Rosemary adds a dramatic aspect to the garden.
In the Garden - December 2010
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I found that creating and tending a pet memorial garden was good therapy for the grieving period after the death of our little calico cat. When Tilly died three years ago, we decided to bury her six feet down in her favorite spot in the back yard. Tilly was my faithful garden companion, following me everywhere to supervise pruning, weeding and especially planting. The freshly dug dirt always needed sampling and soon covered her fluffy white bib and bunny paws. She particularly enjoyed locating my most expensive new plant and then rolling back and forth on it to test its durability.
I wanted to create a memorial garden around her burial site, but where to start? I decided to begin with a calico color scheme of orange, black and white. Then I took a cue from Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance… And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.”
Rosemary is said to enhance the memory, and therefore became the “bones” of my pet memorial garden. It’s a tough plant, but intolerant of frigid weather, as are house pets. It needs frequent trimming – just like most dogs and cats. It really likes to bask in the sun. So, with rosemary for remembrance and some orange and black cat-faced pansies and white whiskered pansies for thoughts, my memorial garden was underway.
I continued the calico color scheme with a basic background of plants with dark colored leaves, choosing deep purple coral bells (Heuchera ‘Obsidian’ and ‘Palace Purple’) and chocolate brown bugbane (Actaea simplex ‘Black Negligee’). But Tilly needed to be surrounded by flowers. Feverfew and white alyssum, scented favorites in which she used to roll shamelessly, were quickly planted. Next came orange and white roses, as I remembered that she often drank beads of water from their leaves and pushed her face into their blooms.
A color themed border can be both a delight and a chore. For the past three years I have been striving for the proper calico color balance, as the accent colors of white and orange must be carried on through a succession of flowering plants during most of the year.
In Tilly’s garden the spring wave of color commences with orange tulips ‘Princess Irene,’ ‘Annie Schilder’ and ‘Ballerina’. Accents of white come from narcissus ‘Cragsford’ (white with an orange cup), and pure white narcissus ‘Ice Wings’ and tulips ‘Calgary’ and ‘White Marvel’. Feline mystique is provided by the black tulip ‘Queen of Night’.
Summer color is carried out by orange daylilies, crocosmia, and the prickly but showy hybrid tea rose ‘Caribbean.’ This rose blooms steadily from late May through the first frost. Its bright orange blooms are eye-catching, but if grabbed carelessly, like one might grab a kitty, its long thorns can scratch your arms.
Accents of white from alyssum and feverfew are boosted by long blooming white valerian and the floribunda rose ‘French Lace.’ Miniature ivory rose ‘Waterlily’ commemorates Tilly’s small stature and penchant for sitting in the middle of rain puddles.
Tending Tilly’s flower-filled memorial garden reminds me of former days of caring for her, and also of her traits and habits. If you are considering a pet memorial garden for your home, keep in mind that it needn’t be elaborate. For example, it could be created in fond remembrance of a little fox terrier by simply planting some foxglove in a corner where he used to hide his bones. It could be a fox terrier color theme of white shasta daisies with some patches of black mondo grass.
I have more suggestions for pet memorial gardens. Did your old doggie love to dig up your daffodils? Plant a huge mound in his or her honor. How about shamrocks, emerald green hostas, and silvery gray artemisia to honor a dear departed Irish wolfhound?
A golden retriever color theme could have yellow sunflowers, marigolds and zinnias. A garden for a white Persian cat might feature white hydrangeas and pompon dahlias, with polyantha rose ‘The Fairy’ to echo her pink nose and footpads. I would add forget me nots in spring and lobelia is summer to commemorate those unmistakable blue eyes.
A pet memorial garden can be undertaken when the time is right. Begin by searching in garden magazines or on the Internet for plants to honor your deceased pet. Grief can morph into the joy of pleasant memories as the memorial garden is fed, watered and tended. Dear little pal – gone but never forgotten.
(Jody Hackleman is vice president of the Point Roberts Garden Club. She can usually be found at any time of the year tending her little cottage garden and planning for more color in the flower and vegetable beds.)