Commemorative Plantings

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Welcoming Baby Lovejoy

Yesterday, my beautiful granddaughter was born at her home, surrounded by loving family and friends. I could not help but contrast this joyful event with the gathering to celebrate the passing of my mother, also at home and so very recently. Home births and home deaths have become rare in this country, yet both are among life’s most profoundly moving experiences and none of us truly get to skip either one, that’s for sure. As Kate tended and bathed our newest baby at her first homecoming, I remembered how lovingly Kate and I bathed and dressed Mom for her last home leaving.

So often these tender duties are carried out not by family members but by nurses. Kind and attentive as they may be (and usually are), something is missing from a life that does not willingly include the gritty realities of birth and death. I assume that the attendant unpleasantnesses are off-putting to many and I get that (the laundry alone is daunting even to an enthusiast), but I also suspect that even more folks let others do those first and last bathings and dressings because they are worried that they might not know what to do or just how to do it. A tiny baby seems so fragile, and the newly dead are so empty of life. Both states can certainly be intimidating to the uninitiated, though both are a normal part of every life. The good news is that both are simple, peaceful, earthy tasks that are really quite straight forward while also having an aspect of holiness to them.

Celebrating Comings And Goings 

Mom would have been thrilled to meet her second great-grandchild, perhaps especially because she is an adorable girl child (our family runs heavily to delightful boys). I am absolutely thrilled myself that my darling O has a baby sister, not least because I know how lovingly and respectfully and wisely she will be parented. Every child deserves such raising and what a world we would share if each of them/us received the equivalent. It’s such an honor and such a deep, abiding pleasure to be part of the raising of these children and I love imagining what remarkable adults they will be.

In our family, both births and deaths (of dear people and dear pets) are often celebrated by planting something. For beloved critters, I sometimes plant rosemary for remembrance, choosing hardy, enduring varieties like Arp, which can live for decades. For people, I may plant a favorite tree (my dad has a Japanese maple, while. It’s important to choose a species that is well adapted to the environment you can offer, because losing a memorial tree can feel dreadful.

Long Lived And Sustainable

I learned this lesson the hard way, since both my dad and Bud loved Japanese maples and both of their first memorial trees were lost to verticillium. Thus, I now always pick hardy, vigorous, and disease resistant trees that will (probably) thrive in the memorial site. (Bud now has a lovely Purple Prince crabapple and Dad has a weeping sequoia, which he would admire for its sinuous slenderness.) Sometimes long lived shrubs are a better choice: For my mom, I planted my favorite winter flowering witch hazel, Hamamalis x intermedia Pallida, with glowing, deep yellow flowers that send their deliciously penetrating fragrance throughout the garden on still, warm winter days. I’ve planted memorial roses as well as camellias and rhododendrons, and even a gorgeous Midwinter Fire twiggy dogwood, now the size of a small tree.

To celebrate births, I usually choose something with a sweet association; my son Andrew was also born in January and our native Scouler willows are always in catkin bloom for his birthday, as are tiny Tete a Tete daffodils, so I’ve planted that combo in several of my gardens. My other son likes lilies, and I plant those in his honor as well as deep purple lilacs, which were blooming when he was born. For O, I planted Cotinus x Grace, a superb smoke bush with fantastic color from early spring into late fall, as well as a lovely coral orange rose from the grocery store. These little roses are dwarfed in their pots, but often prove very hardy when planted in the garden, usually achieving around 3 feet in height and girth.

Blooming And Fruiting

O has a pretty little pear tree planted in his honor at his own home, and his sister will have a lovely, ruffled pink camellia in the back yard as well. I’m planting another one for her in my own garden, called (regrettably) Pink-A-Boo, a handsome, shapely winter bloomer with open, anemone-like flowers of rosy pink centered with fluffy golden stamens. It’s a sport of Yuletide, one of my favorite winter bloomers and a very good, long lived garden performer. Our newest darling will also get a rose, though I’m not sure yet which one. However, hers will most likely be a rich coral pink and fragrant.

An informal poll of gardening friends showed that, give the choice of our own memorial trees, nearly all of us would chose species that offered both flowers and fruit for people and/or birds and other wild things. I myself am very fond of crabapples, especially the newer disease-resistant varieties. Among the healthiest is Golden Raindrops, a cutleaf form with pink buds and white flowers followed by profuse bright yellow fruit that lingers well into winter. It reaches 10-15 feet in time, so where space is limited, I often use compact Tina (Malus toringo ssp. sargentii Tina), a lovely little tree with a perfect canopy and daintily spreading branches. Often called Sargent Tina, this shrub-like tree tops out at around 6-8 feet if grated and 8-12 feet on its own roots, offering the usual rosy bud and white flowers as well as red fruit and warm fall color.

Top Pick?

For myself, I think I’d opt for a handsome, compact crabapple called Centennial, or perhaps a Yuletide camellia. Or maybe a Blue Ice Arizona cypress. Or…whatever my dear family decides will quite certainly be just fine by me!

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2 Responses to Commemorative Plantings

  1. Congratulations on this wonderful new addition to your family.

  2. Eben Atwater says:

    Lovely, that – Can’t wait to meet Her!

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