After my Grandpa passed away, Grandma Lila tended to the rose garden he planted for her until her death over thirty years later. When I lost my Sheltie, Taylor, to cancer, my Grandmother sent me a sympathy card with money in it and told me to buy a rose bush and plant it in her memory. So began my affection for memorial gardening. It is no surprise that I have twelve rose bushes in our yard and of course I think of Grandma Lila when they bloom.
I also have two whiskey barrels full of shrimp plants that my mother started from a snip from my Nana’s breezeway after she passed away. Those plants have been with us for over a decade and whenever a hummingbird drinks the nectar from of the “shrimps” I recall the last time my Gramps smiled and watched the “hummies” take a drink.
Hummingbirds were constant visitors for as long as I can remember. He and Nana were avid gardeners and when he passed away we kept his old gardening hat. I snapped a photo of my daughter wearing it while showing off her Daffodils near her little stone footprint. When my mother passed away, I filled our yard with her favorite – hydrangeas – and I can’t see a giant dahlia without thinking of her or my Aunt Ellen.
While I love remembering those I’ve lost this way, memorial gardening doesn’t have to be about death and loss. It can also be about milestone celebration. The dogwoods in our yard remind me of our wedding cake covered with a gum paste version of its blossoms, I will forever love the very first small magnolia tree my young son planted all by himself, and the butterfly bush in our yard is a carryover from my daughter’s butterfly themed third birthday.
A few fun ways to embrace memory gardening is to plant a small tree when a child or grandchild is born and watch them grow up together or perhaps start a Mother’s Day tradition of planting something beautiful in the garden for Mom so that over the years you leave her with a beautiful garden. Newlyweds don’t always have a home of their own to plant a tree or shrub in the ground but many small trees and shrubs grow very well in containers on a small patio or deck and can be transplanted when they buy a home of their own one day.
Combining plantings with hardscape items such as plaques, engraved stones, benches and wind chimes adds to the environment and creates a special spot in your garden to remember all of the beauty of the past and look forward to the beauty still waiting for you in the future. Your garden becomes a living scrapbook that unfolds for you year after year.
– Jennifer B.