Trees, Shrubs and Plants for the Adornment of the Cemetery

Date Published: 
August, 1906
Original Author: 
William Crosbie
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 20th Annual Convention

Among the various subjects for our consideration at this time, is that of "Trees, Shrubs and Plants for the Adornment of the Cemetery." The subject is vast and unbounded. Our country extends from the Arctic to the Torrid Zone. It may be said of it, it is the glory of all lands; and within its bounds are twenty-four (24) botanical classes of plants, with no less a multitude than thirty thousand species, and an endless variety in the species. From this vast array of beauties, each superintendent will have to select for himself that which will flourish in his particular location.

Let us not forget that every plant, from the lichen that clings to the rocks, to the majestic redwood Sequoia Gigantica which adorns the hills of California, is an expression of our beneficent Creator's good will to men. It was a paradise we lost; we are to regain a paradise. When earth and all which it contains shall have passed away within the precincts of a future world, the family of man shall partake of joys depicted under the alluring imagery of a garden, a pure crystal stream, refreshing bowers and luxuriant verdure. It is meet that we should beautify the resting place of our dead, relieve the gloom of death and make the cemetery a pleasing retreat for reverent contemplation.

Whatever planting is done in the lots should be done under the direction of the superintendent. If flowers are desired by the lot holder, they should be planted in beds, circles or crescents, so that they will not interfere with the cutting of the grass. Flowering shrubs are more becoming than tender flowers; a clump of hardy ever blooming roses, White Musk Cluster, Red Rambler, Hermosa; for single bushes Hydrangea Grandiflora is one of the best, but our hardy native Rhododendrons are beautiful all the year round, the fern-leaved birch gives the best shade and does not injure the grass, or stain marble or granite; it is also a pleasing object all the year round.

The best thing in a lot is a fine carpet of grass, and whatever is planted in the lot should be placed so that it will not obstruct the mowing. Trees and shrubs in the lots should be few and select. The screening plantations and sylvan scenery, with thousands of ornamental trees and shrubs should be outside the lots, properly on the borders of the cemetery. A judicious arrangement of the planting gives dignity to the landscape, sequestration and shelter.

The cemetery of which I have charge belongs to the classical city of Washington, PA, the woody land of Penn, the Keystone State of our Union, located among the rich hills of Washington County. When I took charge of the cemetery in 1868 most of the grounds were primeval forest. Our general plan is to leave sections of the forest between the lot sections. The effect is grand. We value these trees highly, not because of their commercial value, but because they were planted by the Lord of heaven and earth. The managers have given their superintendent a free hand to plant everything that will flourish in our location. Already we have a great variety in our old reserve forest, but will add many more as we find it convenient. The standard forest trees cannot be grown to perfection if transplanted. Oak, walnut, chestnut, hickory seeds should be planted as they fall from the trees and covered with wood's earth. As they grow, keep the stem or trunk covered with leaves, let the top go aloft, to any height desired, but protect the trunk with leaves, until the top branches shade the ground around the tree. Fibrous-rooted trees, such as maple, elms and poplars, can be transplanted without dwarfing them.

The white oak is, among the deciduous trees, what the cedar of Lebanon is among the evergreen trees. The way it takes hold of the earth, its perpendicular trunk, where it has room to spread, limbs very large, diverging at a very large but not uniform angle, from a broad, gnarled, massive juncture; some of them go out horizontally, variously contorted, much and variously branched, the higher limbs make a sharper angle, they all often make considerable bends, in any direction, upwards, downwards, or on either side, spray on many twigs at right angles in all directions, miniatures of the larger limbs. As an ornamental tree it is beautiful in every stage of its growth; at first light, slender, delicate and waving, at last, broad, massive and grand but always graceful. Let everyone who has an opportunity plant a white oak. When standing in a situation, where it is somewhat protected and has room freely to expand its limbs, it will improve in beauty and magnificence for many generations of men. It is the last tree on earth to yield to the storm. When standing together, the mixture of the various oaks makes an interesting and beautiful picture. Among the evergreen trees, the pines, spruces, firs, cypresses, north of Mason and Dickson's line, the white pine for beauty and utility heads the list. It bends to the storm, yet successfully resists its violence. All the coniferva are worthy of a place in the cemetery.

Managers and superintendents of American cemeteries and parks, as intelligent and patriotic citizens, should give good heed together and preserve our vegetable American beauties and give them a place in our public grounds, so that they may not disappear from the earth. Before the tremendous energies of our people the forests are going down like the harvest before the reaper. Comparatively there are still a few trees left. Like the latest left in their ancient strength they stand and tell us still of the sylvan years when the forest filled the land. Our worthy President Roosevelt, the Senate, Congress and the Legislatures of every State in the Union, besides the colleges and schools, have taken the forest-tree question into consideration. No doubt good will come to the nation through their deliberations.

Hardy Herbacous plants should find a place in every cemetery; they are beautiful and afford not only a great variety in form and color and habit of plant, but diversity in beauty of foliage, while the flowers present an endless variety in form and color, and in time of flowering they range from earliest spring to latest autumn. Have them arranged in families, according to the Linnean system of botany. Begin with range A, say 100 to the range, then range B; ten ranges to the block; then as many blocks as can be filled; use calcined numbers twelve inches in the ground and three inches above the surface and a catalogue to correspond, which will be of great use to botanical classes in the colleges, seminaries and high schools, but above all it will be one of the most interesting ornaments of the cemetery, more in place than, common flower beds.

Besides the importance vegetation has in the adornment of the cemetery, among the natural sciences none is more fitted for general education than botany. It relates to objects which are constantly within our reach and can be studied at all times; and it is fitted alike for young and old, for rich and poor. It makes us see wonderful beauty and arrangement even in the meanest weed. It adds brightness and pleasure to the hours of recreation. The works of God are wonderful and they are sought out of all that have pleasure therein. Let a student acquire a taste for science and he will proceed to search out more and more the objects around him. But while prosecuting with ardor the study of material things, let him not be misled by a false glare of science, which would lead him to ignore the power, the omniscience and constant superintendence of Him by whom all things were created and by whom they subsist every moment and while diligently acquiring a knowledge of earthly things let him not forget the better things of God's word, which alone can make him wise unto salvation.

Let me call your attention to the shading of avenues in the cemetery with the grand drapery of the forest. Of course we will have to use only such trees as are tough, to withstand storms. Say, one avenue white oak-Quercus Alba; a second avenue red oak-Quercus Rubra; and various other lofty oaks. The white ash, Fraxinus Acuminata, and various sorts; Magnolia Acuminata; several varieties of the elm; several varieties of the beech and hornbeam; the buttonwood tree, Platanus Occidentalis, could be used with fine effect. Both our native and European buttonwood trees are splendid in any position. The idea is to form an arch to any height desired over the roadway, of one particular kind of trees to any point desired. Then proceed with another sort, one sort of tree to each avenue. For vistas, raise the arches, or leave vacancies. To give variety, short dark avenues can be used in some locations. The white pine and Austrian pine are the best, for this purpose. The idea is to keep every avenue or part of the avenue, distinct with a distinct sort of tree. Of course we will have to use such trees as will flourish in the valley and on the hill and various soils. The various trees will give various shades; from the light and shimmering, to the dark of the gloaming, even at noonday.

Trees are a perpetual source of delight to all the senses of man, all the year round; the soothing summer sighing; in winter they sing to the storm. The greatest men, the human race has produced, have been interested in trees. Moses prayed earnestly, that he might be permitted to pass over and see the goodly land and Lebanon. He wished to see the cedars, and the oaks of Bashan.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 20th Annual Convention
Held at Detroit, MI
August 21, 22 and 23, 1906