Remembering loved ones can be done in your own backyard.
Memorial gardens hold a special place in our hearts as they provide a serene and meaningful way to remember and honor loved ones who have passed away–be that person or pet. These gardens not only serve as a tribute to the departed but also offer solace, healing and an opportunity for reflection.
What is a memorial garden?
A memorial garden is a dedicated outdoor space designed to honor and remember a person, pet or group who has passed away. These gardens are created to serve as a living tribute, preserving the memory of loved ones and providing a place for reflection and remembrance.
Creating a memorial garden can be as easy as filling a planter or raised bed in memory of a loved one or designing a larger space that will evolve over time, as the seasons change. The magic of a memorial garden lies in the personal touches that evoke the person you’re remembering while also bringing solace to those who visit.
In times of grief, nurturing a living space can be therapeutic. You can make this process even more profound by creating a testament to the enduring connection between life and nature. Whatever type of garden you choose, here are some things to consider.
Choose the right location
Selecting the right spot for your memorial garden is all about finding a place that resonates with you and the memories you want to preserve. Whether it’s in your backyard, a community space, or even at a loved one’s gravesite, the location should hold personal significance.
Unless you’re planning a shade garden, ensure your chosen location receives at least six hours of sunlight per day. Ensure also that it’s accessible and practical for regular maintenance, especially if you’re planning to visit and tend to the garden often.
Involve family members
Creating a memorial garden is a deeply personal endeavor, but designing and organizing the garden with family and friends can be healing and unifying. Decide who you’d like involved and at what stage. There are several ways others can participate.
- Each person can plant a tree, shrub, or flower as a tangible symbol of their connection. These communal planting events foster a sense of togetherness, support, and shared memories, making the garden even more meaningful.
- Family members can visit the space after it’s completed for a dedication ceremony. They may like to add their own notes or messages.
- Those who can’t visit can receive photographs or send contributions of plants. Take pictures to help capture the growth and transformation of the garden, showcasing how it has developed into a lasting testament.
Decide on components
Remember, the design can reflect the personality and spirit of the person you’re commemorating or simply contain elements they enjoyed. Consider the following popular elements.
Blooming or symbolic plants
Do you associate particular plants with your loved one? If not, think about what might represent their personality. You might choose a rosebush for beauty, a lavender plant for its sense of peace, or a sturdy oak tree to symbolize strength.
Other plants are directly associated with particular meanings based on their histories. Here are some common plants associated with love, hope and remembrance:
- Acer (maple) – Balance, love, abundance
- Alcea rosea (hollyhock) – Remembrance, nostalgia
- Camellia (camellia flowers) – Love, adoration
- Convallaria majlis (lily of the valley) – Sweetness, humility, trust
- Dianthus (carnation) – Joy, affection
- Ficus carica (fig) – Abundance, prosperity, nature’s gifts
- Galanthus nivalus (snowdrop) – Hope
- Hydrangea macrophylla (hydrangea) – Gratitude, understanding, appreciation
- Jasminum officinale (jasmine) – Love, grace
- Limonium sinuatum (statice) – Remembrance, sympathy
- Prunus L. (cherry trees) – Love, rebirth, adoration
- Ros marinus (rosemary) – Remembrance
- Syringa vulgaris (Lilac) – Love, youthful innocence
- Salix babylonica (Weeping Willow) – Grief, mourning, sorrow
Low maintenance ground covers
Covering open areas with ground covers will save time and draw elements of your design into a cohesive whole. This could include micro-clover, creeping flower varieties or even an eco-lawn requiring little water.
Tree and shrubs
Trees add height and longevity to your design. Shrubs reduce the maintenance level of a space and add structure and a backdrop for lower growing plants. Is there one tree or shrub that your loved one enjoyed? If not, consider what time of year a tree or shrub might be at its best.
For example, many blooming trees will command attention in springtime, while those that transform to brightly colored foliage will draw your eye in the fall. Is there a specific time of year when you want your memorial to shine? Consider also fruit trees and native plants. Fruit trees provide sustenance while native plants adapt well to their surroundings, requiring little attention once established.
Keep size in mind when planting trees, however. Mature trees may reach deeply and widely into the ground and grow to large heights, depending on the varieties chosen. Before planting, consider the ground beneath your tree’s future dripline, watching for utility lines, pavement, septic, foundation, in-ground sprinklers or other items best left undisturbed. Research trees for potential sizes and shading patterns when mature while considering proximity to neighboring properties.
|Season of Interest||Tree or Shrub Variety|
|Spring||Fruit trees, native magnolia and dogwood, lilac, rhododendron, azalea, heather, domestic cherry, red flowering currant, Western redbud, laburnum, linden, japonica, native hawthorn.|
|Summer||Fruit trees, jasmine, Western redbud, rose, hydrangea, fuschia, silk tree, smoke bush, viburnum, Japanese maple.|
|Fall||Japanese or rocket maple, katsura, larch, blueberry, native chokeberry, native honey locust.|
|Winter||Witch hazel, paperbark maple, red osier dogwood, winterberry, manzanita, rosehip roses, coral bark maple, evergreen huckleberry, heather, sweetbox.|
Stepping stones and paths can lead the eye to areas of focus while improving access to the heart of your garden. These can be simple, found objects or pavers arranged in a particular configuration. Solar lights can illuminate parts of the memorial and extend its use to day or night.
A seating area
Seating areas allow you or visitors to sit and reflect, whether it’s a cozy bench under a shade tree or a peaceful corner with a comfortable chair. This is the place to find solace and think about your loved one’s memory. Other reflective elements include wind chimes, a small table, statuette or water feature.
A plaque or engraved stone with a message or quote that holds sentimental value is a lovely way to memorialize someone’s life. Adding a wooden, hand-painted sign can also provide the right touch.
Care and maintenance
Like any garden, maintaining the beauty and health of your memorial is an ongoing commitment. Different seasons bring distinct needs for your memorial garden.
In the spring, focus on rejuvenation and growth, ensuring plants receive the nutrients and water they need. Summer involves scanning for pests and diseases while mulching and providing sufficient water. Fall is the time for cleaning up fallen leaves and preparing the garden for winter. Winter maintenance may involve protecting delicate plants from harsh weather conditions.
Yearly pruning will help plants thrive and reach their full potential. Trimming away dead or diseased branches not only enhances the garden’s appearance but also promotes the overall well-being of the vegetation.
Weeding is another part of garden maintenance, but you can reduce this to a few times per season by top-dressing with compost if available or mulching with straw, autumn leaves, or seaweed. All of these options suppress weeds while adding valuable organic matter to your soil.
The healing power of gardening
Memorial gardens offer solace and tranquility, a space where we can find respite from life and take a moment to connect with cherished memories. They become places of reflection, where the beauty of the natural world intertwines with the beauty of our shared experiences.
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