There’s been a spate of death again—mostly parents of good friends. So, I’ve been thinking about graveyards. I spend a lot of time in graveyards—not because I’m morose or melancholy—but because in the gardening off season, I help people with their family trees, and graveyards provide a wealth of information. You get to find out who is buried with whom and who isn’t in the family plot.
I like the old country graveyards with the upright headstones of different shapes and sizes better than the new memorial gardens with flat stones that make it easy for the mower but uninteresting for visitors.
My favorite graveyard is the one on Justøya, the island in southern Norway, where most of my family is buried. I like it because I can tend the graves there. It’s another place to garden and make lovely. It’s an act of love that provides an opportunity to remind me of my roots and history. I am used to bringing my own equipment, but in recent years, the church provides trowels and cultivators and buckets for hauling water from the well. There’s also a wheelbarrow for hauling away the weeds, but many people just heave them over the fence to the sheep that graze there.
Even though there is a protocol about who is responsible for which graves, I do pull weeds on graves we’re not tending. (I do this when I visit US graveyards, too.) Planting and painting (touching up the names that may have faded over the winter) are strictly for the responsible parties. The florist on the mainland has annuals marked especially for gravesites, which change with the season. Some graves now have perennials or rose shrubs, so the annuals get tucked in rather than take center stage.
I don’t have any experience with grave tending in the US. I don’t know whether there are similar rules about who can/should tend which graves. If you do, I’d love to hear from you. Post a comment and let me know how it works here.