Planting trees in memory of departed loved ones is a growing trend. Long after cut flowers fade, these young trees continue to give pleasure and comfort to friends and family. In time they will grow into treasured memorials, symbolizing the gifts and good works of our departed loved ones. Trees mark the passage of time, all the while growing bigger and more handsome; a gift that keeps on giving.
A tree can mark a significant event like a birth or graduation. It can symbolize a marriage or the start of a family, or celebrate a new home. Tree plantings are also a wonderful way to memorialize a loved one who’s passed away. The important thing is that something lasting and beautiful has been started, something that will outlive us and make the world a better place for us having been here.
We’ve all admired landmark trees planted a century or more ago by our ancestors. Standing in the shade of a magnificent tree, we feel grateful for the person who took the time and trouble to plant it and care for it, so many years ago. Trees become a part of our lives and our world, and new ones we plant are a gift from us for future generations to enjoy. We take great pleasure in watching trees we’ve planted and nurtured grow tall, cast shade and transform the place they’re planted. Nothing is more tragic than a memorial tree that dies, leaving nothing but the sign saying “Planted in Memory of…” to mark the spot where it was planted, so it’s very important to select memorial trees carefully and plant them professionally. Trees intended for memorials should be rugged survivors, tolerant of drought and neglect, needing little maintenance, just in case they go for long periods without care. Starting with a larger specimen, properly pruned and trained in a good nursery, increases the chance of success.
It’s tempting to choose a tree for sentimental reasons, so very often a fragile tree is planted as a memorial. Showy bloomers like dogwood and crabapple are common choices. This can lead to tragic results. Transplanted dogwood trees have a very low survival rate. Crabapples, ornamental pears and flowering cherries are fruit trees, which typically have short life spans, and need regular spraying and feeding in order to thrive.
The most important trait to look for in a memorial tree is longevity. Hardiness, drought tolerance, resistance to insects and disease all contribute to longevity. This is why we prefer hardwood trees like oak, sugar maple, hornbeam, gingko and thornless honeylocust, even though they are less glamorous than dogwoods or fruit trees. Before choosing a memorial tree, it’s well worth the time to look at mature examples of trees that have stood the test of time. A walk around the Ohio State University campus or a local arboretum is a good way to see which trees might be best. In these settings, trees are clearly marked so that you can easily see what variety you’re looking at. One of the best arboretums in the country is the lovely Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati. This remarkable place has over one hundred acres of trees and gardens including many “Best in Ohio” specimen trees, some more than a century old. Spring Grove showcases trees that last, such as Oak, Gingko, Hawthorn and Sugar Maple. These are the trees we recommend as living memorials. They are rugged, long-lived, stately and handsome, and they improve with age. Perfect for a living memorial.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in outdoor living spaces. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.