Plants For Graves – Flowers Good For Planting On A Grave

Plants For Graves – Flowers Good For Planting On A Grave

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Cemeteries are peaceful places for contemplation and reflection. The newly bereaved may wonder, “Can I plant flowers in a cemetery?” Yes, you can, though some cemeteries may have restrictions you need to follow. You can use flowers and plants to make the area attractive and commemorate someone’s life and our connection to them.

You must consider the size of the plant and be respectful of others who will visit the area. Graveside plantings should be small enough and manageable for long service as natural sentinels near the plot. Choose carefully when selecting plants for graves to provide a serene, non-invasive backdrop for a sensitive location.

Graveside Garden Plot

Most cemeteries have guidelines about what sizes and types of plants are allowed. The maintenance crews will have to be able to work around them without damaging the plants or causing more work. Trees or shrubs that become large or unruly over time are not a good choice.

When choosing plants for graves, consider what your loved one enjoyed the most. Was there a particular plant or flower that he/she really favored? The graveside garden plot can be used to reflect those preferences and help bring back good memories and provide solace. Additionally, the choice should take into consideration the light levels and moisture availability.

Graveside Plantings

Flowers are a natural choice for graveside garden plots. Perennial flowers will provide visitors with annual color but they do need some maintenance to prevent spreading and messy habits. Annual flowers are a perfect choice but they require frequent supplemental watering. You will also have to plant a new display every year. Another way to provide plants for graves is to use containers. Again, you will need to check with the caretaker, but if containers are allowed, they prevent invasiveness and are smaller maintenance spaces.

Plots that are surrounded by trees are a challenge to populate with plants due to the shade. However, there are some shade loving plants that would be suitable including:

  • Daylilies
  • Hosta
  • Bleeding heart
  • Coral-bells

Avoid larger shrubs such as rhododendrons or camellias, which could take over the plot and obstruct the gravestone. Flowering bulbs, such as iris or hyacinth, are a good choice but the plants will start to spread over time into the turf.

Flowers good for planting on a grave are low-spreading varieties that can handle frequent mowing. Some varieties of ajuga, flowering thyme or even sedum will make colorful seasonal flower cover for the grave. Consider the height of the plant when choosing flowers good for planting on a grave. Some flowers will get quite tall and cover the gravestone.

Natural Plants for Graves

Planting native species around the grave is one of the best and lowest maintenance ways to provide greenery or flowers as a memorial. The graveside garden plot that relies upon native species will not need as much water and will blend into the natural surroundings. These plants will need less fuss and cannot be considered invasive, as they are a natural part of the wild species.

Check with the cemetery caretaker to determine which plants are acceptable for the graveside garden plot. Whatever choice you make, amend the soil with plenty of compost to help conserve moisture. If you are not going to be available to come water the plants, they may have to rely upon natural moisture or any extra spray from lawn irrigation.

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Symbolic Flowers to Plant on a Grave

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During the Victorian era in the 1800s, with its emphasis on flower gardens and all things horticultural, the English created an elaborate system of floral symbolism. Every flower carried one or more meanings when presented to another person. Some of this symbolic nonverbal communication survives today. In a graveside setting, flowers can convey love and grief, as well as hopes for the departed.


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The Woodlands Grave Gardeners were featured on CBS Sunday Morning on Sunday, April 22nd. Watch the full Grave Gardener segment, titled “How Does Your Garden Grow?” above.

About the Grave Gardeners

The Grave Gardeners is a volunteer gardening program run by The Woodlands. Individual gardeners adopt a cradle grave, which they plant with Victorian-era plants and care for throughout the gardening season. As a site with many layers—The Woodlands was once the 18th century estate of amateur botanist and plant collector William Hamilton and was converted into a rural cemetery in 1840—we are always looking for interesting ways to engage visitors with the rich history of the site. Re-planting our Victorian cradle graves is the perfect way to beautify the space and share a unique aspect of The Woodlands history.

Cradle Graves were popular in the Victorian era. Most would have been planted and maintained by the family of the deceased, but over the last several decades they have come to sit flowerless. When The Woodlands was established in 1840, it was very common for people to maintain little gardens in their family cemetery plots and to spend time there on the weekends enjoying peaceful green space outside of the city. The Woodlands Grave Gardeners are reintroducing this practice by pairing volunteer gardeners with flowerless graves.

What Types of plants are found in grave gardens?

Gardening in cradle graves is essentially container gardening. Our planting list includes varietals that are well suited to grave gardening in terms of size and growth habit and would have been common in the Philadelphia area in the latter half of the 19th century. Our ever-growing plant list is informed by historical sources, including plant lists and catalogs from nearby sites and nurseries active in the botanical scene in the 18th and 19th centuries.

How do you become a Grave Gardener?

The Grave Gardeners are a group more than 100 volunteer gardeners who have each been assigned a cradle grave to adopt at The Woodlands throughout the growing season. Most of the gardeners live or work in our community of West Philadelphia, but we also have gardeners from all over the Philadelphia area. The skill level of volunteers ranges from people who are brand new to gardening and are getting their hands in the dirt for the first time, to seasoned master gardeners.

Cemetery Planting for Personal Remembrances

While the larger landscape of a cemetery can provide a sense of peace for family and friends visiting the graves of their loved ones, many people choose to also add their own small plantings as an expression of remembrance. Choosing, placing and tending flowers and garden elements around the grave marker can be a comforting creative outlet, a way to honor the deceased with a personal touch.

Before adding any plantings and related items to a gravesite, be sure to inquire about the cemetery’s rules regarding such.

Some allow in-ground plantings, while others restrict flowers to containers, for example. There may be rules for the length of time that plants and flowers can remain at a site, too.

Be sure to understand the cemetery’s rules regarding plants, and then apply the basics to plant selection—light needs and water, especially.

Aside from the cemetery’s rules, practical matters should be considered when choosing plants. Drought-tolerant, long-blooming, self-cleaning plants tend to be the best choices for graveside plantings or containers.

Keep in mind the grounds crew who will have to work around the plants while tending the cemetery as a whole, and be respectful of visitors to neighboring plots who will view your plantings be it one day or two weeks since you’ve last tended them.

All of the usual things we think about when choosing plants—amount and direction of light, tolerance for heat or cold, soil and fertilizer requirements—come into play, with water use being perhaps the most critical, particularly if the plants will be in a container, which will dry out quicker than the ground.

Unless you will visit nearly every day, drought-tolerant varieties are the safest choice. It’s important to note the water source, too—that is, whether there’s a publicly accessible tap on the grounds or you’ll need to bring water from home.

Traditional annual favorites include geraniums (Pelargonium), New Guinea impatiens, petunias, dusty miller (Senecio cineraria) and verbena, but drought-tolerant, compact selections of perennials like coneflower (Echinacea), beardstongue (Penstemon), hosta and clumping alliums can work well in the ground or containers, too.


The Lake of the Woods Cemetery opened in 1883 under the name of the Union Park Cemetery. E.M. Rideout donated the land the Cemetery is situated on. The Cemetery now covers 11.5 hectares or 37 acres of park-like setting.

On September 19, 1891, the LOW Cemetery Company was formed to govern the care and control of the Cemetery.

The first published bylaw book which included the rules and regulations of the Cemetery was printed July 1, 1928. A single grave sold for $10.80 at this time.

Then on April 1, 1940, the Corporation of the Town of Kenora became owner/operator of the Lake of the Woods Cemetery.

In 1972, the Roman Catholic Cemetery was turned over to the Town of Kenora from the Notre Dame Catholic Church. On August 1, 1972, the Town of Kenora became the owner/operator of both the Roman Catholic Cemetery and the Lake of the Woods Cemetery, to be known together as the Lake of the Woods Cemetery.

On January 1, 2000, Kenora, Keewatin, and Jaffray Melick amalgamated, the Cemetery stayed as the Lake of the Woods Cemetery. New bylaws were passed under the City of Kenora.

The Lake of the Woods Cemetery has mystic and charm, which includes historical information and unique headstone art. We invite you to take the time to enjoy the serene and peaceful surroundings encircling the memories of our loved ones.

Grave Gardeners: Volunteers help spiff up old cemeteries

The cemeteries of yore existed as much for the living as for the dead. People would picnic and relax there as they would in a park today.

Now, a handful of 19th century graveyards are restoring the bygone tradition of cemetery gardening, enlisting volunteers to help keep things green and tidy.

Amy Lambert, for instance, volunteers at The Woodlands, a cemetery near her apartment in Philadelphia. She had been looking for a way to garden after she moved out of an Austin, Texas, house with a lush backyard.

“This was an opportunity to get my hands dirty,” said Lambert, a 52-year-old architect.

She’s one of about 150 “Grave Gardeners” tending cradle graves at The Woodlands, a 54-acre cemetery where 30,000 people are buried. Cradle graves, stylish in the 19th century, have an upright stone where the name is etched, and an attached oblong planter that resembles a bathtub. It was common for relatives to plant and tend gardens in them.

Graveyards of that era, known as “garden” or “rural” cemeteries, were built on rolling hills outside of cities.

“They were inviting places,” said Leslie Wilson, a history professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey. “They were the precursor to these huge public parks we have today, like Central Park.”

Some cemeteries have informal gardening programs, while others require volunteers to submit applications. Staff horticulturalists often oversee the work.

The Victorian-era Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta relies on volunteer gardeners. There are at least 40 regulars who prune, weed, plant and manicure. They are supplemented by hundreds of occasional volunteers, often from corporations and schools. And Oakland solicits the public for one-day projects about six times a year.

Its volunteer program has been around for decades and has grown substantially in the past 10 years or so, says Sara Henderson, Oakland’s director of gardens.

“The core group, they’re very passionate about what they do and give countless hours to us,” she said.

American attitudes toward death and cemeteries have changed since the 19th century. Today, cemeteries are built with one thing in mind: burying dead people. Newer graveyards are built to house many rows of graves and flat stones that make mowing easier.

“You might go to a contemporary cemetery on Memorial Day but there’s no other reason to go,” said Jessica Baumert, executive director of The Woodlands and a historic preservationist. She got the idea for The Woodlands Grave Gardeners after reading about the 19th century custom of decorating cradle graves.

The Woodlands was the country estate of William Hamilton, a prominent horticulturalist. It became the final resting place for many politicians, wealthy businessmen, Civil War officers and Joseph A. Campbell, a founder of the Campbell Soup Company.

The grounds are also a vital part of the West Philadelphia neighborhood, and are popular with runners, dog walkers and picnickers.

“We’re trying to encourage people to use the cemetery in the way it was designed to be used,” Baumert explained.

The Woodlands’ Grave Gardeners program is in its fourth year, and every season it grows. The cemetery had to cap the number of volunteers at 150.

Some volunteers are paired up, and most look after a single grave. More experienced gardeners take on two or three.

“We’ve become good friends and really enjoyed working on this together,” said Maureen Cook, 68, of her gardening partner Greta Greenberger, 72. The pair, who did not know each other before, planted deep purple and burgundy flowers in the cradle grave of Andrew Craig, a wine importer.

There’s an approved list of plants from which gardeners can choose. The selection reflects the horticultural history of the site and the tastes of the Victorian era. Approved plants include snapdragons, hollyhock, iris, bear’s breeches and loves-lies-bleeding, a velvety-looking plant that was prized in Victorian gardens.

Lambert was assigned the Haseltine family plot, where three of seven members have cradle graves, and has enjoyed researching the family’s past. She found an obituary for Charles Haseltine (1840-1915) that called the art dealer an “irrepressible lover of puns.”

Some Haseltine descendants still visit the family plot every November to decorate the graves with red bows, she says.

Another Grave Gardener, Sherry Michael, a 47-year-old computer security analyst at the University of Pennsylvania, cared for the Evans family plot with fellow volunteer Alison Williams, 54. They worked together for two years, until Williams died of cancer this year. In her memory, the Grave Gardeners planted a rose bush on the Evans plot.

“Working at a cemetery gives you lots of thoughts,” Michael said. “Your day-to-day issues don’t seem as big because you’re reminded life is so fleeting.”


Lily-of-the-valley, violets and Johnny jump-ups are old-fashioned, low-growing flowers that will return year after year. Vinca is an evergreen flowering plant that can be used in rocky or tree-lined areas where graves cannot be placed. Spring flowering bulbs, such as hyacinth, crocus, tulip, daffodil and jonquil, are bright additions in front of a large headstone. The stone can be flanked with iris plantings which will bloom when the spring flowers fade away. Short lily plants are summertime perennial blossoms that add beauty to the lot. The chrysanthemum can be planted and may winter over as a perennial in some areas.

  • Lily-of-the-valley, violets and Johnny jump-ups are old-fashioned, low-growing flowers that will return year after year.
  • The chrysanthemum can be planted and may winter over as a perennial in some areas.

10) Plant Wildflowers & Forget-Me-Nots

Beautiful and bright, wildflowers and forget-me-nots are the perfect florals for memorial gardens. From the moment you plant them, they will symbolize the love and light you felt for the person who has passed. In addition, these flowers attract butterflies which are not only beautiful, but they’re symbolic of hope, growth and transendence. If you like the idea of growing these colorful blooms, consider planting seed paper memorial favors. Created with eco-friendly materials, these products can be planted in a pot or garden to commemerate the life of a loved one who has passed. Since the act of planting the paper and growing flowers takes time, they symbolize the healing process and how although grief is a journey, the other side will be beautiful and strong.

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Watch the video: Grave gardening