Gardening for Inspiration & Remembrance
Plantings of both trees & flowers triggered emotional responses in both garden owners & vistors. In the British American colonies, some groves of trees were planted for remembrance honoring a passed friend or relative. Groves were often seen as solemn, whether intentionally planted as a memorial or not.
Eliza Lucas Pinckney (1722-1793) wrote in a letter in 1742, from Charleston, South Carolina, "You may wonder how I could in this gay season think of planting a Cedar grove, which rather reflects an Autumnal gloom and solemnity than the freshness and gayty of spring. But so it is...I intend then to connect in my grove the solemnity (not the solidity) of summer or autumn with the cheerfulness and pleasures of spring, for it shall be filled with all kind of flowers, as well wild as Garden flowers, with seats of Camomoil and here and there a fruit tree--oranges, nectrons, Plumbs."
American colonists understood that flowers were inspirational symbols for higher thoughts. In 1766, Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1782) wrote to a friend from Annapolis, “If you have a turn for gardening or for exotick Plants & flowers I shall perhaps be able to send you such of these which as uncommon in England may afford you some pleasure as a florist, or matter of thought & speculation as a naturalist, or Philosopher.”
Flowers could signify a personal friend as well as a distant hero. William Gordon wrote George Washington (1732-1799) in 1786, “Shall I endeavor to furnish your garden…with flowers & plants that may keep up the remembrance of an absent friend.”
Becoming a gardener helped a person understand the cycle of life & death, & many American gardeners chose to bury their loved ones in their gardens & went there to remember departed relatives & friends. If the spiritual garden was the place we all began, they reasoned, then it was comforting to return to the garden when we died. Where sufficient land was available, a cemetery was often created adjacent to the garden. As one traveler recorded in 1790, “It is very common to see in large plantations in Virginia, & not far from the dwelling house, cemeteries walled in, where the people of the family are all buried. These cemeteries are generally built adjoining the garden.”
Christoper Wormley (1646-1701), in his 1698 Middlesex County, Virginia will, asked to be buried "in my own Garden and Betwixt my first wife..." Wormley's first wife Frances Armistead died in 1685, and his second wife Elizabeth Travers died in 1693, and he obviously did not want to play favorites. In the same county, Joshua & Thomas Long reserved a part of a tract that they were offering for sale "a certain Spott...twenty foot square Lying in the orchard it being the place where their father and mother were buryed."
Employees as well as relatives were buried in southern plantation gardens. At Nomini Hall on June 23, 1789, Robert Carter (1728-1804) recorded, “On Saturday the 20th June Mr. George Randell departed this Life & his Remains were interred in the Garden near to the Grave of Mr. Jos. Taylor School Master.”
Burying a dear one close to home may have resulted from a concern in addition to remebrance. Some preferred burial in their own gardens was security. In his journal on January 29, 1774, Philip Vickers Fithian (1747-1776), visiting Nomini Hall in Virginia, quoted his host, Robert Carter, on this subject, “he much dislikes the common method of making Burying Yards round Churches…almost open to every Beast…he would choose to be laid under a shady Tree where he might be undisturbed, & sleep in peace & obscurity---He told us, that with his own hands he planted, & is with great diligence raising a Catalpa-Tree at the Head of his Father who lies in his Garden.”
Others felt that burying the dead in a common community or church cemetery was too impersonal and made the sight & thought of death too familiar. One observer commented, “Instead of producing those solemn thoughts & encouraging those moral propensities…it renders death & the grave such familiar objects to the eye as to prevent them from awakening any serious regard…&…to eradicate every emotion naturally excited by the remembrance of the deceased.”
The peace & quite of a personal garden or a peaceful grove of trees, especially one planned & tended by the survivor, was seen as the most appropriate & intimate place to reflect & remember. A writer explained in the 1811 Philadelphia Port Folio, "My garden is my scene of reflection, and of rational amusement. If I wish to indulge myself in that pleasing melancholy, which is sometimes so grateful to the imagination, I repair to my garden."