HOW TO CHOOSE A MEMORIAL TREE

For many years I resisted the idea of planting a tree or shrub to memorialize a loved one who has passed. I can't imagine something worse than planting a tree to remember someone and having it falter. It would be like revisiting that loss all over again.

And then I planted a tree as a memorial and I changed my mind. I was simply looking for an evergreen for the back yard when I came across Picea glauca 'Hudsonii', which happened to share a name with our first Newfoundland dog Hudson, who was quite old at the time, and I made a mental note about it. A few months later Hudson passed away and I recalled that tree. Somehow it seemed like it was meant to be that I should happen upon a tree with the same name as our dog, so I found one at a local nursery and brought it home. Mr. Much More Patient and I planted it together, and put some of Hudson's ashes in the hole. That tree is directly out our back door so I look at it every day and think fondly about Hudson. We planted it three years ago and it is doing great, putting on new growth and bringing us joy every day.

We planted a tree for Rita while she was still alive, so we have two years of photos of her with it when it was in bloom.
The comfort that tree brought me, as silly as that may seem, changed my mind and quelled my fear of killing a memorial tree. So we planted another, except this one was for the dog we still had. It was actually Mr. Much More Patient's idea. Why not plant a tree for her while she was still here, we thought. We planted a lovely crabapple and we have great photos of Rita with the tree, which makes it that much more special now that she's not with us anymore. And when Rita died unexpectedly last spring, a group of friends pitched in to buy us another tree (a beautiful pink dogwood) for her. It was an incredibly touching gesture and I love that we planted it by Hudson's tree, a fitting location as the two were best buds.

Picea glauca 'Hudsonii', which we planted shortly after our first Newfoundland died, was looking good then and three years later it's even better. 

So I'm reformed. I think trees and shrubs are lovely way to memorialize a loved one or mark a joyous occasion such as a birth or wedding. They are a changing, growing, everyday reminder. If you're buying a memorial plant, here are a few things to consider:

1. SET IT UP FOR SUCCESS
This is the most important thing to keep in mind. Make sure whatever you're planning is hardy for the zone it will be grown in and not terribly difficult to grow. Also consider the location where it will be planted. If the person you're buying it for has a completely shaded yard, don't buy a tree that needs full sun. This is not the time to go out on the limb and try pushing the growing requirements of a tree.  Similarly, be very cautious about buying a very large tree. These need to be planted carefully and not every yard can accommodate that size of tree. There would be no worse position to put someone in that making them face having to remove a tree that had been purchased for them as a memorial because it had outgrown the yard.

2. DON'T CHEAP OUT
If you're buying a tree for someone else, don't buy something tiny because it's all your budget allows. It could be years before the tree looks good and very small trees need attention to shaping as well as some coddling and that's not the point of a memorial tree. It's better to choose something else that gives you more bang for your buck than buy something small.

3. CONSIDER FLOWERS
I think choosing a tree or shrub that flowers is especially nice for a memorial planting. Flowers draw your attention, making it a special time when a memorial tree is blooming. Sometimes flowers can help narrow down the right tree or shrub to choose. Perhaps it blooms around the time of the loved one's birthday or passing, or its flowers are a color that one might associate with the loved one it has been planted for. We chose the 'Coralburst' crabapple that we planted for Rita because she was a very girly dog, so pink seems appropriate.

4. CHOOSE SOMETHING SPECIAL
If you can choose a tree or shrub that has some connection to the loved one it is being planted in memory or in honor of. This might be the name, like our 'Hudsonii' spruce, or have a color connection like Rita's crabapple (and the pink-flowering dogwood our amazing friends later gave us), or just something that seems to fit a loved one's personality or persona.

5. ASK FOR HELP
When you're shopping for a memorial tree, go to a local nursery and ask for help choosing something the recipient is likely to have success with if you aren't sure what to pick. While you're there, inquire about the cost of planting or consider planting it yourself so that the person you're giving it to doesn't have to worry about it. Planting a tree is a big project and sometimes you don't want to give someone more work during a difficult time.

Here are few trees and shrubs that might make nice memorial gifts:
  • Lilac (a white lilac in particular could be a special plant)
  • Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)
  • Magnolia (Consider in particular, smaller growing magnolias such as the "Little Girls" series, which includes 'Jane', 'Ann', 'Betty' and others, or something like 'Butterflies' with it's pale yellow flowers
  • Redbud
  • Crabapple
  • Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulate)
  • Japanese maple (be particularly careful with this as some can be very tricky to grow)
  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier)
  • Hydrangea 
I'll be the first to admit that giving someone a tree to memorialize a loved one is daunting, but no other gift could be as much of an every day reminder as a beautiful tree or shrub that grows as the recipient's memories grow even fonder. 

4 comments :

  1. I have several memorial plants in the garden. I also often purchase a plant when it has the name of someone I care for. It does make you wince when the plant dies but it is sort of gets your through the tough times of a loss of a loved one.

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  2. I have given bleeding heart plants in memory of loved ones. Somehow just the name seems fitting. They are long lived, something to look forward to each spring, and don't take much space. They prefer shade but will take some sun. Everyone who I have given them to, thought it was a neat idea.

    In memory of my mother, I bought a sargent crabapple tree - it only gets about 8 feet tall. I planted it so I can see it from my kitchen window. Mom always loved crabapple trees; she had several in her yard, and she spent so much time in her kitchen. I think of her everytime I look at my tree. It's a comforting way to remember her.

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  3. Yesterday I lost my own dog to cancer and I'm looking for a way to memorialize her. As always, you give great advice on the topic. Thank you so much for these ideas.

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  4. We bought a Carolina Silverbell to memorialize our niece who died young. The whole area where it's planted is named for her: Katie's crescent. Her mom has come over some years to see it in bloom. When my dad died, my office got me a gift certificate at a nursery so I could pick out a tree for him rather than sending flowers to the service. His tree is a Ginkgo which is visible from the living room windows year-round. I have Lilium henryi for my late father-in-law Henry. We looked for something named 'Maxine' when Mark's mom died and all we could find was a potato! However, she grew up in Antigo which is potato growing country so that was appropriate, even if it didn't work in our garden. My mom is memorialized with recipes.

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