Originally known as Decoration Day, a day for Americans to remember the fallen soldiers of the Civil War celebrated by placing flowers and flags on their graves, plants have always played a central role in the Memorial Day holiday. Flowers and wreaths serve as symbols of reverence and honor.
However, using plants to keep others alive in our hearts and minds does not need to be reserved for holidays and special occasions. When I started brainstorming ideas for a Memorial Day blog, my first thoughts were of the plants in my own home and garden that are living reminders of loved ones we have lost — a Golden Boston fern and a mock orange. They aren’t just like plants that my grandmother and my husband’s grandfather grew, they are plants that were directly propagated from the plants that grew at their homes — a piece of their lives that we were able to take with us even when they are no longer there to visit.
Both plants were the result of divisions. Some plants grow in a clumping habit where they send out roots and or stems (above ground or underground) that then produce new stems and leaves. As the name applies, once the clumps exceed their original size, you can dig up the plant, divide the plant into smaller clumps (make sure each clump has roots, stems and leaves) and then replant as separate plants.
The golden fern originally graced the front porch of my grandmother’s house… a spot that I have fond memories of swinging on during hot summer days so very long ago. My fern now sits in my kitchen window and I think of her every time I look at it. My Dad also has them growing all over his house and my kids will remember them as the plants they would hide behind and find all the best Easter Eggs in (and make a mess with when they would accidentally run into them and dry leaves would scatter).
The mock orange grew wild at my husband’s grandfather’s house and it is already claiming its territory in our own yard. It blooms every year right around my husband’s birthday reminding him of his grandfather and all the good times they shared. I hope that some day we will be able to pass a piece of these plants along to our own kids along with the memories of these loved ones that they will never meet, but we don’t want them to forget.
Perhaps this Memorial Day as you visit family and friends or they visit you, you can throw in a family gardening activity and search around for plants to share. In addition to division, you can also propagate new plants by sharing seeds (although in some cases you may not get exactly the same plant in return since seeds are the product of combining genetic material of two different parents). Another option is to take cuttings. Taking a cutting involves removing a piece of a leaf, stem or root and placing it in potting soil (or some will even re-grow roots in water) where it then develops the other parts that it left behind (i.e. a stem will then grow roots, a root will then grow a stem). It is a little bit of plant magic for kids to see the new plant grow new parts. The Missouri Botanical Garden offers a great article with step-by-step instructions on Propagating Plants by Cuttings.
To maximize your success, try to choose plants that are hardy and easy to grow. Some plants are better suited to be ‘pass-along plants’ (a term used by Steve Bender and Felder Rushing in their book by the same name). If you are going to cultivate a sentimental attachment to a plant, you want to make sure it is going to thrive.