Is Flower Planting Desirable in the Modern Cemetery

Date Published: 
August, 1893
Original Author: 
Bellett Lawson
Oakwoods Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 7th Annual Convention

The desirability of planting flowers in cemeteries is a very debatable question, and full of interest to superintendents, so much depending upon the surroundings.

By flowers is meant annuals, perennials and other flowers used in florists work.

Let us take a burial ground conducted strictly upon the lawn system, say for instance, Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, where every surrounding indicates quietness and repose; the beautifully kept lawns, or open spaces surrounded by, or dotted with trees and shrubs bearing foliage of different hues, and shades of green. Each of these lawns or spaces are beautiful pictures in themselves, the trees being planted to throw light and shade on the sward heightens the beauty of the picture, and the effect upon the spectator is soothing and commands silent admiration. The very somberness of the surroundings indicates repose, and the mind immediately associates itself with the idea of the suitability of the cemetery as a final resting place. Beds planted with brightly colored flowers upon such lawns would be extremely out of harmony with the surroundings, and would not be desirable.

Flower planting, no matter how artistically the work is done, is palpably artificial, and in the majority of cemeteries, out of place. A modern cemetery should appear as natural as possible. Imagine a nicely graded section adorned with trees and shrubs; the landscape artist has expended his energies in making it appear as perfectly natural as possible. A lot owner, whose portion is probably in the most prominent part, conceives the idea of having bed upon, or a border around his lot; the graves are also adorned with plants until the lot has the appearance of what a brother superintendent justly describes as a crazy patch-work quilt. No doubt the work is artistic, it does not harmonize with the surroundings, and to the trained eye of a landscape gardener the effect is harsh in the extreme. Lot owners, as a rule, care nothing for the harmonious appearance of the whole. To the individual lot is what they desire to call attention.

One great aim of a cemetery superintendent should be to educate the people to the fact that "in simplicity there is beauty;" that a cemetery should look natural and park-like, and that the general appearance of the whole should be studied, rather than any particular spot. A stupendous task, more especially, in localities where the residents migrated from parts where the modern cemetery system is unknown. To their minds the old country churchyard, with its heterogeneous mass of flowers and vegetation is beautiful, and exactly what a burial ground should be. A few days ago the writer counted no less than 34 plants of different varieties, including mint upon a four-foot grave. Nothing can persuade the owner that it is not the most beautiful grave in the cemetery.

To prevent this class of ornamentation will require stringent rules, the enforcement of which means unpopularity, and few officials care to have their cemeteries unpopular. Several who have tried arbitrary rules in this direction have had to modify them in obedience to public feeling.

There are many first class cemeteries where flower planting is extensively practiced, these are now being styled “flower garden cemeteries”. The question of the desirability of flower planting is settled as far as they are concerned.

There are also burial grounds where flower planting would prove an improvement, but these places can scarcely be classed among the lawn cemeteries. They are simply grave yards, no great amount of landscape work having been lavished on their construction, and the management “a sort of     go-as-you-please”.

Then again, there is the dollars and cents side of the question. In the majority of cemeteries, both large and small, the desire to make money is paramount, and what should be has to give way to the mighty dollar. So few can afford to sacrifice cash to sentiment, and as most cemeteries are conducted for the money there is in them, flower planting will be encouraged. It is business, simply business.

Where flower planting is considered desirable, study should be given to the use, as much as possible, of dwarf growing plants and such as bear flowers, quiet in color, for in few instances do the brighter colors harmonize with the surroundings of a burial ground. For cemetery work nothing looks worse than a bed containing a mixture of tall growing plants, such as dahlias, lilies, salvia, chrysanthemums, hollyhocks and others too numerous to enumerate. Pretty effects can be obtained with dwarf growing plants, especially when massed, and they are not so visible from a distance, therefore their appearance is not so striking, nor is the appearance of the lawn so broken as by their taller brethren.

In cemeteries where flower growing is encouraged a spirit of emulation soon creeps in, and lot owners try to out-vie each other in their efforts to have their lots look nice. To the great joy of the florist who acquiesces in the good work and soon the lawns are covered with all manner of designs, regardless of the surroundings, till oft times, the whole resembles a wild garden in its profusion of bright colored blooms. These beds soon become dried and withered blotches in the landscape, especially during the heat of summer, unless kept well watered each day, meaning more joy for the florist, who, of course, has to be paid additional for watering.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 7th Annual Convention
Minneapolis, MN
August 22, 23 and 24, 1893