Cemetery Greenhouses, Pro and Con

Date Published: 
September, 1919
Original Author: 
Edw. A. Merriam
Chattanooga, TN
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Convention

There is no telling what those who profess to be your best friends will do to you – seemingly seeking for an opportunity to put one over on you – so that in this particular case, those who find this paper of very small value or interest – can lay the whole thing at the door of our general host Mr. William Salway – and also of our exalted ruler "Billy" Atkinson – for very evidently they have conspired to my public undoing and left me at a your mercy. I hope you will be charitable to me and forgive them.

So little can be resurrected out of the "Compost” of a cemetery green house venture that will be new to many of you and surely stale to others - that it is with some misgiving that I venture into the subject which like all good arguments has two sides, Pro and Con.

With us our experience has been one wholly worked out through several years of varying success, and having got our toes wet, we decided to dive in and get wet all over – taking the consequences.

We have found a constantly growing demand and patronage for all we have been able to produce in the line of plants, cut flowers decorations, etc. and being a cemetery greenhouse we stand well in line in the matter of funeral work and through the friendly relations of our funeral directors have considerable business turned our way, finding in the design work a valuable source of revenue. The first requisite a greenhouse must have is an intelligent, capable florist, a man who has a botanical knowledge of all plant life, their cultivation, food supply, their susceptibility to attack by countless varieties of insects and the means to combat these; a practical knowledge of the requirements in equipment and supply; to know just when to plant or propagate to insure blossom on a certain date or season and to have the executive ability to handle the exasperating help question in connection with the work. Such a man is not easily located-but when found much valued and appreciated.

You who have sought and found not in this particular can readily understand what I would convey from the experience of having had all kinds.

A man not up to these requirements should not be retained longer than his place can be filled and the change should continue until you have found a man who in at least a few of these requirements excels. A big burden is then taken from your shoulders and they get a chance to rest before the next load is placed on them-soil, climatic and atmospheric conditions have a tremendous bearing on your success.

All these must be understood and adapted to plant life otherwise you will have an inferior grade of plants to offer your trade.

I find in following the different localities of the United States that there is but little difference in the season of the general production of greenhouse and garden connected therewith perhaps from our Southland we are a little in advance of our more Northerly friends, but it is a matter of rotation each year, at this season of the year the florist is up against it-until the first cut of chrysanthemums begin and from then on through the winter months his houses are abloom with a riot of color of carnations, roses, etc., to which is added the bulbous stock so heavily imported and which since the war has been in a large measure curtailed by federal regulation, this has put a decided crimp in many of us, and will force development in this country of plants, trees, flowers and bulbs that hitherto have been so easily imported. The Roman hyacinth, the azalea of Belgium and many valuable specimens are not coming to us. This is a severe blow, added to these are many others with which you are familiar and are now forced to substitute. Many of the old fashioned flowers are coming back into use and many under a nom de plume, not recognized, but readily sought and of considerable value commercially.

High prices of every known supply has hit us a hard blow, but the adopted rule of submitting, and adding the increase of cost and production to the "ultimate consumer" seems to work and without a great big kick.

We in our business have found no lack in buying on the part of the public. Flowers became a part of the war to cheer the sick, and wounded to speak consolation to the bereft and people generally have not ceased to spend now that the war is over. The cemetery greenhouse has many advantages over outside competitors. The land usually does not have to be bought, taxes in some instances are eliminated or negligible, there is a saving in soil compost, pots, designs and labor to a certain extent which help on the credit side of the ledger.

Hardy perennials help out from the planting in many parts of the cemetery; peonies, spireas, vibernum, phlox, hydrangeas and with us in Tennessee the Grand Magnolia, for these flowers can all be used at seasons when the greenhouses are low in cut and all of these flowers are especially fine for lot and vase uses. And when combined with choice annuals find ready sale.

We began in a small way some of my good cemetery friends offering advice from their experience which has been of untold benefit and with what we have learned from our own, and hard knocks, our plant has grown and is still being added to. To so systematize the production that we may have houses adapted to all manner of cultivation. Ranges for cool bench stuff, enclosed house for forcing under any desired temperature and especially built houses for potted plants, ferns, etc.

The experience has been instructive and the result with us is looked upon as a source of revenue. We maintain a sales room in our office building which is handled by the office force. A retail flower booth in the central market house in the city, and just now we are spreading our wings a bit and installing an attractive flower shop in the lobby of our leading hotel with very up to date refrigerator, etc. We believe that we can not but make good there, the overhead being small and the opportunity large. Many of our social affairs now come to the spacious balconies and drawing rooms of our hotels as society finds entertainment much less trouble there than in the private homes where now the help question is impossible, and no "function" is quite complete without table, room or corsage decoration and we hope to feel a little of the “velvet” from this undertaking.

These city places are essential as they cater to two kinds of patronage the middle class and the upper crust, giving opportunity to dispose of surplus from the greenhouses that the regular cemetery trade does not take or require. We have found since the severe flu epidemic an increasing demand for lot and grave decoration. One of our sales ladies is in charge on Sunday, meeting the trade through the week and holding it "for us" on Sundays at our cemetery. I believe that the leading cemetery of any city can well undertake the enterprise, they are assured of large and constantly growing patronage, and it would be ill advised for a very small cemetery to undertake it.

Construction with a view to as much permanency as possible should be considered for there is less of maintenance to figure on in the future, though the first cost may be greater. Particularly so now are the prices of construction almost prohibitive, but to do the thing right your plant must be adapted to your requirements. I have purposely given no figures for now they would not be stable enough to be of use under present fluctuations. We have of course many discouraging features which make us feel sometimes that the result is too burdensome, labor problems, unnecessary waste, carelessness in a hundred ways which cut deep into the profits-overhead-maintenance of plants, tools-machinery-vehicles, etc., to constantly battle with but for our line of business-cemetery development and embellishment-I believe that a well managed and conducted greenhouse adds very much to the result as a whole, in beauty, service, utility and in a reasonable way to the revenue of the cemetery.

From the publication:
“AACS - Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Convention held at Cincinnati, OH"
September 24, 25 and 26, 1919