I live in Philadelphia, but whenever I get out to the country my favorite thing to do is to drive around, looking for old graveyards.
I have to, because in populated areas like where I live most cemeteries get the horticultural equivalent to a Brazilian bikini wax. No wayward blade of grass or rogue flower spike break the broad expanses of shaved green turf.
From my older plant rustling friends, I hear that this wasn’t the case before the introduction of non-selective herbicides (i.e. RoundUp.) They describe how even twenty five years ago there were numbers of ornamental plants- iris, roses, lilies, and other perennials like the Sweet William below- still growing over graves where they had been planted decades, even centuries prior.
Cemeteries were the first public gardens in America. Before there were parks or arboreta, cemeteries like Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill were huge attractions, popular for their beautiful vistas, lush landscaping, and carefully tended gravesites carpeted with flowering plants.
Today the only vestiges left from this tradition are often the headstones like this one.
But occasionally it’s possible to find a plant or two in a forgotten dirt road graveyard. Sometimes it’s a rose growing up between two closely spaced headstones where the mower can’t reach. Or a perennial that has reseeded itself along the graveyard edges, where the forest is starting to creep back into the clearing.
My found collection of the flowers and shrubs that I’ve found this way is small, but growing a little each year. This blog will be a record of my fascination with a chunk of history that has basically vaporized within the last seventy years- the great affection and emotion that people have felt for plants, particularly flowers. A few of us still feel it.