Grave Gardening: Back From the Dead!

Grave gardening is a fun new trend that actually has its roots in the Victorian Age. Planting flowers around a grave was a common hobby in the 1800s both in America and Europe.

Planting around headstones, filling cradle graves, to lush plantings in forgotten rural cemeteries, grave gardening is coming back from the dead.

Why Join This Growing Trend?

We often think of a cemetery as a place of sadness and death. Someplace we don’t want to be.

However, graveyards and cemeteries are valuable parts of a community. They provide a park-like atmosphere, wildlife habitat, and a connection with local history.

We have many holidays, such as Memorial Day, where traditions revolve around bringing flowers to the graves of family members.

  • Gardening in a cemetery is a way to remember and honor your ancestors.

  • Grave tending is a great way to work through grief from a loved one's passing.

  • It helps to express your creativity and love of growing things.

History of Cemeteries as Parks

In the past, many cities didn’t have parks. It was common for urban residents to go to cemeteries to have a picnic and enjoy being out in nature.

During the Victorian era, cemeteries were designed with the same lavish style that the period embodied.

During the 1950s rules about plantings and more structure became popular in cemeteries. The goal was to make it easier to maintain. This had the unfortunate consequence of discouraging attendance and plantings.

Sadly, we now look at people who hang out in cemeteries as weird.

A cemetery featuring beautifully planted cradle graves. Photo by Vulpe Gri

A cemetery featuring beautifully planted cradle graves. Photo by Vulpe Gri

What is a Cradle Grave?

A cradle grave has a headstone and a footstone. Often they had two low walls connecting them, giving the graves a bathtub appearance.

Cradle graves were popular in America during the 1800s. They were often used for the graves of children.

Family members planted flowers inside of the bed and would visit the cemeteries on weekends. They often had picnics and told stories about their ancestors.

Most popular in the south and midwest they fell out of vogue during the 1920s.

Community Service

A group of volunteers, located in Philadelphia, started this trend as a way to provide beautification and upkeep to the historical Woodland Cemetery. Each volunteer “adopts” a cradle grave in the local cemetery and tends it during the planting season. This has been very popular.

The Woodlands gives training and encourages people to use bedding plants that were popular in the mid-1800s.

How Do I Plant a Grave Garden?

First a bit of planning. Read through the tips below to start considering what plants may work for your situation.

If you are allowed to plant plants in the soil keep in mind the soil is probably low in nutrients. You will need to work in some compost and some fertilizer to get your plants off to a good start.

Plan on putting some mulch around your flowers to help keep moisture in the ground and to look attractive. A well-maintained garden will be appreciated by the cemetery staff.

Tips to planting a grave garden

  • Find out the cemeteries rules regarding plantings

  • Use plants that are not invasive

  • Choose plants that will do well in the environment. Such as being out in the hot summer sun

  • Choose plants that do not need to be watered frequently

  • Plant native flowers that will serve as pollinators for local insects

What Plants Work Best?

Try to choose drought-tolerant plants that do well in your agricultural zone.

Perennials such as asters, black-eyed Susan’s, dwarf Russian sage, lilies, and salvia. Bulbs such as crocus, daffodils, and hyacinth work well in cemeteries.

Annuals such as Angelonia, Begonias, Dwarf Zinnias, Marigolds, and Petunias.

If your cemetery has a plant height rule go with creeping sedum, hens and chicks, and thyme.

Grave Gardening Businesses

Looking to add to your repertoire as a gardener and possibly “grow” a business. Some gardeners like, Albina Meyer, Garden Angel Gravesite Care and Maintenance have developed a business around grave gardening. She offers services such as delivering flowers and grave blankets, planting and upkeeping flower beds, and beautification visits.

Take Away

Grave gardening can literally put you in touch with your roots as well as offer beauty and relaxation!

Author, Ame Vanorio is the director of Fox Run EEC and loves to garden - everywhere!