Gardening In Local Cemeteries

Gardening in local CemeteriesMost people don’t think of local cemeteries in regards to gardening projects. But cemeteries need a little gardening love too!

Across the United States, there are thousands of cemeteries, some quite active and others sadly neglected or abandoned. We’ve always felt cemeteries and gardening are kindred spirits – elements of peace, solitude, and respect are present in both …

The cemetery you see pictured here is in Zone 5, south Naperville, IL (southwest suburban Chicago). It’s a 6+ acre plot of land that’s owned and maintained by Wheatland Township and known, appropriately enough, as the Wheatland Township Cemetery.

Wheatland Township Cemetery has quite a history. It dates back to 1836 and is still in active service to the surrounding community. The cemetery averages about a dozen burials yearly and is the final resting place for close to 800 people, ranging from the well known to the relatively obscure …

Maintaining Cemetery Grounds

You can safely say this cemetery is more fortunate than most. The grounds are proactively maintained by Wheatland Township personnel, who mow, trim, and maintain the cemetery roads. We are volunteers for the cemetery and assist with various projects, including helping with funerals and keeping the cemtetery monument plot (pictured) looking its best …

The cemetery is located on 104th Street on Naperville’s south side, between Book and Plainfield-Naperville Roads. Stroll around the grounds if you’re in the area and you’ll encounter the grave sites of over 40 U.S. military veterads. You’ll see graves of veterans from the Civil War, World War I and II, the Korean Conflict, and Vietnam War. There’s even one veteran from the War of 1812, whose headstone was recently replaced to honor his memory.

The center monument plot was donated by a prominent local family. One of our ongoing volunteer projects involves weeding the plot area and ensuring there’s a steady blooming showcase throughout the growing season …

Gardening In Local Cemeteries: Choosing Full Sun Perennials

Wheatland Township Cemetery is exposed to full sun and there’s no on site water source. So, it was very important to choose plants that are drought tolerant.

For this project, I selected three hardy perennials with different bloom times for seasonal interest:  creeping Phlox in the front (Spring blooming), cheery Coreopsis in the middle (Summer bloomer), and Sedums in the back of the display (Late Summer/ Autumn blooming).

The best known phlox are the sun-loving spring blooming variety – also known as moss phlox.  They form low carpets of needle-like leaves that are smothered in a profusion of  flowers in April – May.  This type is excellent in a raised bed, as a perennial border, or on a slope for good drainage.

I chose Phlox ‘Emerald Blue’ which is a creeping, mat-forming plant with abundant lavender-blue flowers in late April and May.   This type thrives in full sun or part sun gardens and does well in dry to average well-drained soil.  (There are also moss Phlox varieties with white, pink, and reddish flowers).

These groundcover phlox are striking if allowed to drape over a low retaining wall. They are fragrant and put on a lovely show!  Just wish they bloomed longer …

Adding a Splash of Color

In the middle of the cemetery garden plot, I planted Coreopsis which are long flowering U.S. natives with yellow daisy-like flowers.  The type I chose for this project is ‘Zagreb’.  A compact, upright plant that spreads slowly. 

This coreopsis cultivar is known for its hardiness and longevity.  They will bloom all summer long with little attention.  Coreopsis attracts butterflies and other pollinators to your garden.

In the back row of the plot, are sturdy Sedums.  They are well-behaved plants famous for their thick succulent foliage and supreme drought tolerance.  They thrive in sunny, well drained locations. 

Once established, Sedums need very little care … overwatering is the most common mistake with this family of plants.  The variety I used is ‘Mr. Goodbud’ which blooms in late August and September.  The blue green foliage contrasts nicely with the mauve – purple flowers.  Stunning!

The showy flower heads reach their peak in fall, and if left standing will provide winter interest and food for birds.  Other pluses … they are rabbit resistant and a pollinator magnet!

Keeping a Tidy Garden

Every Spring (usually Mother’s Day weekend), we place 2″ – 3″ of fresh mulch on the cemetery garden plot.  This helps suppress weed growth, maintains moisture, and improves the soil over time.  I also like the tidy appearance!

Before we refresh the mulch, I pull any visible weeds and sprinkle granular Preen in the bed.  This works wonders to prevent future weeds and helps keep the garden low maintenance.

The photo to the right shows the cemetery plot shortly after it was planted.  Remember that perennials look best went planted in groups.  Pay attention to the plant marker that comes with your perennial for any spacing, light, and water requirements.  This is essential for happy, long-lived plants!

All the plants chosen for this project do well in any sun-filled home garden spot.  Phlox, Coreopsis, and Sedum enjoy a well-drained setting, are drought tolerant, and require little care once planted.  They all spread over time … so just don’t plant too close together.

At our last home, I planted three ‘Autumn Joy’ Sedum by the front door.  They provided four season interest and proved to be a pollinator paradise.  The bees and butterflies loved this trio!

‘Autumn Joy’ is one of the most popular sedum varieties. Pink flowers first appear in early fall in the form of flat clusters of tiny flowers.  They gradually open through fall to produce reddish flowers that gradually turn bronze and rusty red. Quite the showstopper!

Gardening Volunteer Opportunities

There are many ways for gardening enthusiasts to give back to their communities.  A local cemetery is just one example.  Keep a lookout for other opportunities posted by charitable groups, gardening clubs, park districts, and senior citizen organizations.  Share your green thumb skills and help beautify your community! 

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