AncestorNews: Readers’ Memory Gardens

By Nancy Hendrickson Premium

Thanks to everyone who wrote about their memory gardens. I had no idea these “family” gardens were so popular. I hope these notes from readers give you as many ideas for memory gardens as they gave me.

Renee’ A Karas of Colorado wrote about how she plants flowers to honor family members. “I have a Queen Elizabeth rose in memory of my mom, Elizabeth; chatterbox coral bells because that was my childhood nickname; Joseph’s coat in honor of my brother’s middle name; peaches-and-cream roses for my husband and son’s nicknames, lamb’s ear because my mom used to call me ‘Lambie’ affectionately; and lots of black-eyed Susans because I remember them the most from summers spent in upstate New York as a kid.”

Carolyn Hughes of Corona, Calif., assured me hollyhocks will grow here in Southern California. Here’s how she remembers hollyhocks: “We caught bees in them and listened to them buzz. We made lovely lady hollyhocks with buds for heads and flowers for skirts and sunbonnets.” Carolyn also grows wood violets from seeds her mother sent.

Karen Patchett of Fountain County, Ind., is one of the readers who actually has a plant “descended” from an ancestor’s plant. “Just this spring, I repotted some beautiful pink rain lilies so that I could share them with my three daughters and a sister-in-law. My start is a direct descendant of some plants that were planted by my great-grandmother, Hannah Elizabeth Garst Fetterhoff (1860-1953), on the property homesteaded in 1828 in Carroll County, Ind., by her father. My great-aunt had gotten a start from the bulbs and passed them on to her daughter. She shared them with my aunt (1914-1999), and I got mine from her. I have had them for almost 20 years and count them as a treasure.”

Sue Peeler of Pollock, Mo., also has a descendant of a very old plant. “I have some old-fashioned white iris that goes back several generations in my mother’s family, probably back to the time of the earliest pioneers crossing into the Midwest in the early 1800s. They’re not the regular bearded iris, but one that looks more like an orchid, with an intoxicating fragrance. To me, the irises are every bit as precious an heirloom as the sterling silver and hand-painted china that one of my sisters inherited.

Diedra March of Wisconsin wrote about her memory garden: “I call it my Friends and Family Garden. I started buying flowers and plants with the names of my family members after I started working on my family tree. It has been a lot of fun.”

And thanks to Margie Murray for writing about a special rose: “I guess you could say I have a ‘memory garden’ going already, too. I have a rose bush that is a great-great-great-(who knows how many)-grandparents of a rose bush that supposedly was brought over from Germany by my great-great-grandmother. It is definitely a beauty and I have never seen another one exactly the same color anywhere. I do not know what it was called in Germany but my grandmother always called it her American beauty.

Nancy Hendrickson is a contributing editor for Family Tree Magazine. She also is a family historian, freelance writer and the author of two astronomy books. Her Web site is at E-mail her at

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