Cemetery – Plants for

Q: What would be some good plants to plant in front of a cemetery headstone where there is no water service? The space is 3.5 feet long and 16 inches wide.

A: Assuming the site is in full sun, I think your best bet is to go with tough perennials that can fend for themselves under all conditions. I consulted with several experienced gardeners and they came back with these “toughest of the tough” plants:

24″ mature height

daylily
‘Phenomenal’ lavender
‘Hamelin’ fountain grass
yucca ‘Color Guard’
yarrow

18″ mature height

artemisia
dusty miller
‘Elijah Blue’ fescue
‘Walkers Low’ catmint
reseeding annuals like cosmos and zinnia

12″ mature height

creeping phlox
creeping raspberry
prostrate rosemary
dianthus ‘Baths Pink’
dianthus ‘Fire Witch’
coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’

6″ or less mature height

creeping thyme
Lime Zinger’ sedum
‘Angelina’ sedum
Star of Bethlehem
santolina
ice plant

Local garden designer Sara Henderson, who works magic at Oakland Cemetery, says:

My immediate reaction is to be sure about the maintenance. There’s no such thing as a zero maintenance plant. Assuming SE conditions, here’s my list:

Boxwood, English or American.
Abelia, but it needs a hard pruning every year or so to stay in bounds.
Prostrate junipers, but they need weeding
Snowball viburnum
Arborvitae, but it gets big
Hollies
Oakleaf hydrangeas, but they need watering until well established
Crapemyrtles
Bulbs, especially Ipheon and Star of Bethlehem.
Some daffodils are great but you must pick carefully. Most big, modern ones don’t stand up the abuse.
Old bearded iris, the “dog ear” types, not the big modern ones.
Daylilies, especially the tall old ones. The others need frequent division.
Heirloom shrub roses

My go-to combination is boxwood on either side of the main marker, iris or bulbs in a cluster in front of the marker, and a crapemyrtle or arborvitae centered to the back or on the back corners of a large lot. Grass the rest in something tough. If the weeds are thick enough, just mow them – we call that “vernacular turf” so it sounds impressive.

All of these are the plants that have survived for years in abandoned cemeteries. That’s a good indicator of what works. I’ve specified heirloom
and old varieties because they are infinitely tougher than the big modern hybrids.

Artemisia can handle the toughest conditions and still look good.

Artemisia can handle the toughest conditions and still look good.