08 January 2008

In memory yet green...the memory garden

Amy over at Garden Rant started an interesting discussion because she wrote an incredibly moving, but not maudlin, post about how she chose to bury a cherished pet, her cat LeRoy, on her property, and wondered what others do. Some readers are grossed out by that idea; others admit to having ashes of beloved family members (animal and human) on their land, too.

There are a number of beloved cat-children buried on our property, and probably one day there will be others. But I also do something different here as a way of remembering people and special cats (ours and others). We have memory plantings all over our garden.

It started when the best cat ever, my big stripy puss Nermal, died eight years ago this month. I decided I would bury his ashes in the garden, although it took me eighteen months to actually do so. I couldn’t bear it. Yes, I’m a mushball, and I still miss Nermie, eight years later. I had a special garden stone made for him with stained glass inlay and his name on it, and that marks his final resting place—which was also a place he loved to sleep. Above this spot is planted the yellow Father Hugo’s rose, a great and zealous once-flowering rosebush with lovely fern like foliage (similar to the pimpernellifolia type roses).

And there are also forget-me-nots everywhere, because the same month as Nermal died, my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I’d always loved forget-me-nots, especially when they take over a lawn in spring and there is a blue mist around homes. But after Dad got sick, I started planting forget-me-nots in earnest, all around the property.

Then the great Canadian author, Timothy Findley, passed away in the summer of 2002. I wrote my master’s thesis on his work, met and corresponded with him a few times, and thought he was the most marvelous of writers and humans. He also adored cats, and he and partner William Whitehead had as many as 27 at one time at Stone Cottage, their home in Ontario, throughout the years. For Findley, I planted a hardy Explorer rose; and then, lest it be lonely, I planted a French one (because they lived in France and Ontario) for Bill Whitehead, even though he is still very much alive; they had been together for nearly 50 years, after all, and that needed to be commended.

The memory garden idea just snowballed. Other people near and dear, and other cats, were honoured by plants in our garden. Sometimes, I’ve put plants into the ground for people I’ve never met, but because I’ve known someone who cared deeply for them (and in a couple of cases, it’s been for the cats of friends, too), instead of a sympathy card, I’ve added a plant to the garden. Usually I send a photo of the plant to the friend; and of course those who have loved ones remembered this way are welcome to come visit whenever they wish.

When my former mother in law died two years ago, I decided to dedicate an entire bed of the garden to her. She loved butterflies, and so Marilyn’s butterfly garden, which is even sort of butterfly shaped, came to be. I’ve mentioned this before, and it’s growing nicely, with plenty of plants that butterflies (and other pollinators) love, as well as plants that Marilyn loved. I do have to put more sunflowers in, however, as she was as fond of them as I am, but most of our sunflowers grow in other parts of the yard. So that’s on the agenda for this year.

Mostly I’m planting shrubs and trees now for people, like my friend Ladny, who has a linden tree in her memory. Sadly, I have plantings in waiting now, for several people who have died in the months since I’ve been unable to plant. I try as much as possible to match a person (or feline) personality to a particular plant. My husband’s cousin loved working with wood, so for him I put in a young oak; a friend’s cat was a French-speaking and exploring type of feline, so for him, the Explorer rose Louis Jolliet. And so on.

I’ve gotten smarter in recent months, and started labeling the plants with the name of the person (or purrball) being remembered, so that I don’t lose track. It’s easy to write the names down, of course, and I have, but the little copper tags from Lee Valley that you write on then tie on with copper wire really appeal to me. They’re tough, too; I haven’t lost one yet despite the vagaries of a Scotts Bay winter.

Does this memory garden tending help the grieving process? I like to think it does for others, as it does for me. Other writers have commented on how they feel a loved one’s presence nearby as they work in their garden; even though my father’s ashes are ensconced in a plot in a hideous (ie, tree and shrub-free) cemetery in another part of the province, he is always, always here, especially as I tend the gardens and mutter at the goutweed (I hear him laughing and reminding me about mint!) And I still hear Nermal ‘talking’ to me as he helped in the garden, and so with the other furbabies too. And for me, that’s as good as heaven on earth can be.


  1. What a wonderful post, and what wonderful tributes to others, to be memorialized in your garden.

  2. I have a friend with a market garden and she kindly let me bury two of my furry friends there, keeping company with her lost ones, along the hedge running along side a permanent meadow. because its designated farm land we have to make sure its a certain depth down. there are usually many years between these sad occasions and the last one we were unsure of how far we had to go up the hedge so maybe markers are a better bet than our memories.

  3. I liked this post very much Jodi! I confess, I do the same as you. There are some plants in my garden that remind me of someone now dead and/or also alive. And it is a good feeling to work in the garden and feel the "presence" of a beloved person....When I was a child it was important for me to know that all our dogs we liked so much, had a nice place in the garden of our parents.

  4. Jodi, this is so sweet. A wonderful way to commerate your lost friends.

    I too have plants planted for friends. However not only friends that I have lost but people and pets that are still in my life.

    Our Mishka was a Chocolate Lab that we had for 15years. He is still in his jar. I haven't had the heart to "plant" him anyplace. I thought at first we would take him to the lake that he frequented where we used to live...I haven't been able to let him go. He obliges me by visiting occasionally. :)

    We had friends and family that gave us trees to plant in his memory.

  5. So far, I haven't done this kind of memorializing in my garden, but it's a lovely idea. Another way that I do memorialize in my garden, though, is in the form of plants I've been given by various friends and family, some still with us, some now gone -- so there's the viburnum that a now-deceased gardening friend passed along to me and there's the Hibiscus (rose of sharon) and the Solomon's Seal that mom and dad brought over years ago, before dad got too ill to travel. A friend who's moved so far away that I see her only rarely gave me a Romneya Coulterii; a friend just up the road has given me a gentian plant and a rhodo that I love; and my next-door neighbour's primula divisions now cheer me up every spring.

  6. I think a memory garden is a wonderful thing...a lovely tribute to those who have passed on, both human and of the furry variety. It gives you a place to pause and remember while you tend to the garden. All my cats were buried on home property -- two of them under a crab apple tree where they used to like to nap, away from the hot summer sun.

  7. Jodi, I really liked this post and the ideas in it. In Illinois we'd plant something special when burying a gerbil or tropical fish and there were passalong plants to remind me of people who were gone.

    I still have some passalong plants, but moving to Texas in 1999 meant we lost the sense of permanence we'd had at that Illinois house. Moving again in 2004 reinforced that sense of loss. After 3 years in one place, your words encourage me to want to start a memory garden here.

    Thank you,

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  8. Jodi - Glad you're feeling better. I love memory gardens. When I moved here, I discovered there are some in my yard. In California, many years ago, when my beloved dog, Cosmo, died, I had a rock engraved with his name. As we've moved across the country, he's come along with us. I found a spot in our garden here in Connecticut where I thought he'd be happy and planted his stone. On sunny days, I feel his spirit there, resting in the hostas and lilies of the valley.

  9. simply beautiful jodi :)

    dear friend.. i hv 2 awrds 4 u. plz ck my 7th jan's post. i hope u will like thm. i will be more thn happy if u accpt thm.

    tk cr
    :) :) :)

  10. Thank you for this wonderful post Jodi. I don't think you are a mushball at all, but a very warm hearted person who loves her kittycats so very much and misses them when they are gone. The pawprints they leave on our hearts can never be wiped away.

    It's good to read about your memory garden and plants as I do the same in my garden. And like you, when I'm working in the garden I feel/hear all my loved ones all around me.

  11. ow.. Jodi, what a moving post it is.. actually I am here for the second time today. First time I got caught first link you placed at the begining. Then I am coming back. Memory garden gives more meaning to garden itself - it becomes 'your' place filled with that unique spirit of all loved ones, even if they passed away.
    Greetings to you and your purrball family :)

  12. Jodi: A great tribute to all your loves! Great pictures also! It is wonderful to have so tangible a memory right in front of you. I have many burial plots on my property but no memory garden yet. Something to consider for the next burial.

  13. As a writer and a gardener (and a blogger) this post fascinated me. Yes, I'm familiar with the concept of memory plantings and it gets my vote.

  14. I have not done this, but my mother lost her long time buddy, a rat Terrier (that she inherited from her sister who died of breast cancer) and buried it with a small garden stone and a lovely rose bush on top. It is a great way of remembering.

  15. Nice post.-I've had cats as pets since I was a kid.-We always buried our cats on our property.I have many sad memories of some of my favorite cats.-Tabby-a feral cat only let me pet her.She would scratch everyone else and once jumped on the head of my friends dog just as he warned me to watch out for the cat as his dog my go after her.-We have a cat now that looks like Rowdy etread? (the black one).

  16. Jodi,this is a very touching post. My m-i-l has Alzheimer's too. She loved flowers and working in the yard. I think of her often when I'm working in my gardens.

    We've moved around so much that I'd have a hard time burying any beloved pet in my yard or creating a memorial garden. It would be too hard to leave those things behind. I try not to get too attached to my gardens and that would definitely connect me too much to the land.

  17. Now this is how I want to be remembered. And, it certainly makes your garden a special place. Great idea, Jodi.

  18. Your garden looks lovely! You know something: you're the second catlover I meet today. I am a catlover myself. And when they died we buried them in our small garden too.I used to collect books about cats like"The Mousehole Cat"( I have to look up the author's name) and "Thomasina"by Paul Gallico.

  19. Jodi, I too love the idea of memory gardens. In the past we've buried our beloved pets in the garden/yard. I have friends who have planted entire gardens as a memorial but I love that you plant or seed in memory of someone. I also love the idea of using those copper markers so there is something permanent. I remember how saddened I was when Timothy Findley died -- you're fortunate to have met him. I loved how both he and Bill adored cats and made Stone Orchard home to all those cats.

    I've been debating about creating a full memory garden in my mom's memory since she died this year. I was worried that I couldn't leave the garden when we move (we're moving away upon hubby's retirement) but I think if I seed some of mom's favourite annuals each year, that will make a memorial much easier. Lovely post and sorry to take so much room.

    Diane Sand to Glass
    Dogs Naturally

  20. A wonderful tribute here. Found your site through Dave Mcmahon's award. Congratulations.
    As a footnote, the greatest cat that ever owned me was named Jody.
    I still keep her favorite toys and rememberances in my home.

  21. The memory garden is a lovely idea. I'd be afraid to plant something in remembrance because when I inadvertently kill it, I will feel even worse. It's best for me to assemble my photo-memory books, as I did after the death of each of my last 2 dogs. Finding all the photos I ever took of them, copying those photos & putting them in an album was a a good way to mourn them.

  22. So many don't understand the bond between a pet and it's human carer. A memory garden is a beautiful way to honour the unconditional love pets offer us, it seems a fitting tribute.

    After many months of illness - (PTSD)- I'm finally getting back outside and trying to tame the ramshackle mess that became my backyard. In honour of my partner, who died seven years ago this year, I'm going to plant a memory garden. Your post has inspired me even more - thank you.

    Best Wishes,

  23. This has to be one of the most beautiful posts I've read in a long time. Down in the back field behind my house are the remains of three dogs I had growing up plus two more dogs my kids and I had as pets, along with a couple of cats and two parakeets. But I never thought of planting flowers and such around their graves in the form of a definite "garden" - mainly because plants and I -on any level, indoors or outside - just don't seem to jive. They don't care much for the black thumb I was apparently born with. But the more I think of your methodology here, the more I think what a beautiful way to remember some faithful, loyal, loving members that were once a big part of my family. Thanks for sharing this. (Oh - and David McMahon referred me over here.)

  24. Thanks for sharing this post Jodi it is very touching.

  25. Hi again, Jodi :-)

    Gosh you got me with this one! Sometimes that can happen when you least expect it too.

    We don’t have cats or dogs so we haven’t had to face this although my daughter now has two guinea pigs which we are all becoming quite attached to. However, I still understand the great loss of pets.

    I also understand completely the idea of a memorial garden and planting plants to remember someone. Okay I’m going to share something with you now – I don’t usually give out personal stuff.

    It will be 19 years this April since we lost our son, our first born, although we have no memories at all. Since then every April I have bought a plant/plants to remember him. However I don’t really see my garden as a memorial one. I see it as our family garden and one that my daughters have also enjoyed growing up in.

    I try not to get hung up worrying about these plants should they die. I also like the idea of these plants mixing with others that I bought to remember special days out with our daughters. I did start with a particular plant type and some were planted together but eventually they moved around my garden as all my plants do! I like to spend the morning of his anniversary in my garden but I don’t get sad I just like to potter and reflect. Many of the plants I have bought are in flower at that time but some I picked for summer colour for a change.

    Last year for his eighteenth aniversary we didn’t buy plants. Instead we bought a structure for the garden – our arbour which I will show photos of over the weekend. I don’t plan to mention the story behind our arbour in my own blog but here with all the other touching stories I thought I too would reinterate the plants for remembrance in our gardens.

  26. These are the most amazing and moving comments I've read in a long time! Deadlines are keeping me from responding to each one right now, other than to say how touching each one is. It's also nice to see visitors from elsewhere--welcome, David mcMahon, Jeni, Readerwil, catmoves, and Zathyn! If I haven't already visted your blogs, I will so over the coming days.

    Abnd Diane; I can see how you'd worry about leaving a garden behind, but I think the idea of seeds (and cuttings, where applicable) will work well. Hopefully, this won't be something you have to deal with for some time to come. Me neither!

  27. It is a wonderful idea Jodi .. other ideas mentioned here are too. If we had the room .. a proper sized garden .. I would have buried my little loves here.
    We did recieve a very thoughtful gesture from our vets when we lost our first girl Molly .. they made a donation in her name to the vet college in Guelph,here in Ontario.
    I think they truly feel our grief and were very kind to do that for us.
    There are some amazing thoughtful people in this world and I appreciate every one of them I meet in person, or on the net.


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