Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Serene and Evergreen - Cemeteries Allowing Plants & Flowers

The planting of flowers, shrubs or trees at the site of a loved one’s grave goes far back into history.  Plantings were used as a way to mark where the grave was or as a way to honor the deceased with a favorite flower or tree.  Cedar trees were planted to keep some color in a graveyard year-round. According to Purdue University Extension Horticultural Education and International Arborist Larry Caplan, “Evergreens are frequently used in cemeteries because they remain green and living all year round.  Visitors want to feel the concept of “rebirth” or “eternal life” that evergreens represent.”

There was a time when cemeteries allowed the planting of trees, plants and flowers at a gravesite, especially those small, country graveyards and the Rural or Garden cemeteries of the 1800’s.  Families would plant flowers, shrubs and trees as a permanent memorial to a loved one.  They would also take the time to tend the plantings and do the general upkeep of trimming and pruning required. But now, things are different.  While some cemeteries still allow planting to be done.  More and more are refusing such requests.


So why was the practice of cemetery plantings discontinued? Cemeteries without sufficient grounds crews do not want the added work of tending to plantings around graves.  Many plants will spread quickly if not tended regularly.  Families usually plant and then forget to do the general up-keep.  To make life easier on everyone involved, many cemeteries now offer an option to purchase a bush or tree in a selected area as a remembrance of your loved one or family.  The cemetery will have a list of pre-approved plantings or may allow the family to make a different choice, if approved by the cemetery before planting.


There are several plants that lend themselves nicely to cemetery planting.  These include some of the traditional favorites that you see in the older cemeteries and graveyards, peonies, lilies, hostas, irises, yucca, roses, tulips and daffodils. Most graveyards and cemeteries include cedar trees, yew trees, and firs, those that represent the ‘evergreen’ design.   Maples, oaks and elms are also favorite cemetery trees due to the longevity, hardiness and their beautiful autumn colors.

There are convenient ways to plant flowers at a grave.  Annuals will stand a better chance of surviving lawnmowers and weed eaters if planted directly in front or behind the stone.  If perennial bulbs or shrubs are allowed, they usually are placed at the side or sides of the grave marker.  There are now stones that allow for plantings as part of the marker with a planting strip left open to the soil below.  Maintenance, including weeding and deadheading, is the family’s responsibility. 

There are cemeteries around the country that are designated arboretums and horticultural hotspots.  These maintain a serene and tranquil look and feel of being more than just a cemetery.  Many have tree and flower maps so that visitors may tour the grounds, looking for specific trees and plantings.  These cemeteries encourage visitors to enjoy the park-like atmosphere by providing walking trails, small ponds with fountains, and well-landscaped grounds and flowerbeds.  Here are some of the finest cemetery/arboretums in the U.S.:

Cave Hill Cemetery & Arboretum in Louisville, Kentucky

Ferncliff Cemetery & Arboretum in Springfield, Ohio

Lexington Cemetery in Lexington, Kentucky

Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts




Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg, Virginia

Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum in Cincinnati, Ohio

Valley Cemetery &Arboretum, Manchester, New Hampshire
Courtesy Woodland cemetery
Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum in Dayton, Ohio

Woodside Cemetery and Arboretum in Middletown, Ohio



The bottom line for cemetery planting is – never plant without first consulting the cemetery office or cemetery trustee.  If you are given permission to plant, remember it is your responsibility to keep the plant maintained.  Make sure to have your planting choices approved by cemetery management.  Some plants can become invasive and are not well suited for this type of area.  Plants that have a long life or that are considered evergreen may be more appropriate, or annuals may be best suited for your circumstances.  

Or, you may decide that a flower carved into stone is the choice you want - no upkeep, always in bloom.










Regardless, well-planted, maintained and landscaped cemeteries are beautiful to visit, providing a serene experience for family and loved ones, tombstone tourists, and horticultural sightseers to share.

~ Joy