Frazer Blog

Reviving the Past With Victorian-Era Grave Gardens

by | Aug 17, 2018 | For Families

grave garden

A volunteer group took their passion for gardening and turned it into a unique memorialization idea. They’re called the Grave Gardeners.

Grave Gardeners

The Grave Gardeners are a volunteer group overseen by the Woodlands — a 54-acre West Philadelphia cemetery that is “a one-of-a-kind 18th-century English pleasure garden, 19th-century rural cemetery, and a modern green oasis…”

Each volunteer individually adopts a grave. Because the cemetery was converted from a garden to a 19th-century cemetery, many of the graves are cradle graves — a popular grave style for the time.

The volunteers care for the cradle graves throughout the gardening season, planting them with popular Victorian-era plants and flowers.

The Woodlands started the volunteer program because, according to their website, they wanted to find “interesting ways to engage visitors with the rich history of the site. Re-planting our Victorian cradle graves is the perfect way to beautify the space and share a unique aspect of The Woodlands history.”

Victorian Cradle Graves

As mentioned, cradle graves were popular a few centuries back. Typically, the deceased’s’ family maintained the cradle grave garden. Families would often spend weekends together, tending the garden and enjoying the rural garden cemetery.

Cradle graves consist of both a headstone and footstone, connected by two shallow walls that create a raised, bathtub-like plot. A layer of soil and a bed of blooming flowers then fill the “cradle.”

As cradle graves fell out of style, many sat barren for years. But thanks to groups of volunteers like the Grave Gardeners, these gardens are seeing new life.

Plants and Flowers

The Woodlands provides volunteers with a list of Victorian-era approved plants, which includes an extensive list of perennials, annuals, roses, bulbs, and ferns that include varieties with specific history to the Pennsylvania area.

The Woodlands also offers workshops that teach gardening techniques to volunteers. In addition, the Woodlands offers another interesting workshop through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. This workshop teaches volunteers about the life and history of the individuals’ graves that they are tending. It’s a unique way to create a special connection with the area’s past.

To learn more about the Grave Gardeners and their work, watch the video below.

What are your thoughts on grave gardening? Share with us in the comments!


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