Gardens to Drive For: Cemeteries

Make Haunting Fall Memories

Cemeteries, such as Cincinnati’s Spring Grove, offer a quiet place to savor fall color.

By Michael Leach

Can’t make it to New England — or even a state park — for a fall foliage tour? Not to worry. A free show probably grows in a nearby city park or venerable cemetery.

Cemetery? Sounds scary to some, I suppose, but not me. Among pleasant childhood memories are those of quiet times with my grandmother, mother, sister and aunt in a well-tended, park-like cemetery near the Ohio River.

As we walked slowly from stone to stone, I heard stories about this uncle, that cousin and those family friends. My grandmother occasionally pinched a seed head from the potted plants. She sowed the seeds in her crazy quilt back garden not far from the cemetery.

Not everyone has such memories but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a few using your gardening passion as a guide. Besides the appealing stillness found in most cemeteries, the trees can be award winners.

Two historic cemeteries I occasionally visit boast state champion trees, the largest known specimens. Cemeteries are tree-friendly places with few plagues of urban life to stunt or damage. Seeing a giant makes it easier to understand why some people worship trees.

My favorite cemetery is Spring Grove in Cincinnati. One of the loveliest places I’ve seen, Spring Grove is like a sculpture park. In places it evokes English country estates with its enormous trees, grassy grounds and “follies,” such as a small Greek temple beside a placid pond. Never mind these structures are mausoleums. The names here, such as “Proctor”  and “Gamble,” read like a who’s who of Cincinnati.

But most cemeteries offer similar combinations of art, history, genealogy, nature, quiet — and fabulous fall color. Go see for yourself.

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