“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”
― William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — A free event will spotlight a hidden gem in Cedar Rapids, as supporters plan to revitalize the historic Shakespeare Garden in Ellis Park.
A Midsummer Garden Arts Fair is scheduled for 7-8:30 p.m. Saturday, July 2, at the garden at 2000 Ellis Blvd. NW.
“This is an event to attract people to the garden and to raise awareness of its history and potential,” said Sylvia Popelka, one of the supporters of the efforts to revitalize Shakespeare Garden.
Musicians from the Five Seasons Chamber Orchestra will offer a variety of musical pieces, including performances of harp, flute, guitar, violin, cello and bass selections. Dancers will perform a country dance from the English Renaissance period and teach willing attendees the dance, and readings and commentary from the writings of William Shakespeare will be offered by a member of the Wednesday Shakespeare Club.
Refreshments will be provided and posters showing the vision for future revitalization will be on display. Members of the Northwest Neighbors Neighborhood Association, Friends of the Shakespeare Garden, Wednesday Shakespeare Club and Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation will be on hand to answer questions. Visitors are encouraged to bring lawn chairs.
A small group of women founded the Wednesday Shakespeare Club of Cedar Rapids in 1895, which continues to this day. The garden itself dates back to 1927, when ground was broken and a mulberry tree of the same species as that in Shakespeare’s own garden was planted during a ceremony in Ellis Park.
Features included a rustic bridge of the little stream they call the Little Avon, a rustic shelter as the entrance, Titania’s Bower, a sun dial, a pleached alley (garden path with walls of living branches,) a hedge and a bust of Shakespeare.
The original entrance was designed by renowned artists Grant Wood and Marvin Cone to resemble the thatched roofed entrance to the cottage of Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway. It also included rustic benches, giving visitors a place to rest.
The garden and Ellis Park itself were severely damaged in the 2008 flood, which uprooted bushes and washed away flower bulbs. Peony bushes were among the sole survivors.
Fundraising and volunteer efforts, along with city resources, resulted in new plantings when the group celebrated the 85th anniversary of the garden in 2012. Rudbeckia, coreopsis and iris that are mentioned in Shakespeare’s works were among the flowers planted. While the entrance has been replaced, the stone fence remains at the Shakespeare Garden, along with a replica of the original bust of the bard.
The site was further damaged during the 2020 hurricane-strength derecho in Iowa. Along with the posters that show the vision for Shakespeare Garden, “History Bits” will be displayed during the Midsummer Garden Arts Fair, sharing the story of the garden from when it began in 1927.
Related: See more great Iowa gardens