Flowers in Perpetuity

Shirley Temple peony
Courtesy of Monrovia

Catalyzed no doubt by the merging of full spring and Mother’s Day, this week marks the accomplishment of something I’d been thinking about and planning for a few years. I’m not sure why some things “take time.” Perhaps the sheer doing of this deepens the acceptance of my Grandmother’s no longer being a part of this Earthly existence. Regardless, I have at last arranged, after many phone calls and much research, for a nurseryman in Utah to plant a peony next to my Grandmother’s grave. I have chosen the Shirley Temple peony you see above. This plant bespeaks the beauty and elegance and understatedness of my Grandmother’s life here, while simultaneously declaring in volumes the fact that her presence demanded space, appreciation, acknowledgment and attention. The edges of this flower remind me dearly of any large silk flower she might have worn upon her bodice or hat. Indeed, do those outer petals remind you of silk tulle, or not? Always attracted to the fine, this is a flower worthy of marking her life. Christine Christensen, a remarkable woman. An artist in her own right. Once established this plant will bloom each year for many many decades next to her green marble gravestone with minimal care. Adjacent to the white flowers visitors will find these words engraved on her stone:

Many the treasures
She leaves behind
And carries forth
white bush

Synchronicity played her hand as I was making these arrangements, as she is wont to do with those inclined to be watching for her. In response to my last post on community gardening, I heard from Julie Rice, a very very distant cousin in Ohio, whom I know through my genealogy research. In this case my gggguncle Erastus married the sister of a gggrandmother of Julie’s. (I know. It’s ridiculous that I know such things, but I love the complexity and the miracle of finding these people, as do they. You can get high simply contemplating the unlikelihood.) Here’s what Julie wrote:

We have been using the back yard as a “test garden” to see what thrives with benign neglect. The successful plants are then added to the local union cemeteries, Walnut Grove (1859) and Flint (1831) which are also used as parkland, passive recreation/arboretums for the local population. Working on the Union Cemetery advisory board has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. It’s a joy to be adding to gardens that you know will be there for hundreds of years to come. Many of the old plantings came out of the yards of the old Worthington homes. Mostly it is historical shrubs, peonies, daffodils, iris, and day lilies that have survived and spread. We don’t use pesticides on the grass so right now Walnut Grove is a blanket of forest wildflowers, mostly violets.

What?? Within days we were on the phone, exchanging ideas and photographs, as, of course, it was the very thing I was involved in at that moment–finding which plants would survive over time in a distant cemetery. What is most extraordinary and extremely fortunate is that Julie has multiple degrees in Earth Sciences. Indeed, she is a Senior Scientist for a private firm in addition to being on the board for the local union cemetery. I found her research to be so invaluable, I am encouraging her to start her own blog documenting all she is discovering. But meanwhile, we are blessed to have access to some of her early information.

Here are two of the plants being tested in Julie’s yard, which have passed the rigorous standards they are employing (basically letting things be!) and have already been introduced into the cemetery:

Mary Queen of Scots roses

Mary Queen of Scots roses

White violets

white violets

Now introduced into the cemetery are these same white violets:

white violets in cemetery

Following their blossoming they are simply mowed along with the grass. Simple.

Is this not a concept that warms your heart and action muscle? I am so enchanted with the idea that our gardening efforts might readily extend not simply to our own back yards, where who knows what will become of our dear creations eventually, but also that we have a palette and tools to contribute to those who follow, simply by cultivating plants that will endure the miles and distance, natualizing as they come and go. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

May the spirit of this intitiative whisper into many fertile hearts and minds and souls, and may it take root for the benefit of all who follow. Blessings be.

Kathryn xoxo

20 Responses to “Flowers in Perpetuity”

  1. My son wasn’t very happy with me when I told him that his blushing bride was a distant cousin of ours;) She was a Volck before she was a Fulk. He said–no mom—they’ve always been Fulk! Well…I said…not always. I dropped the subject but have included it in a book that they will enjoy when I’m gone and they have little cross bred grand babies one day.

    There is an old cemetary in our town in Old Salem, NC. It has so much historical value. It is all documented too. I love to go over and spend hours just soaking it all in. The plants and grave markers are stunning. The smell from the old boxwoods is my favorite. You are correct about this be a living museum amonst the departed. I love a well kept cemetary. It shows such honor and class. I’m so proud of you.

  2. Hi, Anna, well, as you know your son is in excellent company. It’s astounding how many of our early ancestors married cousins! I’m glad you have this appreciation for the cemeteries. Yes, they are often an uptapped resource for peace and beauty. Kathryn

  3. Thank you for sharing, mom!
    That’s lovely! The peony is a perfect choice!
    Love you,

  4. Hi, my Antonia,
    Yes, it’s gratifying to have that in place on behalf of your greatgrandmother. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Love you back,
    Mommie D.

  5. Hi Kathryn, wonderful story well told, as always. Such a simple idea, people probably had been doing that very thing for hundreds of years in old cemetaries, as that kind of knowledge would have been passed down in families that stayed close together on shared land. I knew peonies were a favorite grave side planting, since they last so long with no care at all. Your choice is as lovely as your grandmother surely was.

    Frances at Faire Garden

  6. Hi, Frances,

    Welcome. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s hard to say. As many hours as I’ve spent pouring over names of buried folks looking for my own, the plants at hand were never part of the territory. I believe Julie told me that all the cemeteries were naturally planted with whatever people had in their own gardens. Probably over time they noticed which ones lived on generation after generation, or perhaps not. Hard to say. But to conscientiously be planning such a cemetery for future generations–that is a new thought for me personally. Btw, your blog was one I suggested Julie visit, for inspiration. You document so well, and that is Julie’s task at hand. Kathryn xox

  7. I have a ‘Shirley Temple’ peony in my garden, the only one I bought and know the name of, the others were passalongs from a friend and from my Dad’s garden. It is a beautiful, elegant peony.

    My Dad always cut the peonies so we could take them to my grandma’s in late May and then we’d visit different cemeteries “down home” and decorate them with these cut flowers. So much better to actually have a peony planted nearby!

    Your interest in geneaology is fascinating. Have you ever read my “other blog” of my grandmothers’ diaries from the 1920’s? It isn’t strictly genealogy but does bring to life not only her life but that of other family members from the past. There is a link to it on the sidebar of my May Dreams Gardens blog.

  8. Welcome, Carol! Yes, I know! I found it when I was scouring the Net looking for one I could legitimately use, since I didn’t have one on hand to shoot. ๐Ÿ™‚ Beautiful! You have a lovely memory of peonies in your family. Thank you for sharing. I will check out the “other blog.” I may have seen it once in passing.
    Kathryn xxoo

  9. Those roses are stunning! And I can only imagine the fragrance of that many violets en masse. That’s a fabulous project that Julie is working on, and I hope that the concept really catches on.

  10. Hi, Lori, and thanks for stopping by. I agree about those Mary Queen of Scots roses. Such a happy addition, aren’t they? And, yes, if even one person were inspired to explore how these kinds of enduring flowers could be introduced into a local cemetery…wouldn’t that be ever so lovely?

  11. Kathryn, From a gggranddaughter of Erastus, Your story was marvelous and the pictures stupendous. A cemetary with flowers planted sounds marvelous, instead of the ones with flat headstones and only grass for easy maintenance. We are losing out on so much. I too remember going to the cemetary with peonies to put on the graves.

    Has anyone seen crocus blooming in the grass in early Spring. Yes, they have to be planted,but they are beautiful!

  12. Hi, Mary! You are so right. I recently walked through a local cemetery and all the things I loved–the old curly wire fencing, the upright stones, the obelisks were all “forbidden” now. Very sad. This is why it’s critical that Julie, with her wonderful PhD credentials, and her heart in the right place, begins to share her findings on a blog, so the message can move far and wide and begin a new human impulse. Yes, the crocuses are very dear.

    Kathryn xox

  13. Nice post, beautiful photos!

    Yes, it’s my family on my blog. The photo is taken some years ago. And yes I saw the embroidery.

    Have a nice evening ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Thank you, Marie! Your family is beautiful! Thanks for stopping by!

  15. Kathryn,
    What a great choice to plant the longlasting peony for Grandma.
    I love your choice of pictures: rose is amazing and violets covering the ground also easy care gives real inspiration. I am constantly searching for solutions that could cut useless/stupid jobs in the garden – lawnmoving is one of them, so I search for replacements. Violets just added to the list thanks to you ๐Ÿ™‚ that replacement is also charming ๐Ÿ™‚

    Ah, thanks for adding me to your blogroll – I am honored ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Hi, Ewa, welcome! And you are welcome. I love your blog. It’s very dear. Yes, lawnmowing is a practice worth questioning! I do love my lawnmower, though, I have to say. I think he’s working up to a post of his own! Kathryn ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Kathryn, a fitting tribute any grandmother would love. I liked how you chose the flower for its attributes.

    It also gives me hope that cemeteries are finally planting things again. Here, most places are of the flat stone, perpetual care variety, which always saddens me. I want to be buried in a country cemetery, and I’d like a rose please.~~Dee

  18. If the cemetery down the street is any indication, there are two major streams, as you’ve described. I was very disheartened learning what was “allowed” and “not allowed” there. I think that’s why Julie’s project is such an inspiration, and I hope she is reading this, as a BLOG documenting her work could really help to shift the trend you are also seeing in OK, Dee. And it deeply touches my heart that you would want a rose on your grave, and I’m confident those around you will see to that, my dear. Dee and Rose go together.
    I always make that association now. Blessings, Kathryn xox

  19. Thanks for the photo of the white violets in the lawn. I have always loved the look of flowers sprouting from a grassed area. My parents were always trying to kill those darned dandylions but I always thought they looked so nice when the were blooming. Once I even whent so far as to plant crocus bulbs in the lawn in my front yard and it actually worked well and looked great to me… do the white violets.
    Rees Cowden

  20. Hi, Rees–Thank you for visiting this blog. If you shop around there was a whole dialogue going on about dandelions recently. Check Ewa in the Garden (who taught us how to make a dandelion DRINK!) and Nancy Bond. I think those were the two who most got into that! As for bulbs in the lawn–the squirrels around here do that for us all the time! It took me awhile to figure out why someone would plant a daffodil in some obscure, solitary part of the yard. What they MOST plant are walnut trees. I pull them up all the time! And, yes, the violets are charming. I have purple ones in my lawn and I treasure them. Go for it! Kathryn xoxo

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