Cemetery plantings large and small bring comfort to those who mourn or remember.
Prior to the 1830s, burials took place in churchyards or on family-owned land. As the population grew and personal properties shrank, the need arose for cemeteries as we know them today. The development of large-scale public cemeteries gave rise to cemetery landscape design that accented these places while also testing woody plants and shaping yet-to-be-used acres as functional parks for the public.
For instance, the second largest cemetery in the United States, Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum in Cincinnati, was intended to serve as an arboretum and city park from its founding in the 1840s (as a response to a cholera epidemic).
Adolph Strauch assisted members of the Cincinnati Horticultural Society in the design of the landscape. Groups of plants were combined and sited within the topography for aesthetic appeal, set as backdrops to monuments, as long views or as complements to pathways and roads.
Strauch included both native and exotic woody species in the design, and the plantings were evaluated annually for their value as garden or street trees. Today, Spring Grove’s horticultural staff continues to test woody species while maintaining the historic collection and accenting it with herbaceous beds and borders.
The site continues to function as a cemetery accepting new interments, while it also hosts public events such as concerts, walks, horticultural tours, grief-support meetings and more.
Cemetery Planting for Personal Remembrances
While the larger landscape of a cemetery can provide a sense of peace for family and friends visiting the graves of their loved ones, many people choose to also add their own small plantings as an expression of remembrance. Choosing, placing and tending flowers and garden elements around the grave marker can be a comforting creative outlet, a way to honor the deceased with a personal touch.
Before adding any plantings and related items to a gravesite, be sure to inquire about the cemetery’s rules regarding such.
Some allow in-ground plantings, while others restrict flowers to containers, for example. There may be rules for the length of time that plants and flowers can remain at a site, too.
Aside from the cemetery’s rules, practical matters should be considered when choosing plants. Drought-tolerant, long-blooming, self-cleaning plants tend to be the best choices for graveside plantings or containers.
Keep in mind the grounds crew who will have to work around the plants while tending the cemetery as a whole, and be respectful of visitors to neighboring plots who will view your plantings be it one day or two weeks since you’ve last tended them.
All of the usual things we think about when choosing plants—amount and direction of light, tolerance for heat or cold, soil and fertilizer requirements—come into play, with water use being perhaps the most critical, particularly if the plants will be in a container, which will dry out quicker than the ground.
Unless you will visit nearly every day, drought-tolerant varieties are the safest choice. It’s important to note the water source, too—that is, whether there’s a publicly accessible tap on the grounds or you’ll need to bring water from home.
Traditional annual favorites include geraniums (Pelargonium), New Guinea impatiens, petunias, dusty miller (Senecio cineraria) and verbena, but drought-tolerant, compact selections of perennials like coneflower (Echinacea), beardstongue (Penstemon), hosta and clumping alliums can work well in the ground or containers, too.