde England.

The "Shakespeare Garden" is a special plot of the Master Gardener Herb Garden for the 2004 garden season.

The 30-minute presentation, which will be followed by a question-and-answer session, will be held in the Master Gardener demonstration gardens, located in front of the University of Illinois Extension Building on the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

Master gardeners volunteer their time to design, plant, and maintain these demonstration gardens, and they share their knowledge of them with the public, most notably in special programs and during the Illinois State Fair.

For more information, call the Sangamon-Menard Extension Unit at 782-4617.

Parade of Ponds

The second annual "Parade of Ponds," featuring 18 gardens in Sangamon and Menard counties, will be held 9 a.m-5 p.m. Saturday, July 10, and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday, July 11.

Tickets cost $15 per person ($13 for seniors 60 and older). Proceeds will benefit Senior Services of Central Illinois.

Tickets may be purchased in advance at Books' Garden Center, located on Route 97 north of Petersburg (632-3688) or at the Senior Center, 701 W. Mason St. in Springfield (528-4035). This weekend, tickets may be purchased at Books' or at the Senior Center from 9-11 a.m. Saturday.

Check your canner

University of Illinois Extension Sangamon-Menard Unit master food preservers are offering a free testing program for home food canners fitted with dial-type pressure gauges.

It is recommended that these canners be tested every year for accuracy. According the U.S. Department of Agriculture, inaccuracy of dial gauges on canners can lead to under- or overprocessing of food, resulting in unsafe home-canned food.

From 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Thursday, July 15, master food preserver Audrey Diggs will test canners at the University of Illinois Extension Building, located on the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Canners may also be brought to extension office ahead of time. Make sure to label your canner with your name and telephone number.

For more information, call 782-4617.

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