Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Gardens among the tombstones

Two errands took me to the Chariton Cemetery yesterday --- scouting for heirloom iris (we've talked about introducing earlier varietites to a museum flower bed) and assessing an urn, installed perhaps 100 years ago on a family lot, long disused and also proposed --- by a descendant --- as an addition to the museum grounds.

The latter's not going to happen, most likely --- the urn, slightly deteriorated, is part of the cemetery fabric; it's also very large (atop a plinth) and heavy, firmly planted and unlikely to go anywhere --- even if permission could be obtained to move it --- without more damage. The iris --- found a few of those, in clumps that need attending --- maybe.

But the visit reminded me that cemeteries --- in the days before fake flowers (now beginning to sprout, too) --- were looked upon as gardens, too. When a loved one died, someone often went into the flower garden at home with a spade, dug up a peony or a clump of iris, and replanted  in or near the new grave.

Some of those plantings remain, especially in older parts of the cemetery. Peonies now are in full bllom and I found the ones blooming in the photo at the beginning of this post near a mock orange bush --- also in full bloom --- in the northwestern quarter of the cemetery.

Not far away, a white peony planted near the remains of Kate V. Gleason (died 1922) still decorates as Memorial Day approaches the stone slab that covers her grave.

Over on the hill to the southeast, a Robins family stone is intertwined with a white rose bush , now blooming enthusiastically.

And on the same lot, a pale pink peony almost lost among the foliage.

As far as heirloom iris are concerned, this is one of my favorites --- heirloom iris are smaller, less showy and hardier than their later hybrid counterparts.

But this pale yellow, along with its pale blue counterpart, probably are the most common --- often blooming for years in roadside ditches near the sites of long-vanished homesteads.

Less gardening goes on in cemeteries these days, in part because boards and maintenance staffs discourage random plantings in order to ensure easier maintenance.

We'll tolerate our own shaggy lives, but woe be unto the cemetery staff that allows a shaggy fringe to flourish around a tombstone. Weed-whackers, occasional pesticides and sometimes big lawnmowers take their toll.

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