Landscape Work in the Cemetery

Date Published: 
September, 1905
Original Author: 
George H. Brown
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 19th Annual Convention

I regard it as an honor and a privilege, to stand here. At the same time I realize the fact that my place ought to be out there and some of you should be up here and I ought to be listening to you. I am only distantly related to you. My work is landscape gardening and park work. Your work is very important and is coming close to us and I think it is a very good thing it is. I remember when I was a boy in Scotland. In my early life I can remember the old church yards and having a feeling of sadness and melancholy. A melancholy feeling would come over me. It was inevitable. Those were really cities, of the dead and apparently only for the dead. We are more progressive, and we are making a cemetery now a place for the living. We are adding to the cemeteries landscape ornamentation and making them now very attractive indeed. I learn many lessons when I go to some of your cemeteries. Some of your superintendents have excellent ideas and much skill and knowledge in landscape work. You have undoubtedly difficulties that I do not understand and cannot comprehend. Those difficulties are not insurmountable, however, because you have already overcome many of them. One difficulty I suppose you have which I am not familiar with and that is the ownership of your lots and sites. They must want, I suppose, some direction of the improvement of their several parcels and bodies of land in the cemeteries. It is difficult really under circumstances of that kind to have much landscape effect. I think that our finest cemeteries of the future will be those that have been well planned before any lots are sold and certain portions of the boundary, certain small pieces intersecting the sections and roads, etc., had better be set aside for ornamental planting. To the landscape gardener there are few, if any, cemeteries where things are not incongruous and where things do not seem to him to be very much out of place. I think that must arise from the individual taste of the lot owners, which compels the superintendent to follow their plan.

I think there are in most cemeteries too many trees. There are not enough flowering shrubs. There are not enough herbaceous plants. Mr. Falconer, a most excellent authority in our profession, wanted me to say something about having a cemetery attractive every day in the year. I think you should commence with early flowering plants. We all know visitors to cemeteries in the early spring are delighted with flowers. We find in our Washington parks that our spring flowers bring out more notice than later flowers in the summer or autumn. The early flowers are harbingers of spring.

I will tell you what we do in our public grounds. Our first planting for spring begins in October. We dig up our geraniums and many of those plants we want to propagate and plant those places with pansies. You can not all do that. We put out every year about thirty thousand pansies. We cover those beds with a slight coating of horse manure and leave that until they have done flowering in the spring. After our pansy planting we plant, our bulbs, hyacinths, tulips, narcissuses, crocuses, etc. We plant about thirty thousand of those. After that we take up our cannas, which make a very nice effect and we plant evergreens in some of the most important places. If it can be done, it would be well to plant evergreens just as we plant flowers--have dwarf varieties if you can. If not, plant our native evergreens, planting them flat in little groups, so as to remove the bareness of our parks and the same in cemeteries.

Now, my idea in planting parks or cemeteries would be to plant boundaries. Not plant a row of trees--I do not believe in that. I do not believe we ought to have fences. You will observe that we have removed the fences from our parks. We think it a good plan. We find no necessity for them, and it improves the appearance of the grounds very much. Plant around the boundaries groups of trees which would be suitable and which would grow well and which would produce satisfactory effects. I would not plant foreign trees largely--would plant native trees. Throughout the cemetery at the intersections have little plots of ground reserved where you can have flowering shrubs and plants. Then if I could have my way, I would have a parkway on each side of the roadways. I would not sell within perhaps fifteen feet. I would have a parking which would belong to the cemetery and which could be used for decoration with herbaceous plants and flowering shrubs, which would make it attractive.

Now, of course, I know that there is not an abundance of money in all cases to perform the finest landscape work and to carry out the landscape effects that are perhaps most beautiful, but there are certain things that are very essential. The most attractive thing in parks and cemeteries are roads and lawns. The roads should be hard surfaces that would be pleasant to walk on. I believe macadam roads are the best. Gravel roads are good, but they want constant attention. The lawns should be kept up.

In some cemeteries you have rules or regulations that are peculiar. That is, you care for certain special parts of the grounds. There are such things as special care. I think you ought to charge enough for your lots to enable you to keep your roads and lots always in perfect condition. If your roads and lots are in perfect condition, it will add very much to the beauty of the cemetery.

I really cannot say very much to you. I do not know just what to talk about. We have here in Washington many advantages. I came here half a century ago, lacking one year. When I came here I was perhaps one of the most disgusted men you could meet. It was a very unsightly, straggling village at that time. It was called in those days a city of magnificent distances. There was then La Fayette Park, the Capitol Grounds and Franklin Park, I believe that was about all. The major portion of the parks you see now were simply dumping grounds. They have all been created since that time. We have one thing here which is greatly in our favor. We have a very desirable climate. We can grow many things here that many of you gentlemen cannot grow. We are on the border line between the North and the South. We are rich in oaks and maples and many flowering trees and flowering shrubs. There is .another thing that we are not rich in, but I hope to be some time and that is the berry-bearing shrubs. They add very much to the decoration of the grounds in the winter months. What I would advise is very much fewer trees and very many more shrubs. That is what impresses me in cemeteries.
In regard to the parks, if you are so kind as to compliment them, I want to say I do not think they are at all what we hope to have them. We expect to have much higher improvement in many ways in the future. We are constantly improving and laying out grounds. We are taking in now about 150 acres of land reclaimed from the river front and we have now over 400 acres of reservation. One difficulty is they are so widely scattered. I cannot start out in the morning with my horse and buggy and visit each reservation. But it is a good thing. They are good and they are a good plan and I hope other cities will adopt this plan of leaving little spaces in the city. They are restful and in sanitary ways they are a very great advantage indeed.
From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 19th Annual Convention
Held at Washington, DC
September 19, 20, 21 and 22, 1905