Friday, June 22, 2012

Planting in the Bible Belt

I come from the middle of the Bible belt:  central Indiana.  I’m reminded of that when I read my local (Greentown, Indiana) newspaper.  The obituaries often start with “the dearly departed went home to be with his/her Lord”.  The list of accomplishments starts with their service to the local church. 

In addition, I’m one of those people who actually enjoy strolling through old cemeteries.  When I go back to the area of my birth, I usually take a side trip to the Hopewell Cemetery.  It’s the final resting place of my Civil War era ancestor’s family.  The country site is now located at the edge of the county’s reservoir, is quite a ways off the road and largely forgotten.  Although the township is charged with its upkeep, it has fallen victim to vandalism and neglect.  It’s a sweet sad place to visit.

The stones have mostly been toppled, broken and many are now in the process of sinking into the ground.  Last time I visited, it was obvious it had become a place for bonfires and parties.  One area was totally burned with the remains of stones charred and broken. 

Because of the total lack of care, the long ago planted flowers have spread and give the cemetery a wild and beautiful park look;  a park look if you don’t have ancestors who’s graves are being disrespected.

I’ve tried to engage interest in cleaning up the cemetery with little results.  I’ve taken photos, written letters, and talked with families of the grave occupants, but, no one is interested in the huge labor intensive project.  My response has been to duplicate some of the plants in my own gardens.  It’s a very small way of paying respect and a reminder of what was once a vital country final resting place for local families.

The three most notable plants I’ve copied are the orange Tiger Lily, yucca and Lily of the Valley.  The lilies spread with abandon and are hardy enough to have lasted over one-hundred years in the cemetery.  In my yard, they have nestled into their beds with comfort and familiarity.

The Orange Tiger Lily is officially called Lilium lancifolium “Splendens” and dates from 1804.  It has 30-36 inch strong stems (called scapes on lilies).  They bend slightly over the graves or other plants but don’t shade. 

The bloom of this lily is bright orange with dark speckles on recurved pendent petals.  The prominent stamens stand out to attract pollinating insects and birds.  The flowers hang down and start blooming first at the bottom of the flower brackets.

Orange lilies are especially suited next to purple or white flowers.  They are a late summer or fall bloomer and good to Zone 3.  Given the right conditions, they will naturalize and be in place long after the gardener “moves on to be with their Lord.” 

I don’t think I know one garden, public or private, that doesn’t have some nostalgia associated with the flowers or design.  It’s a way of remembering something or someone we respect and love.  Consider your heritage as you are planting your gardens and perhaps incorporate a few old favorites.  After all, a garden is meant to be a special place as Gerald DeNerval put so well:  “Each flower is a soul opening out to nature.”

Photos:  These are pictures of Hopewell Cemetery, Howard County, Indiana.  They were taken a couple of years ago.  If you want to see the full screen version, double click on the first photo and you may page through the others.  This works with any of my photos on any article.  The last photo is my ancestor's marker.  The stones laying flat are his family's broken markers.  

There's a whole procedure for restoring an old damaged cemetery; to retain the accuracy of the grave sites and records, to work with old marker materials, knowing what vegetation is original and what has invaded.  Then there is the continuing issue on how to keep it secure and maintained. 

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