Loss finds us all at some point in our lives. Sadly, the same is true of the people we love. At these difficult times we want to do something to help our grieving friends alleviate their pain and to remember their lost loved one. Memorials to lost loved ones (be they human or pet) are a wonderful way to keep fond memories alive. While the real memory of those we have lost lives on in our hearts and minds, a physical representation of those memories can help us to recall them more often. Memorials can also create a sacred and safe space, isolated from the hectic and stressful world, where we feel open to relive those memories even if doing so makes us feel emotionally vulnerable.
While memorials, in general, can be a great ways to help cope with loss, plants create a living memorial, which can be much more complicated than an inanimate memorial like a statue or painting. Please, please, please carefully review the following considerations before gifting plants as a living memorial for someone who has experienced a recent loss.
Is the recipient in a position to care for a new plant?
Plants are alive and require care, especially when they are freshly planted. Someone who has experienced a great loss may not be in a position to water, mulch, weed, and fertilize a new plant in the months immediately following their loss. Think about the person you are gifting the plant to, are they ready to daily care for a tender living thing in their current state? If not, think about waiting until a future time to offer a living memorial.
Is a living memorial appropriate for the recipient?
Does the recipient have a brown thumb? The thought of a living memorial may be well-intentioned, but if the recipient of the gift has no experience or interest in gardening it might not be the right choice. Gardening can be very hard for a total novice and times of grief are not the best times to learn a difficult new skill.
Is the recipient emotionally ready for a living memorial?
No matter how well you take care of a plant, there is always the possibility that it could die due to unforeseeable problems like insect or disease attack. Losing a plant that has come to represent a lost loved one can bring those feelings of loss back to the surface. I’ve seen this happen many times with memorial plantings. The loss of the plant can feel as devastating as the original loss, even if they are separated by years or even decades. I believe, the more raw a person’s loss is, the more likely they will be to emotionally identify their living memorial as their lost loved one. This is a very problematic situation that should be avoided.
What if the plant dies? What if the person has to move and can’t take the memorial plant with them? They may feel like they are leaving their loved one behind. For this reason I again suggest waiting until the loss is no longer fresh to offer a living memorial. Please ask your grieving loved one if they think they are ready for a living memorial before gifting them with one. This gift should only be given when the time is right.
Suggestions for Memorial Plantings
–Camellias posses a beautiful symbolism as memorial plants. They bloom in the winter when most other plants are bare or dormant. Their bright pops of color are a reminder that even in the cold, dark times of winter there is light and beauty. Camellias are generally easy to care for in our climate and can live for many decades.
–Long-lived trees symbolize how the lives of our loved ones continue to have an effect after they have left this world. A long-lived tree planted today could still be standing in a hundred or more years, still feeding wildlife, still offering a home to birds, and still casting cool shade even though those of us who planted it are gone. Make sure to plant such trees only if the recipient has an appropriate location where it can be allowed to grow to full size. In our area Live Oak, Southern Magnolia, and Bald Cypress are all very strong and long-lived trees.
–Pass along plants are ones that readily make more of themselves and are easy to share with friends (or “pass along” to friends). As your plants grow and spread you can share them with others, you can spread them around your own garden, you can take them with you if you move. I love the symbolism of this type of living memorial. Pass along plant memorials start as a single specimen, but end up bringing joy and beauty to many people and places, just as the positive impacts of those we have lost continue to grow in our own lives and spread forth into the world, through us, even though our loved one is no longer physically with us. Soap Aloe, Amaryllis, and Spider Plant are just a few examples of traditional pass along plants.
Care of Memorial Plants
A good start is essential to a healthy and long-lived plant. If that plant is a living memorial it’s that much more important to make sure it is planted properly. Consider having a professional install your living memorial to be sure it gets the strongest possible start. Here’s a few other tips that can help make establishing a new memorial planting successful.
- Simple battery operated timers and drip irrigation systems can be combined to automatically water the new plant, eliminating the stress of daily care.
- Create a large ring of deep mulch around new plants, 3-6 feet wide and 3-4 inches deep for a tree or shrub would be fantastic! Mulch will keep the weeds at bay, help the soil stay moist, and protect the planting from lawn mowers and weed whackers. Be sure to keep a few inches around the trunk free of mulch.
- Dress the planting area with good quality compost and slow release fertilizer to ensure the new plant has plenty of nutrients to grow fast and strong. Simply spread 1-2 inches of compost on top of the soil around the tree, then sprinkle the fertilizer on top of the compost before you add the mulch.
I truly do not wish to discourage anyone from gifting a living memorial. The symbolism, peacefulness, and beauty of such a memorial can be a genuine aid in the healing process. I personally have multiple living memorials and they enrich my life while helping me to keep precious memories alive. I do, however, want you to think long and hard before gifting a living memorial to a grieving loved one. Please consider these ideas. If the time is right, Tallahassee Nurseries would love to help you make this special gift as meaningful, therapeutic, and successful as it can be.
*This article was written by Jonathan Burns (Tallahassee Nurseries Outdoor Manager, FNGLA Florida Certified Horticulture Professional) using years of personal observations growing in the Tallahassee area.