University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article


MEMORIAL GARDENS

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
Memorial or remembrance gardens are an ideal way to keep alive the memory of those deceased, whether they are family, friends, or even pets.  They are particularly appropriate if the deceased had some interest in gardening.  They serve to rekindle happy memories, not just to grieve.  They share similarities to "memory" gardens that are designed for those aging, or losing mental abilities, to bring back fond sensual memories from earlier years.
           
There are differing views on whether memorial gardens are appropriate.  If a person, such as a child, never had an interest in gardening, some feel such have little impact.  To others, even planting a tree or shrub in someone's memory, even if it has no significance to the person, reminds them of that person every time they see or work with this plant or garden. With this remembrance their personality and shared wonderful times come back to life, providing solace. 
           
Even though my father never knew what a mountain ash was, I liked the tree so planted one in his memory.  Every time I viewed or watered it I thought of him.  The past tense is appropriate, as the tree recently died from disease.  I plan to plant another, perhaps a different tree, in his memory.  Yet even this death of my memorial tree reflects that life and death are a part of gardening just as in the life of a person.
           
Instead of a plaque or memorial that lasts, some like to plant a mass of perennials or a grove of native trees.  These are allowed to reseed, so as the original plants die, new seedlings grow.  This carries the planting along for many years, much longer than a single plant.  Candidates for such perennials might be mallows, garden phlox, and lupines, and for annuals try cosmos or spider flower.  Just make sure their reseeding wont be cause problems where sited.
           
If a person was interested in gardening, their passions would be a good place to start in creating a memorial garden.  Perhaps they were fond of a plant such as rhododendron, phlox, or hollyhocks, which by planting will remind you of them. Perhaps the person liked a food such as applesauce, or wines, so you might plant an apple tree or grapes to trigger memories.  My mother was fond of herbs, so I keep a small herb garden in her memory.  Others keep alive memories of friends through plants given to them by that person.
           
If a person liked a particular season, focus your garden on this, either with bloom times as in spring bulbs or foliage colors for fall.  If a person liked a particular color, focus on this with flowers and foliage if possible.  A white garden is sometimes popular to remember a young child, white symbolizing purity.  If the person was religious, consider a religious statue.  If the person liked birds, add bird feeders and baths.  Such objects as bird baths, hummingbird feeders, and benches are appropriate if you don't have time or space for a full garden.
           
One common remembrance popular with many is to plant a variety with the name of the person, such as Mary Todd daylily if the person's name was Mary.  Every time you see the plant you think of the person.  Roses are a popular remembrance plant, many having people names.  Perhaps you shared gardening experiences such as planting bulbs, or harvesting vegetables, that you could carry forward into a memorial garden.         
           
A different type of memorial garden can be designed for reflection, or to grieve.  In such gardens, enclosure from the outside world as with a fence or hedge often is used.  Usually such gardens have a plaque, monument, or focal point and a bench or some form of seating.  Soothing sensual effects such as fragrance from flowers or the sound of a gentle water feature can be
comforting in such gardens.
           
I visited such a grieving space at a public, formerly private, garden in Illinois.  The owner created such a space in tribute to a group of school children that died in a bus accident just after visiting his garden.  The space was very private, hidden down a path behind a hedge.  There you found a bench, and only once sitting on the bench did you notice the plaque to these children
           
A memorial garden for reflection is appropriate for persons that really had no interest in plants.  Instead, install some object to remind you of them as a focal point.  For an adult interested in music, you might choose wind chimes, or a musical sculpture.  For one interested in literature, have their favorite poem inscribed.  For children, this focus could be a sculpture of their favorite toy, or impressions in stepping stones.  Perhaps you would create a children's play garden for other youth to enjoy. 
           
In a Vermont garden, the family created a backyard in remembrance of their child who had physical and mental challenges.  This child had loved the outdoors, watching and hearing trees in the wind, the sky, smelling herbs and flowers, touching soft plants such as lamb's ears.  This couple created a mainly raised bed garden in memory, with plants for the senses and wind chimes to hear, so other children in wheelchairs visiting could share the same experiences.
           
Creating memorial gardens promotes healing.  Maintaining them is therapeutic.  The gardens not only keep alive their memories, but also provide beauty to those who see them even if they didn't know whom you are remembering. 
            

Return to Perry's Perennial Pages, Articles uvmext logo