Nature is a great balm, a timeless way to balance your emotions. We speak of “grounding” when we are off balance for good reason. Contact with the ground ― literally dirt ― is good for you.

This is especially true when you’ve lost a loved one.

Gardening is so well-known to help the bereaved that experts use the term “grief gardening.” A memorial garden combines those mental health benefits for you with a special focus on your loved one. This may help visitors to your memorial garden experience healing as well when they visit alone or you reminisce together.

Being sad is OK

memory garden ideas woman making memory garden

When bereaved, you might feel like staying in bed late some days, and for a time, that might be OK. Remember: Everyone grieves differently. Some have a harder time with it than others ― and anyone can develop sleeping problems, get sick more often, or become anxious or sad for a long time. That may not mean you need a remedy, such as an antidepressant. Experts diagnose “complicated” grief most often only when it is intense, persistent, and debilitating a year after a death.

But there are ways to feel better, sooner, while honoring your grief. Increasing your awareness or direct contact with non-urban settings ― or simply plantsmay cut your risk of many of the “adverse health outcomes” linked to bereavement, such as depression and anxiety. In fact, some research suggests that working on a farm can help people cope with traumatic grief ― a sudden loss of a child, for example.

Did your loved one appreciate nature?

A memorial garden makes even more sense if your loved one was a gardener. Don’t let their gardens go to seed. If your husband loved to rake, take this moment to honor his work. Every time you weed, or see gardeners at work, you will remember him. You might also add details, such as a commemorative plaque. Perhaps your wife spent hours watering her house plants. Choose a few of her healthiest specimens, gather them together, and keep them flourishing, adding a personalized candle for a special touch.

If you are starting from scratch, choose plants that remind you of your loved one that can thrive where you live. Consider your loved one’s favorite trees, flowers, colors, or regional ties. If your wife missed her Southern roots, maybe there’s a Southern tree that works in your area. You can highlight her favorite season with plants that are linked to that time of year.

Your budget might also include lanterns, lights, benches, wind chimes, garden stones, bird feeders, and other elements. Garden sculptures and stones can work for people who don’t want to plant. Focus on landscaping that creates a sense of peace.

Your memorial garden can be full of life, even a place for grandchildren to play. If your partner cared deeply about the environment, think about designing a garden that attracts honeybees, which are endangered. You might hang a bird feeder or choose plants that attract butterflies.

You can also create a memorial garden without land of your own. Consider a patio, balcony, breakfast nook, or simply a windowsill. It doesn’t have to be fancy, expensive, or traditional — your intention is the key to success. Your goal is to stay connected and honor your loved one.

5 steps to creating your memorial garden

You can build your own memorial garden by following these helpful tips.

1. Find a good location

Consider the sunlight and weather year-round. Corners away from traffic are ideal. If you choose a spot on a patio or balcony, or indoors, a corner, again, may be best.

And with plants or cut or dried flowers, any spot in your house can be dedicated to your loved one. Think of the nature you enjoyed together on trips, the flowers you chose for your wedding, or, simply, your loved one’s favorite colors. You might dry flowers you know she loved best and hang them on the wall in one spot. These can include flowers from the sympathy bouquets that touched you.

Cottage garden with bench and containers full of flowers

2. Consider seating

Outside, a bench or swing will invite you to linger and call up the love you still feel. You might want to meditate, write in a journal, read your loved one’s letters to you, or listen to “your song” or any music you enjoyed together.

Place benches in a shady spot or as a destination at the end of a path. If an elderly person or anyone with limited mobility will visit the garden, place seating where it will be useful and welcoming.

Inside, keep a favorite chair near the plants or other objects you think of as part of your memorial garden. You might keep it simple, with a succulent garden in one pot and a rocking chair, where you can sit and remember your loved one or your trips to see the grandkids. 

3. Include a name

A personalized metal plaque on a tree, a memorial stone, or an in-ground plaque keeps your loved one’s name alive. If it’s a pet you’ve lost and it enjoyed digging under a particular tree, place a personalized stone in that spot. Also consider a personalized flower pot for a patio. Indoors, put a small plaque or photograph in a place of honor, or hang an engraved suncatcher in the window above the designated spot.

This may be especially important if you have not buried your loved one with a headstone or it’s not practical to visit the grave. An object with a name can be very comforting.

4. Think about lighting

An outdoor garden with lighting, perhaps a lantern, creates a lovely atmosphere for remembering your loved one at dusk or night. Most people are busy during the day, and grief and memories are strongest at nightfall. If you are coping with loneliness and feel most alone in the evenings, lighting your garden could make a big difference.

That is also true for indoor or patio and balcony gardens. Make a ritual of lighting a candle nestled in your windowsill garden or turning on a small lamp with a gentle glow.

5. Invite others to join you

Especially if your loved one enjoyed a rich family life or vibrant circle of friends, consider asking the people she cared about to personalize your garden. For example, you might host a planting party, during which each guest plants a bulb or small plant in her honor.

This may seem a bit of an effort, but remember, you can do it at any time. Your shared family and friends will likely be touched and prompted to reminisce with you — a joy that shouldn’t be missed.


Temma Ehrenfeld has been a writer for more than 30 years. Her novel "Morgan" is available at bookstores.

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