Cemetery Landscape

Date Published: 
August, 1924
Original Author: 
Arthur S. Tupper
Superintendent, Brooklyn Heights Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 38th Annual Convention

The Landscape Development and improvement of a Cemetery is a continual process, requiring constant study, perseverance, and patience, and there is no landscape problem that deserves more consideration and study. A cemetery may be planned and developed, conforming to the plans of the most capable landscape architects and yet, through the ravages of time, the addition of new features or the removal of old ones, existing conditions are so changed that constant replacements, addition, and re-arrangements are necessary to preserve a pleasing and appropriate landscape effect.

Old trees that have stood out as the prominent features in a given section may have to be removed because of damage by storm or defects due to old age. Many plantations of trees and shrubs may have included certain rapid growing species that were planted for their immediate effect and which it was the intention of the architect to remove, as time developed, the slower growing species. The erection of additional features, such as monuments, mausoleums, and etc., may necessitate additional planting, which would in the absence of such features, be misplaced and undesirable; or again, the exact opposite may be true of some planting have to be removed or rearranged, on account of the creation of new view areas.

This continual development rearrangement, control and maintenance, should all be guided by the same motive, and not show the individual characteristics of each succeeding Superintendent or Sexton. To this end it is imperative that a general plan of the entire property be made at the outset. The preparing of a general plan is also a necessity from the standpoint of economy.

This plan should be prepared by a competent landscape architect, preferably one having made a special study of cemetery landscape and having had experience in their development. Unless the architect is to be retained permanently in an advisory capacity, which is strongly recommended, the preparing of the general plan, is but a part of his work, for the plan should be accompanied by a written report of recommendations to cover a period of years, outlining the possibilities of the future, the motive behind the plan, the order of its development and both general and specific recommendations, relative to the treatment and control of individual lots. A report of this kind in the lands of a competent manager would insure harmony in future developments and if issued in pamphlet form for the benefit of the lot owners, would prove not only of educational value but an asset as a sales factor.

It will be the purpose of this paper to outline a few of the principles of landscape development which should be included in such a report.

The real value of any art may best be measured by the feelings it creates, the emotion it stirs, and the inspiration it offers to those seeing or hearing its expressions. The success or value of our cemeteries (as works or landscape are) may then be measured by the nature of the feelings, the emotions stirred and the inspiration given to our visitors and lot owners while in the atmosphere of the cemetery. What should be the nature of these feelings and emotions or what atmosphere should our cemetery create?


The atmosphere of the presence of God, as evidenced by the feelings of ease, peace, hope, seclusion and righteous inspiration.


The feeling that an artist has utilized the gifts of nature in adapting them for a special use and purpose in creating a beautiful place in which the living may lay their dead.


The feelings, emotions and inspirations prompted by the visible evidence of individual tributes to the love, memory and honor of departed Loved Ones, ever mindful of the fact that Death is the Great Equalizer and is not controlled by worldly power or position.

These are the feelings that the landscape architect should endeavor to create in our cemeteries by the method in which he preserves, develops, regulates and controls the elements which make up the cemetery landscape. We are all familiar with the terms "Lawn Plan" and "Memorial Park" as descriptive of what the predominating elements of our modern cemeteries are today. These terms have undoubtedly served their purpose in an educational way but I sincerely hope that their continued use will not prevail or will not be necessary, for through the efforts of this and allied associations I look forward to the day when the word "cemetery" will need no qualifications to convey to the minds of the people a distinct meaning vastly greater than mere lawn areas and park atmosphere.

As a race, we have and are developing certain national characteristics in our literature, music, painting, architecture, etc. This is especially true in our landscape design. Distinctly American landscape design fathered by Andrew Jackson Downing and carried to a high degree of individuality by that noted New England gardner, Fredrich Law Olmsted, has always been characterized by what is known as the naturalistic style of development. Adolph Strauch known as the father of the Lawn Plan Cemetery was the first to successfully apply this natural style to cemetery development. His application of this natural style, although considered at the time an innovation, constituted perhaps the most forward step that has been made in the history of cemetery development.

Although there may be some disagreement as to the degree to which the natural style should control the cemetery to the exclusion of all formal effects, there can be no disagreement about the fact that the development of natural beauty should be the predominant theme in our cemeteries if they are to kindle those feelings of emotion and inspiration which we intend that they should.

For the convenience of discussion, let us consider the following units or elements which make up the cemetery landscape and their relation to the development of an appropriate atmosphere.

1.    Entrance area or approach avenue
2.    Administrative area
3.    Service area
4.    Driveways
5.    Views and special areas
6.    Enclosure
7.    Trees and shrubs
8.    Expressions of sentiment

First: Entrance Area or Approach Avenue

First impressions are the most lasting consequently the impression created by the approach to the cemetery is of vital importance. We cannot turn sharply from a busy street finding ourselves immediately in the heart of a cemetery and feel that we are in a secluded, quiet and peaceful area, at least, not without some shock and subsequent loss of ease. The change being sudden does not permit a restful easy transition from the worldly business atmosphere to the quietude of the cemetery. The principal function of an entrance area or approach avenue should be then to create the feeling of approach to a secluded area of peace and quietness. This may be accomplished in four ways: First, it may be possible to approach the cemetery by way of a city or town boulevard system, tree lined and restricted to pleasure vehicles; second, the use of a natural approach as a ravine, or gully within the grounds itself. Ferncliff Cemetery, of Springfield, Ohio, has an example of such an approach following between a stream and a bluff on and not particularly adopted for burial purposes; third, the purchase and development of a special right of way to the cemetery as has been done with such a pleasing effect at Forest Hill Cemetery, in Boston, MA; fourth, by the actual construction of a short drive within the cemetery grounds itself. This drive should ordinarily be of a winding nature in order to make it appear longer and offer a better opportunity to effectively screen a sudden complete view of the cemetery itself. This entrance or approach area should be treated as such in its landscape development, that is, there should be as far as possible, no spectacular or distracting views on either side, the main view being directly ahead. Consequently, an appropriate treatment would be a tree lined avenue with heavy plantings of shrubbery along the sides.

Second: Administrative Area.

The office building and fits accessories should, for the convenience of the public and the management, be located at or near the entrance. If the approach has been effectively made, the office building and entrance features may be combined and should be of harmonizing architectural design. If, however, the approach has been quite sudden it is advisable to have the office building somewhat separated from the gate or entrance feature so as to create the impression that it is well within the atmosphere of the cemetery, thus perhaps softening the mental feelings of those transacting business therein.
Simplicity in design and landscape effects should predominate in this area as it is purely an area created as a necessity and not of special meaning in the landscape itself. Massive and elaborate gateways are not desirable as they produce a harsh feeling of rigid enclosure and lack of freedom. Memorial arches, a pair or group of pillars with suggestive chains, an arbor, or some of the iron gateways of simple design which create the feeling of protection without the harshness of an actual barrier are the best types of entrance features. The architect in designing the entrance features and office building should work in harmony with the landscape designer, especially with regard to the question of views from the office or waiting room.

Views from that part of the office where the public transact their business should not include scenes of burial areas, but should be limited either to distant views or that landscape area immediately surrounding the office as it is undesirable to create the impression of burial in close proximity to the administrative area. Open lawn areas framed with groups and specimens of shade trees and shrubs should constitute the principal landscape elements of this area.

Third: Service Area.

The service area and its buildings should be located and designed purely from the economic standpoint to service and utilization of space least adapted for burial purposes. Although this area should receive consideration in the actual plan of the cemetery it requires no special mention in a written report.

Fourth: Driveways.

The driveways of the cemetery although developed principally for the purpose of service in providing access to the burial areas, constitute nevertheless one of the most important elements of the landscape and may be made one of the most attractive features, if properly designed and constructed. The general scheme of road design has been discussed in many papers given at these conventions and we are all thoroughly familiar with the preferred methods of following the general contour of the ground utilizing the valleys for roadways, eliminating sharp turns, circles and the so-called geometrical projections of the engineer, the proper distance between the driveways, their drainage, relative grade with the surrounding area, elimination of the reverse, curve, etc., etc. These and many other factors, the landscape architect must consider in his arrangement of the general plan.

I will touch on a few of the principles of landscape which might be emphasized in a written report, supplementary to the actual plan or design.

You will recall that we treated our entrance drives, purely as an approach to the cemetery, and therefore limited the view solely to the area of the approach and entrance. We have a somewhat different condition now we have arrived in the cemetery for the driveways being primarily means of access to burial areas, must permit in fact emphasize this feeling of access through actual visibility or views of the burial areas. We will discuss the nature of these views a little later.
Sentimentally one road is as important as another, yet there are two influences which must be considered in determining their relative importance from the standpoint of design. First there is the purely mathematical or engineering factor which determines the width of roadways according to the area which they serve and the probable traffic from the standpoint of service. Second, there is the question of which roads should be made the most attractive on account of their location, the area to which they lead, and the views which they afford.

From the standpoint of landscape development those roads which offer the most pleasing general views should be made the most important and prominent. Many of our owners prefer a lot that is in a prominent location, while others prefer secluded spots. Our roadways should reflect with their prominence, the areas to which they lead. Thus a roadway leading to an area developed particularly for its reclusive atmosphere should not entice the visitor by its prominence or natural ease of approach.

Roadways while designed to create a natural easy approach to the burial area, must also create a natural free and easy movement of traffic leading out of the grounds. This is quite important especially in our large cemeteries, which if poorly designed, very often remind one of a maze which is very easily entered but one has an awful time trying to find the way out.

There has been a tendency of recent years to plant a row of trees on either side of the road, thus creating a tree lined avenue or boulevard of every thoroughfare in the cemetery. There are undoubtedly many roads that and improved with this treatment, but were every road thus lined with trees restricting our views to the limit of the roadway, we would leave the cemetery with thoughts only or beautiful drives. Let us create a greater feeling of variety and naturalness in our cemeteries by framing some of our views with groups of trees and shrubs rather than evenly spaced row of trees bordering our roadways.

There has also been a tendency to construct the roadways of light colored, glaring materials, thus magnifying their prominence. This may be desirable in some instances of formal treatment as around the Chapel, but for the most part I think the roadways, should be as inconspicuous as possible, considering their natural prominence from the standpoint of service. Therefore, the roadways should be constructed with materials of subdued color. Tarvia bound macadam with a sweep coat of trap rock screenings being perhaps the best in this locality.

Five: Views and Special Areas.

Views and vistas constitute the principal landscape effect of the cemetery. In general landscape development the large sweeping lawn areas provide our most pleasing views. Unfortunately in our cemeteries, we are greatly limited in the possibilities of creating these views on a large scale because of the predominance of expressions of individual sentiment by means of monuments, head stones, urns and flower beds.

The nature of the development around the administration area, the reservation of special areas, and restrictions governing the erection of monuments, will allow the architect to create some of these larger lawn areas, but for the most part, our views will consist or limited view areas. This is by no means an objectionable feature however, as the smaller the view areas are, the greater their number and variety will be, thus magnifying the extent of the grounds, and its atmosphere of privacy and seclusion.

Nearly every cemetery has one or two particularly beautiful spots, such as ponds, wooded slopes, or artistic buildings, which as natural features or artistic developments constitute the main views about which our roadways are developed. These views must be properly framed in the landscape picture and their beauty gradually unfolded to us as we proceed along the drives. I say gradually unfolded, because the sudden vision of an unexpected scene creates not only a feeling of admiration but also the feeling of surprise with a resultant unconscious suspense and alertness of mind, which is at variance with the feelings of ease and peace that we wish to create. Consequently our views should be presented not by the sudden unfolding of one spectacular view or several minor ones all at once but through a gradual transition from one to another catching a glimpse now and then of some view beyond that promises added attraction as we approach it, but which glimpse is not sufficiently prominent to detract from the complete view then in line of view.

One beautiful spot may be viewed from many angles, each view being as attractive as the other and yet sufficiently different to preclude the feeling of sameness or predominance of any particular feature to the exclusion of the lesser views and features; as our nation has developed certain characteristics of landscape so each cemetery and each section in the cemetery should have its outstanding features and characteristics. This character of the cemetery as a whole should be expressed in the development of the natural beauties characteristic of the grounds which we see unfolded in series of beautiful views and vistas.
An individual character may be given to various sections, not only by the way we develop the natural features but also by the way in which we control and regulate the individual expression of the lot owners in a given section. Thus we may develop sections of either a prominent or a reclusive nature, garden theme sections, sections developed particularly for the burial of soldiers or special lodges, avenues or areas developed to private mausoleums, etc., etc., even giving a pleasing individuality and naturalness to the single grave section. The landscape architect should be informed of the probable need of such sections in the cemetery to be developed and in his report include special recommendations for their control and development.

Six: Enclosure.

Whenever possible the enclosure of a cemetery should consist of a natural planting of trees and shrubs and not an artificial barrier of rigid enclosure. Unfortunately the later form of enclosure is in most cases a necessity but can be supplemented with a suitable planting to relieve its harshness. Boundary planting should be made with particular attention given to its sky line. A stiff formal hedge-like planting of either trees or shrubs of the same height is not desirable. Boundary planting controls the views of scenes without the grounds and forms a background for those within. Views without the grounds should he limited to those distant views which impress one with the magnitude of the universe. Views within the grounds should have a background with a varied skyline to convey the feeling of depth and distance.

Seven: Trees and Shrubs.

Trees and shrubs are the material which the landscape artist uses to frame existing and create new views. The placing of this material is purely a matter of study in each individual case to create and frame the most pleasing views, and screen the undesirable with a natural arrangement. I hope to have given you some inspiration that will assist you in your study of the proper arrangement of the trees and shrubs in your cemetery as a means of controlling the views. For assistance in the arrangement of this material for natural effects, I can recommend no better help than a study of nature's own arrangement. In nature, we find our trees and shrubs growing either singly or in groups or in compositions of single specimens and groups combined. When in groups we may find one separate group of a single species or again a group may contain two or more species, one species prevailing in a certain area and gradually being replaced by another species.  When singly we may find a few single specimens scattered within a group of another species or we will find a few specimens growing singly without attachment to any particular group.  When in combination of single specimens and groups, we usually find a clump of four or five and then not far distant a single specimen or two which although separated from the group, are seemingly attached to it.

When trees and shrubs are found growing together the shrubs are usually grouped in the foreground as a sort of border in front of the trees, which arrangement would he characteristic of our border or enclosure planting.

When trees and shrubs are growing more or less detached then the tree is usually in the foreground flanked with one or more groups of shrubs. This arrangement is ideal for use in the burial area with the shrubs serving as background for the monuments and the trees breaking up the views into separate pictures and adding depth to the composition.

Skyline plays an important part in this, nature's arrangement and many really wonderful illusions can be accomplished in our landscape effects by a careful attention to skyline. We can create the appearance of distance or vice versa. We can make undulating ground appear to be level ground or we can level off the steep slope almost at will simply through an interchange of high or low growing species in the foreground or background depending on the effect to be produced.

The question of what to plant: Most of those who are entrusted with the care of a cemetery are more or less familiar with the more common trees and shrubs and their natural habit of growth and these should constitute the majority of our plantings. For reference purposes, and a handy guide in selecting plants for special purposes, I would recommend the text books published by Doubleday Page & Company called "The Complete Garden" by A. D. Taylor, Landscape Architect. As a general rule plants used for backgrounds to monuments should have a dense even foliage and be planted close together or in clumps, while plants used in groups purely for the purpose of separating one area from another should have a less dense foliage and be planted more openly thus increasing the lights and shadows and giving an appearance of extent and depth to the area. Hard wood trees and hardy shrubs should be used almost exclusively, care being taken to provide a continuity of bloom and color.

Eight: Expression of Sentiment.

I cannot agree with some of the landscape architects who would prohibit expression of individual sentiment to the point of excluding all memorials and personal tributes. We cannot afford to make parks and only parks of our cemeteries. Why do we say we develop the cemetery for the living as well as for the dead? Is it merely to present them with a beautiful park or is it to create a beautiful setting in which the living may lay their dead, and show evidence of their love for the departed by the placing of a fitting tribute or memorial at this last resting place. Let us not prohibit these personal expressions of sentiment, but let us so regulate and restrict them that they do not predominate the whole, but become a part of it, thus preserving that feeling of harmony, unity and equality which is such a necessity to the atmosphere of the cemetery.

There are many ways in which the individual may express this personal tribute. Possibly one of the most appropriate, is the planting of trees, shrubs and flowers as memorial, for after all are they not nearest to nature and after having served their purpose and the time comes for their removal, they leave no scar to mar the landscape.

Let us encourage their use as expressions of tribute and so regulate their use that they may become at least in part a unit in the landscape development. Trees and shrubs existing on a lot when sold or originally planned to be placed on the lot would settle the problem in many cases. In others the privilege of addling a few perennial flowers in the shrubbery group would suffice. Again a specimen tree not called for on the original plan but permissible and necessary because of developments within the area would be suitable. Certain lots specified in the general plan might have the privilege of containing an urn filled with vines and flowers. Specific sections or parts of sections might contain limited space for the growing of flowers in beds, either to be planted by the lot owner or the cemetery. Excessive planting of gaudy flower beds as a general privilege however should be prohibited as they constitute only a selfish motive.

One lot owner vainly attempting to outdo the other in mere display, whereas in reality the little violet plant placed on the grave maybe a more worthy expression of sentiment than the most elaborate display of carpet bedding.

The most common expression of a lot owner's tribute is the headstone or marker. These should be restricted to a height not to exceed four inches about the ground level. Markers of this height do not appear as miniature monuments on the horizon when seen from the roadway and yet as we approach each stone it seems to rise up and show distinctly that it marks a grave as it should.
The family monument is perhaps the most difficult to control of all the memorials. Primarily these should be restricted to certain locations or lots specified on the general plan. This location should be for the most part well back from the road where the monument will have a background of trees and shrubs to give it a proper setting. The majority of the modern cemeteries have or are making such provisions in their most recent development but the difficulty of regulating or controlling the design and appropriateness of the memorial is still a delicate one and one which in many respects controls the entire atmosphere of the cemetery. With of course, many exceptions the prevailing idea of the public seems to be that a monument is principally a means of perpetuating a name in stone. This is the wrong conception of the true purpose of a real memorial, which should be a work of art on which the name has really little more significance than the name of an artist, penned inconspicuously on the canvas of a great painting. If we would restrict the size of the name on markers, I feel sure that the public would soon develop an appreciation for the real merits of the monument, namely, its artistic qualities purely as a work of art, a memorial not a name card.

In closing, I am suggesting three methods whereby we as Cemetery Superintendents and officials may best cooperate to improve and develop the character of our cemetery (1) Organization; (2) Cooperation; and (3) Education.

1. Organization of local clubs or associations with the objects of interesting the different civic authorities, park boards, and county officials, with the importance of cemeteries in relation to the boulevard system and park systems of the district, and the encouragement of street tree planting on the roads leading to the cemetery.

2. Cooperation with the American Society of Landscape Architects by the appointing of a committee to wait on a similar committee from that association with the purpose in view of arranging for yearly interchange of speakers at our various conventions, whereby we may learn more of the landscape possibilities in our cemeteries, and they may be more fully informed of specific problems of cemetery landscape.

3. Education by means of issuing pamphlets for distribution to the public; the encouragement of special courses of cemetery management, in the landscape departments of our colleges and a similar encouragement of memorial design in architectural institutions.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 38th Annual Convention
Portland, Maine
August 18, 19, 20 and 21, 1924