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Greenhouses in Cemeteries

Date Published: 
September, 1895
Original Author: 
J. G. Barker
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 9th Annual Convention

When this topic was assigned to the writer, his first thought was, in what way can I make this paper of practical value to the craft. The simple expression of my own views as to the value of a greenhouse or houses in a cemetery would be only a personal or one man's idea, and is not a help to the whole. Early last spring, March 20th, a short circular with a series of six questions bearing on the subject was mailed to the members of the Association. I have received eighty-four replies, I regret that some whom I know quite well, and have large greenhouses have not taken any notice at all of the circular, or to reply to the questions, whose opinions should and would carry weight; I cannot but regret that in the minds of some the questions were of no importance and that they did not see what there was to answer or how they should be answered, the right of everyone to his opinion is acknowledged by the fact that through this circular and these questions it was asked of each and all, and it should always be expressed; petty feelings or differences when allowed to prevail over one's mind only grow into prejudice and promote discord. So I am grateful to the eighty-four who took pains to answer the questions which in very many cases were accompanied by interesting letters, and extremely cordial expressions of kindness and willingness to help make this humble effort a success. I know of no other way to make these eighty four members speak, and to show my appreciation of their opinions, I have written out abstracts from a number of the letters (nearly all) which I am interested in keeping in permanent form, and having all the members familiar with and which I hope will be printed in our proceedings as a part of this paper.

In these different abstracts you will see there are but a very few who do not believe in having flowers, and many express themselves very strongly on the influence which they have in beautifying the grounds, also in making the way to the grave smoother and pleasanter. In an eastern cemetery it would be difficult to obtain any great amount of patronage unless the use of flowers was recognized or ornamentation in some way was practiced, if not in the abundant use of tender plants, by hardy plants, such as spring bulbs, a good collection of herbaceous plants, and as good a selection of flowering shrubs as could be obtained. As I sit writing these lines my eye is carried to a hardy border where there is such a variety that something is in flower all the time, a choice collection of Phlox is now a pretty feature.

It is our custom at Forest Hills to use frequently at burials, Palms, Dracaenas, etc., of medium size, these are usually placed on the earth from the graves, arranged to give a pleasing effect, and then carpeted with evergreen; this I have always found to be a very satisfactory feature at a funeral, and there may be some other places on the lot where plants may be advantageously placed; in no case should It be overdone, but in every case enough done to take away the harshness of the grave, and there is nothing like plants and flowers to accomplish that object, and at no time is a thoughtful and kindly act more appreciated. I could give numerous extracts from letters proving this point, I have many a time in our Chapel where the occasion justified it, surrounded the casket with palms and other plants suitable for the place, and when the mourners found what had been done to smooth the way to the grave for the dear departed ones, expressions of heartfelt gratitude from them have been a stimulus to continued efforts in this direction. I think I have already shown you why a greenhouse is an essential feature in a cemetery, let me call your attention to the combined Conservatory and Chapel where services can be held and which adorn several of our best cemeteries, notably at Graceland, Chicago, a model of the kind in the writers estimation; also at the cemetery at Newtonville, MA and at Greenlawn, Salem, MA these are both memorial chapels, accounts of which you have undoubtedly read in the columns of PARK AND CEMETERY. At Utica, NY, an entire glass structure answers for a chapel and conservatory, at St. Paul, Minn., there is a chapel and conservatory combined, which undoubtedly you remember seeing while attending the 1893 convention, those structures where there are other houses to supply can be made very attractive, none but clean well grown specimens should ever be allowed in a chapel conservatory, to use such structures for propagating purposes; or for growing a general collection of plants should always be avoided, they should at all times be clean and orderly, so that at any time when the use of the chapel is called for there would be nothing to mar the quietness of the occasion; a judicious selection of plants for the conservatory is desirable, graceful palms forming the chief feature with ferns growing under them, and as far as the seasons will allow some suitable flowering plants should be introduced which would brighten up the house with vines hanging from the roof. A practical man's good taste will do more to develop such a place, than any amount of writing, and a visit to these and other places will do more than that I am aware I have digressed somewhat but it is in keeping with our subject.

To the important part of this paper; twenty-seven have greenhouses, fifty-seven have none; to the six questions propounded, aside from the first and second the replies as a whole, were so indefinite, that it is quite as well to give the answers as a whole. several did not name the number of plants they use, the largest however as far as reported is at Forest Home, Milwaukee, Wis., 175,000; Oakwoods, Chicago, 133,000; Forest Hills, Boston, 117,700, Mt. Auburn, Boston, 100,000; Graceland, Chicago, 100,000 and by other cemeteries from 3,000 to 50,000 each. In several of the returns the number of foliage and of flowering plants have been given; in one Forest Hills, Boston, the varieties and number of each, there can be no doubt that where any amount of plants over a few thousand is used each year that a greenhouse judiciously managed is a good investment both as a money return, and enabling us to raise the varieties both adapted to our respective places. While geraniums and cannas are universally used there are some things that are not adapted to grow everywhere. For instance, while on a visit one year at Washington, DC, the tender leaved Caladiums were growing in great luxuriance around the basin of a fountain in a shady place, but for everyone who saw and admired them what more fatal mistake could be made than to try and obtain the same results in many of our places. I think one great reason of failure with some of our friends in the management of their greenhouses, is, that too much of an indiscriminate character is grown, and there is always en hand a large amount of plants of no earthly use. I contend that we should always have a definite object in all that we undertake as the seasons come and go, such changes as are of advantage should always be made, and where an improvement can be made by discarding some varieties that have long had a place in your summer planting, and placing others in their stead, there should be no hesitancy about it. I would not grow anything that is not of use for the grounds that I had charge of, better grow a few varieties that you can depend upon, than many that are doubtful. Again, I think you should know the quantity you require; there is no difficulty in this, you undoubtedly know what you can plant out, you also know what is left, I certainly would not grow 10,000 geraniums, when it would be better to have 7,000 and 3,000 heliotrope, neither would I buy every new thing that came along. One or two plants of any new thing placed in your testing ground is enough until you are sure it is what you want. Would any of you want all the Cannas that are catalogued; when a dozen good selected varieties would give you all that there are worth growing? Again why grow thousands of Alternanthera and Echeveria for the so-called carpet bedding, when a long sub-tropical bed well arranged gives a more pleasing effect, and greater satisfaction. Keep these small plants for planting graves and small fancy beds on private lots; why fill all our own ornamental beds with the same class of plants that you plant on private lots, I know you must have some, but where are the evergreens, and the herbaceous plants; why not plant more of Mahonia Aquifolia, and Japonica, Andromeda Floribunda and Polifera, Kalmia Latifolia and Daphne Cneorum, if you have these things your greenhouse is not taxed to its utmost capacity you have a greater variety and at less expense, don't try to make the greenhouse do more than It should. A friend only a few days ago asked me if 1 saw a man whose greenhouse was large enough, I said yes, I am your man. It is astonishing what results can be obtained from a small house and a few frames-well managed. For years the writer was thus situated. The man who attended the funerals, and did the small amount of stable work then required, spent his spare time in the greenhouse and with the assistance of the writer good results were obtained. With a little extra help in the spring time enough plants were raised to supply the place in quite a satisfactory manner, besides yielding a good revenue for plants sold to lot holders and the few ornamental beds were supplied with plants adapted to the place. Small as this effort was, it was the beginning of a new era in the history of that place, and today under the present management longer houses have taken the place of the smaller ones, and the plant department is quite an important feature. I must say however that I do not think any corporation should engage in the cut flower business or in making designs for funeral work. It would take a larger outlay for additional houses and help, and unless a large patronage could be obtained, I am sure it would not pay. The local Florist will not appreciate what he is sure to consider an opposition to him; the cut flower business by a Cemetery Corporation. In regard to the greenhouse department of a cemetery being a financial success, I can only speak from our own standpoint and say, that as it is managed here at Forest Hills it is, figures might be given to show the correctness of this statement. It is important that something more than a common laborer be engaged for this special work.  The assistants should be men of some knowledge of plants, and willing to obtain some more. A man that wishes to be a good gardener is a life long learner, but, alas there are too many that know it all and are not known to spend even one or two dollars a year for Horticultural literature. Such men at the maturity of life are generally at the same place as they were at twenty-one, and are practically of little or no use, so I take the ground that in order to carryon a successful greenhouse arrangement for a cemetery, the first qualification is a gardening Superintendent, who knows when the department is on a right basis, even if the place is large enough for a practical head gardener, It is better for him and the Superintendent too, that they should both be practical men. The assistants should also be practical as already suggested. I further suggest that one or two young men should always be in training in this department. They will work with you and in your ways. Very much more might be said on this line of thought, but we will stop with these hints or rather bits of experience, feeling quite sure that he who is desirous of being a practical gardener, will not spent his money and time in the bowling alley, in preference to purchase of books, and diligent study.

There is a vast amount of work to be done by the gardener which is not strictly confined to the greenhouse. The trees and shrubs are under his care, in addition to the greenhouse work. He should know of and note all changes necessary in that special department. In a word the Superintendent and Gardener are largely the place, and when they pull together it must pull well, these are essential features for a well managed greenhouse.

To those who are contemplating building I would suggest that even the smallest house should not be built without first of all knowing what the house is to be. Have a plan, study it, understand it, and adapt it to your particular needs. In these days of improved construction, do not let it out to any carpenter at hand. Give your plans to a firm that makes it their business to build such structures, and you will then get the benefit of their long years of experience. If it is permissible to quote from experience at Forest Hills, this course was presented with the most satisfactory results.

This subject is the basis for a wide range of thought, the difficulty being in knowing where to stop. I think, however, I have said enough at this time, the greenhouses at Forest Hills pay well, first in supplying suitable plants to the lot holders, second, in the fact that the corporation have the entire control of the plant business in the grounds, there being but very few indeed brought in by outside parties, and those on single graves, third, the men employed in the houses in winter care for the beds in summer, prepare all new beds for shrubbery and plant them at the proper time, do all transplanting of trees and shrubs in fact all the work pertaining to the ornamental department, and the further advantage of keeping good men all the time in this department is their familiarity with the grounds and their thorough acquaintance with the needs of the place is a very great help.

In conclusion I would say if you have a greenhouse or intend to have one and can manage it on these lines that are suggested, I think success is yours. If you only want it merely for the sake of being in line with others, and cannot manage it intelligently be it one house or many, by all means never have one.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 9th Annual Convention
Richmond, VA
September 18, 19 and 20, 1895