Gardening Through Grief

People we cherish leave an indelible impression on our hearts.

When we want to keep their memory alive in a  meaningful way, we consider a variety of ways we can do that. One thing that I have done through the years is plant a rose or a tree in honor of someone I love. When that has not seemed like enough I have participated in planning and planting gardens that will memorialize their memory. One such garden was for my niece Alese Coco who died five years ago. Any death of a loved one is devastating, but when a young persons life is cut short by cancer it is an especially difficult loss.


Gardens have a way of bringing a sense of hope and renewal. Taking care of your memorial garden will become an extension of your love for that special person.

In Alese’s memorial garden there is a little monument with her picture on it and a perpetual flame, to remind everyone who sees it that her memory will never fade or be extinguished. It is surrounded by colorful annuals and a potted Bougainvillea in a brilliant pink, to reflect her bright, bubbly personality.

There are little plaques and mementos that people gave her on her journey with cancer that bring a personal touch to the space.

It is surrounded by benches that give the family a place to sit and remember her with conversation and laughter, or to take a quiet moment to think about a treasured memory. Alese’s garden is full of annuals that need to be replaced seasonally to keep it looking its best. One year on my sister-in-law’s birthday, I suggested we get a few six packs of flowers to freshen up the little memorial garden, in honor of her daughter. The act of picking out the plants, amending the soil and planting the six packs gave us a chance to laugh and talk about our memories of Alese. This brought another level of healing to my heart, and was a birthday gift my sister-in-law really appreciated.

 If planning a space in memory of someone you love pulls on your heart strings then let me help you think through how to approach it.

 1.) Every garden needs a plan, even if it is a very simple one.

So, measure the area, sketch it out, and think through what plants you want to incorporate. Contemplate using some plants that were your loved ones favorites, or ones that would reflect some aspect of their personality.

 2.) Choose a fitting location!

A corner of an existing landscape may easily be transformed, or a place next to a patio or deck that is often used or viewed from the house would be worth considering.

 3.) Don’t make it too complicated to maintain.

Simple plans that revolve around a theme and have some personal touches will be easiest to keep up with for the long haul.

 4.) If an entire garden sounds overwhelming…

Choose just one plant, or piece of garden art, to work into the garden, in their memory.

 5.) Most of all enjoy the process!

Planning and implementing a garden in memory of someone we love should be an exercise that brings joy. Take your time, and let the process be a time to heal, reflect and remember what made that person someone you cherished!

About the Author

Anna Smth

Terre Verte Landscape Design began in 2003 while Master Gardener Anna Smith was the staff horticulturist for Kern Counties only botanical garden, Mourning Cloak Ranch. Read More


  1. Christine Smith on June 21, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Thank you Anna  for  featuring  Memory  Gardens ,  I Personally think it is a Beautiful way of 
     expressing    Grief  in the process  of Healing, Each new Bloom representing  Hope and Healing.
     There is a Peace and Calm  about it. Of course  this  Memory  Garden  happens to be  for My 
      Grandaughter Alese Coco.  I love it , it is a Joy  to  see  as was Alese !

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