Losing someone we love is never easy, but creating a memory garden can be a beautiful way to honor their memory and help with the grieving process.
A memory or memorial garden is a space designated for a lost loved one. The garden is often planted with their favorite flowers and filled with features that are reminiscent of the person who has passed on. Planted in the deceased’s honor, a memory garden can be a peaceful and therapeutic space for grieving loved ones to sit and reflect.
Keep reading for a few theme suggestions to represent your loved one and some recommended steps to successfully plant and maintain a memorial garden.
Decide on a theme
Memory gardens don’t have to be themed, but often are. If you do opt for a theme, choose a motif that reminds you of your loved one. Consider their favorite colors, preferred flowers, and even their hobbies, then design a space that ties in these different facets of their personality.
1. Patriotic garden
If your loved one served in the military or worked as a first responder or government official it might make sense to plant a patriotic garden featuring red, white, and blue plants. Popular choices for an Americana-themed garden include blue-violet delphiniums or forget-me-nots, red poppies, and white phlox or Shasta daisies.
2. Pollinator patch
Plant a pollinator garden in memory of your loved one if they loved to watch the garden buzzing. Vibrantly colored, nectar-rich flowers like lupine, penstemon, and coneflower are sure to attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies to the garden in droves. Take it one step further by planting native species like milkweed and goldenrod coneflower to honor your loved one who was passionate about conservation.
3. Single-species garden
For dramatic effect or ease of maintenance, consider planting a memory garden featuring a single flower. You could plant an entire row of sweet peas, a patch of zinnias, or a maze of sunflowers–whatever your loved one had a particular liking for. Alternatively, you could plant multiple flowers in the same color scheme to create a sea of your loved one’s favorite colors.
4. Fragrant flowers
Who doesn’t love the sweet scent of blooming flowers in spring? Smells are scientifically proven to take us back in time, so make those memories of your loved ones easier to call back by planting their favorite fragrant flowers. Lilacs, lavender, and roses are excellent choices to use for a garden that is fragrant as it beautiful.
5. Vegetable garden
Maybe your loved one was known for having the first tomatoes or the sweetest watermelon. Honor the memory of your gardening relative by planting a vegetable garden filled with their (and your) favorite vegetables and herbs. Plant a little extra and share the harvest with family or friends, or donate the bounty to a food bank or food pantry.
The goal of a memorial garden is to cultivate a space that reminds you of your loved one, so don’t overcomplicate it. Steer clear of high-maintenance plants that will be more work than they are worth unless you’re prepared to give those plants the attention they need. Instead, choose plants that are easy to maintain and are already well suited to your hardiness zone. Select perennials or self-seeding annuals when possible, as these plants will come back year after year on their own.
If you choose, you can opt for single-species gardens, but a mix of annuals and perennials will ensure that different plants are flowering at different times. Plant delicious trees with foliage that change color in the fall, and plant spring-blooming bulbs like daffodils and tulips for year-round interest. Anticipate seasonal changes and plan to feature different plants at different times of the year.
Regardless of your garden theme, consider adding a variety of textures and heights to the garden. Varying heights and textures work to tie different plants together, hiding any holes in the garden and drawing the eye to different focal points.
Plants that have special significance
Your memory garden is what you make it. Be intentional in your planting, and choose plants that have special significance for your, your loved one, or in general.
- Red roses are associated with passion
- Forget-me-nots and rosemary are symbolic of remembrance
- Peace lily symbolizes healing from grief
- Red poppies represent eternal sleep and peace
- Yellow tulips are associated with friendship
- White lilies are symbolic of purity
- White daisies are equated with innocence
- Oak trees are symbolic of strength
Choosing a location
Now that you have a theme in mind, and plants picked out, you’ll need to determine where to plant the memory garden.
You always want to be intentional when choosing a location for a garden, but nowhere is this more important than with a memory garden. You might decide on a private, peaceful location—or you might choose to plant your memory garden somewhere easily accessible so others can visit the garden, too.
Once you have a location in mind, notice how much sun or shade the area gets during different times of the year. It’s a good idea to choose a planting area that receives a mix of sun and shade to accommodate different plants and give you the widest variety of planting options.
Don’t forget to consider the area’s soil quality and drainage. Although specifics depend on the plants themselves, most plants prefer fertile, well-draining soil.
Next, think about any current landscaping in the area and how your garden will fit in. You don’t have to start by building a memory garden from scratch. In fact, it will be much easier to incorporate new plants into your existing landscape.
Even if all that you have is a balcony or patio, you can still grow a memory garden in containers. No matter how big or how little your space is, you can still personalize it to remind you of your loved one.
Planting and maintenance
As with any garden, only plant species that fit your climate and plant them at the right time of the year. Know your hardiness zone and last frost dates, and wait until the appropriate time to plant anything. Don’t be afraid to call on friends and family or enlist a professional to help with the initial planting. Water any new transplants thoroughly after planting, and consider installing drip irrigation so that you can spend more time enjoying the garden and less time working.
Perennials and trees need to be planted a little differently than annuals, so make sure that you understand the planting instructions before jumping in. Take a little time to research each plant you’ll be adding to the new space to give the memory garden the best chance of success.
Add these special features
Yes, a crucial feature of any memory garden is the plants, but you can also cater the space to the deceased and to your own preferences by adding any of the following:
- Water features
There’s no debate that running water is a soothing sound. Across cultures, water symbolizes death as well as new life, so the presence of flowing water in a memorial garden is significant.
Other than serving as a beautiful and functional trellis for climbing plants, arches are a symbol of safe passage and transition. Place an arch in the garden and walk underneath it when you need to shed any sadness or negativity. You can also place a bench underneath the arch to create a shady seat.
- Benches & chairs
Find a relatively level, shady spot in the garden and set a bench or chairs there so you can sit and remember your loved one.
Not everyone loves marble or stone statues, but if you do, go for it! You might even arrange to have a sculptor craft a statue in your loved one’s likeness.
If your loved one was cremated, you might build a special altar to hold an urn with their ashes.
- Stepping stones
Not only are stepping stones beautiful, but they help protect the soil underneath them from becoming compacted by dispersing our body weight when we walk. Plus, they help suppress weeds, making less work for you. Use river rocks or pebbles for a more natural look.
- Bird feeders
Your memory garden will be buzzing with life if you choose to add birdfeeders or hummingbird feeders to the mix. You might consider adding beehouses and birdbaths as well.
Do you have any tools left to you by your loved one, like wheelbarrows or shovels? What about random objects like sinks and ladders? Display them in the garden to remind you of your relative and to give the object a new life as a planter or trellis.
If your loved one enjoyed music, consider hanging windchimes in their memory garden. When the breeze gently touches the windchimes, you might feel a special connection with your loved one.
Honor your loved ones with an American flag, or display another message that was meaningful to them.
- Mini library
You could install a little library full of their books to read when you really miss them. Make sure to build it out of sealed wood and add a door so that the books don’t get damaged by weather or animals.
Fire symbolizes a few things: it can mean eternity, or death, or new life. Add a firepit to your memory garden and use it an excuse to get your friends and family together in your loved one’s honor.
Make the memory garden an inviting time at all hours by hanging some twinkle lights—just make sure to use the waterproof kind so they hold up to rain.
How a Memory Garden Can Help with Grieving
A memory garden can help with the grieving process by providing a space to reflect and remember the deceased while fostering feelings of peace and tranquility. It can help with the healing process, providing a positive outlet to channel emotions of sadness and loss.
You might decide at some point to host a memorial in the memory garden to honor your loved ones. You don’t have to, but when the garden is looking its best, you might invite family and friends over for a meal or a quiet evening of remembering your favorite memories with your loved one.
Planting a memory garden can be a meaningful way to honor the memory of a loved one. It can provide a therapeutic space for reflection and healing while creating a beautiful and peaceful space. Taking the time to plan and create a memory garden ensures that your loved one’s memory will live on for years to come.
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About the author:
When not writing content or growing flowers in her native Virginia, you can find Sarah hiking a long-distance trail deep in the woods. Follow along with Sarah’s adventures at http://sarahcolliecreative.com.