Seeding Ideas: From The Soil in San Francisco

Tribute Gardens Connect Us With ‘Loved Ones’

Gardening, for me, is a way to relax, to connect with nature, and to allow my mind to just “let go”.  When I’m gardening thoughts drift through my head without the normal level of emotion attached to them.  It’s tough to be angry or sad while digging in the dirt; emotions seem dampened a bit, soothed.  It’s the same effect I get when staring out at the ocean and watching waves crash on to a beach.

Gardening seems to have that wonderful quality of allowing me to process something emotional while accomplishing something physical.  At the end of a day my garden looks wonderful and I’m relaxed and content.

This aspect of gardening is just one of the many reasons why tribute, or memorial, gardens are helpful.  A tribute garden is a garden or space dedicated to preserving the memory of a loved one.  It can be composed of plants or flowers gleaned from that person’s own garden if one has access.

Another line of thinking utilizes plants that have the loved one’s name as part of them (Sweet William, Rose, Lily, etc.) or to create a space that “gives back”, perhaps using fruit trees or creating a cutting garden.  I know of one lady who pays tribute to her late husband by tending an area of her garden that is completely dedicated to his favorite color – blue.

I was fortunate enough to begin a tribute garden out of rhizomes and tubers from my mother-in-law’s own garden. Grace passed away years ago and, as we didn’t live close, I didn’t get to know her nearly as well as I’d have liked.  She was an incredible lady…raised five children, worked as a nurse, and tended acres of garden.  She grew vegetables and canned and froze many of them.  She had a large lawn area that she dotted with “islands” of perennials, annuals, and bulbs.  She also had a small garden in front of her kitchen that contained mainly flowers and ornamentals.

Right next to that garden was her children’s basketball “court”, and she worked diligently, year after year, to find plants that could survive many a stray basketball.  Not many did, and yet she kept trying, and she kept letting her children play basketball.  This, to me, is so revealing – Grace always put her children and their happiness first.  But she wasn’t a quitter; she knew there would be a solution at some point (even if it was that her children had grown and moved away!).  And she loved being out in nature, gardening…appreciating the beauty but also very practical, reaping the fruits of her labor.

 When Grace passed I was just beginning to garden.  I appreciated her handiwork but didn’t have any real understanding of the labor that had gone into creating her gardens.  Her bearded irises were all in bloom that spring and we each laid one on her casket.  Months later one of my sisters-in-law asked if I’d like some of the rhizomes for my own garden.  I picked the periwinkle blue bearded irises and some orange day lilies and those were the beginning of “Grace’s Garden”.

Grace’s Garden is actually just a corner of our yard.  The bearded irises and day lilies are intermingled and the colors play off each other, making each individual appear a bit more dramatic.

I’ve added Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha) behind them, and some white and chartreuse gladiolas too.  But the main attraction is always the bearded irises and those bright day lilies.

A tribute garden is a way to pay homage to a loved one and have a connection with that person even though they’re no longer physically in your life.  And, for us, it’s an unintimidating way to introduce our children to a grandmother they didn’t get to know.

I feel as if I can nurture that area of my garden like I would have nurtured the relationship with my mother-in-law.  And, as hokey as it sounds, when those flowers are in bloom I feel her presence more strongly in our lives.

A garden created in memory of a loved one can take on many shapes or forms and the meaning interpreted in various ways.  But tending to a space dedicated to someone we’ve lost can provide us with comfort as well as a beautiful spot to relax and savor memories.   What a wonderful way to honor someone special!

Have you considered a tribute garden?  If you already have one, what is  your experience with this special dedication?

A Bit About San Francisco Garden Gal:

I’m Karen, a native of the San Francisco Bay Area.  Summers here can be cool or hot, winters may be rainy or dry…it all depends on the year, or sometimes the week!  The coastal influence contributes to the lack of predictability  but on the other hand keeps things interesting making me appreciate nature’s tenacity and beauty.  I’ve been gardening since buying a house that had a backyard consisting of two sheds and some white rocks. My goal until relatively recently was to have the “perfect” yard and then sit back and enjoy it.  It’s taken many years and even more plants to realize that gardening is an endless endeavor and that many of its most exquisite shows are fleeting.  And this I’ve decided is both its frustration and its allure. I look forward to writing occasionally about whats going on gardening-wise in the Bay Area and sharing my experiences.  I’m one of Andrea’s biggest fans and excited to be contributing to my favorite garden blog!


10 thoughts on “Seeding Ideas: From The Soil in San Francisco

  1. My deck garden is a tribute to my own grandmother, and our main garden is a memorial to my husband’s parents. More than creating a beautiful space, it’s become quite a legacy. My second youngest son, who was particularly fond of his grandfather, has asked us if he can buy our home when we are ready to retire. He wants to keep the garden in the family.

    1. Karen

      How wonderful Cathy! I love that your whole main garden is a memorial to your in-laws AND that you have a space dedicated to your grandmother as well. It’s such a beautiful and easy way (for those of us that enjoy gardening!) to share those loved ones with the next generation. And your son sounds like a sweetheart… 🙂

  2. Karen I love tribute gardens and have been doing my spin on it for years. I plant favorite plants either from a loved ones garden (which is hard to do) or their personal favorite plant or a plant with their name attached. I felt as I was reading this post that I had almost written it since the words resonated so deeply…beautiful post….

    1. Karen

      Thank you Donna! It’s exciting for me to hear how other people have created their tribute gardens and how the plants are chosen. You must have a gorgeous garden! Our little memorial garden is a really special place for us and it was nice to be able to share what we’ve done. I’m so happy you enjoyed the post!

  3. I have a peach tree in my back yard that I named Nathan after my grandfather. He had several peach trees in his back yard that grew the biggest, sweetest peaches I’ve ever had! He also had an acre of land that he owned across the street from his house that was a very large veggie garden (which is where I probably got the veggie bug from). There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of him when I look at that peach tree. It makes me feel that he is with me and sometimes I swear I can hear him giving me little hints on how to grow my garden!

    1. Karen

      Your grandfather’s garden sounds like it was amazing Audra. I really like that you named your peach tree after him — it never occurred to me to do so. I just may need to copy your idea! And yes, the “hints from beyond”…I get those too! Whether it’s our imagination, our memory, or something more, I like that our loved ones are in our thoughts AND our gardens. I hope Nathan gives you MANY sweet & juicy peaches this summer!

  4. About a year after we moved into our current home two young men came to my door with a strange request. Many years ago they lived in my house with their mother and step father who recently passed away. Their step father’s last request was to have his ashes rest beneath the fig tree he planted many years ago in what is now my garden. That fig tree is now his memorial, and even though we never met as long as I live here I will always remember his love for our fig tree.

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