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The Iconic Shakespeare Garden Gets a Makeover

Members of the Vassar community, both those who live and work here and those visiting campus, might be forgiven for experiencing confusion upon viewing the current state of one of the college’s most beloved and iconic sites—the Shakespeare Garden. But as the Bard of Avon himself put it, “Things done well and with a care, exempt themselves from fear.” And that’s exactly what’s happening. For the first time in a history that began 103 years ago this week, when Vassar students planted pansies behind New England Building in honor of the William Shakespeare tercentenary, the venerable garden is undergoing a renovation that incorporates professional design and construction.

Rendering courtesy of Ed Hollander ’76

It actually isn’t the first time the seemingly eternal garden has been revised, but previous upgrades have been overseen by faculty and student volunteers, as well the Vassar Club of Poughkeepsie. This time, the work is being spearheaded by renowned landscape architect Ed Hollander, a member of the Class of 1976 who loves the campus and the garden, and an anonymous donor from the Class of 1969 is funding it.

The renovation will preserve the garden’s most beloved features, including the sundial and the famous statues that appear to be Shakespearean characters, but actually aren’t. It will also make the area safer to traverse and, at long last, accessible to people of all abilities via new perimeter pathways, while doing away with invasive species that have crept into the hallowed grounds as well as a hemlock border that has been decimated by the college’s resident deer herd. A faculty committee is working on signage that will incorporate Shakespearean quotes, and there will be a spectacular new viewing platform out back of Sanders Physics Building, allowing a vista overlooking the garden, with the Skinner Hall of Music in the background.

Construction, well underway, is scheduled for completion by the first week of June, when the Class of ’69 returns to campus for its landmark 50th Reunion. Look for a more extensive report on the Shakespeare Garden’s renovation in the Vassar Quarterly.