I was recently asked to create a planting plan for a family cemetery plot.
The restrictions were many.
There could be no trees, no plants taller than 40 inches and no plants blocking the wording on the headstone. There could be no invasive plants.
Plants chosen had to be drought-tolerant, as nature will be the primary waterer. Plants should also be low maintenance — no more than an occasional weeding — with continuous bloom and year-round interest.
The park-like cemetery is home to wildlife. Therefore, the selected plants should be deer resistant.
It is also probably the home of rabbits, squirrels and groundhogs. If the animal population is large enough and food is scarce, these animals will eat almost anything, even plants considered unpalatable. My job would be to use the least palatable plants possible.
And, the family asked that I include a hydrangea, a favorite of the deceased.
Every garden design has its challenges, but this project had more than most.
Unfortunately, hydrangeas are not deer-resistant. However, there are hydrangeas that bloom on new wood — Endless Summer, Blushing Bride — that I included, knowing that deer might make a meal of them. Even if that happens, the plant would survive an occasional setback and regrow to bloom another day.
The plot is 24 feet wide and 12 feet deep. There is currently one headstone.
The garden I designed is a kidney-shaped berm along the upper right edge. The design includes the headstone and extends halfway from the edge toward the center. From the upper right corner, the berm runs 10 feet toward the bottom edge of the plot. It covers part of an area where future burials will be, which was a consideration. I only used plants that could be transplanted without difficulty.
The plot is currently grass. To ensure moisture retention in the soil, as there is no irrigation, the berm should be created using topsoil amended with plenty of organic material. This will provide good growing conditions for years to come. After the plantings are in, I recommended using landscape fabric around the shrubs to limit weed growth.
This design would also work for anyone looking for a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant border.
Starting in the upper right corner, plant three yellow-twig dogwoods in a triangle about three feet apart.
Yellow-twig dogwoods have striking yellow stems that are spectacular in fall and winter. To get the best color, they should be trimmed back early in the spring to rejuvenate the plant and keep it within the size requirements. For the brightest twig color, remove the oldest stems by cutting them back to the ground. It will equal about one-third of the entire plant.
In front and to the left of the dogwood, plant a Blushing Bride hydrangea. And to the left of the hydrangea, plant three dwarf butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii).
I currently have a miniature butterfly bush — Lo & Behold “Blue Chip” — in my garden and it has provided purple-blue blooms for weeks. The shrub has a small 20-inch mounded habit and flowers continuously without the need to prune or deadhead. It is also deer-resistant.
To the right of the dogwood, add three white potentillas and beyond that five “Autumn Joy” sedums. This sedum is attractive to butterflies and its large, fleshy leaves allow it to store water and better withstand drought. If you cut back this sedum by half in June, you will get more stems and therefore more flower clusters.
Don’t confuse the white potentilla with the common yellow shrub. Thanks to hybridizing, there are now potentillas in just about every color except blue, with double and semidouble blossoms. Foliage can be dark green or with blue or gray hues. Deer dislike it.
By tucking the hydrangea between deer-resistant plants, it is my hope that deer and other animals will forage elsewhere.
In front of this grouping and extending in front of the headstone, plant super petunias in a mixture of purple, lavender and white. These petunias spread about 18 inches in all directions and require no dead-heading. They supply endless color with great blooms from spring to frost.
On either side of the headstone, plant “May night” salvia, which are a deep purple blue. Add three pots of the annual Verbena bonariensis, which is tall and airy, around the salvia. I saw this combination at Longwood gardens — a premier botanical garden in Pennsylvania — and it was lovely. The verbena lure butterflies and the fluttering will add to the pleasantness of the space.
If the family agreed, parsley and dill could be discreetly added to provide larval food for butterflies, in which case this little garden could be a resting place and soothing sanctuary for butterflies.
After the plants are in the ground, add cedar mulch to retain moisture and limit the need for weeding.