Early Rural American cemetery plots were often located on farm land, where a family would establish eventually a sacred space to dig a grave at the woods edge. The family deceased members would be kept together and surrounded by the cooling breezes from the shade trees. As towns and church communities grew, a spot near the church would be carefully selected, and specific burial plots would be assigned to a family belonging to the church. A small fee for the plots would be paid to the church, and customarily the family members would take the responsibility for the future upkeep and planting of the trees and shrubs. Grass became fashionable in the Cemetery growing as lawns during the second world war. Eventually many of the church cemeteries ran out of space, and cities and private investors developed large Cemetery plots on the outskirts of towns. The National government developed Memorial cemeteries, where soldiers and nationally prominent citizens were laid to rest.
The development of a private cemetery meant that the owners must generate a profit by adding desirable landscape planting, colorful shrubs and trees, expansive green-mowed lawns, ponds, interesting roads, borders and flower beds. The offerings of these life-giving trees and plants were attractive to the families of those already buried, and the attractive green landscapes were pleasing to the sight of visitors and to those who might be looking to buy a plot of land for a grave.
Marble monuments often sit at the top of a grave with meaningful inscriptions chiseled into the stone, as an historical reminder that the body and spirit planted beneath that earth is a memory to be honored at that spot. A tree has no graven inscription like that on the stone marker which might suggest a long term endurance of the gravestone, but the tree offers a living and growing contrast to the symbolism message carved upon the head stone. The tree will continue to grow as it progresses through natural history to be recycled along with all other living things, such as the blades of grass beneath the trees, and the birds that sing their songs in the branches of the trees.
The tree has been tied closely since man’s history intersected with the development of the natural history of the tree. According to the Hebrew Bible the beginning of man evolved in the Garden of Eden, where it was recorded “The Lord God planted all sorts of beautiful trees there in the garden, trees producing the choicest of fruit.” Genesis 2.9 Trees have become important religious symbols for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Trees were an appropriate connector “in the beginning”-at the Garden of Eden, and certainly a tree gift for planting in a cemetery is a proper and appreciated gift that honors as a tribute to a loved one or a friend and to grow beside the graves-stone. The gift of a tree can grow and survive through several lifetimes and generations and can honor that person and his ancestors for hundreds of years.
A gift of a flowering tree or shrub can play center stage the landscape garden. The flowers, of course, highlight the plant and choosing a flowering tree with fragrant flowers presents another dimension to add a wonderful enjoyment and pleasure for the gardener and his friends. The leaves of a plant will release a wonderful penetrating fragrance into the air, when the tree is planted closely to a pathway to brush against as you pass by and to enjoy the pleasant aroma.