Late summer inspirations from the graveyard

I returned to the main cemetery of New Plymouth yesterday. As the season advances inexorably into what is already showing signs of late summer, I wanted to see what was in bloom. “Was She who is the Phantom of the Graveyard there?” Mark asked. He had a personalised tour last month from the bright and bubbly person who wishes to remain anonymous and unacknowledged but who has beavered away there for many years now. These days more volunteers have come forward to join her and it is a lovely place to visit.

Why go there rather than our public gardens to see what is in flower? I am delighted by what is the grown ups’ version of the miniature gardens our children used to make for Show Day in their junior school years. Grave-sized gardens, in fact, which are styled individually, often from donated plants. It is an interesting place to look at plant combinations, plant performance under a light maintenance regime (the area is huge) and incidents of serendipity.

I am planning a meadow for our new Court Garden but, influenced by the Pictorial Meadows excellence in the UK, I want to select plants that will bloom in succession from spring to autumn. At this time of summer, we are not as flowery here as earlier in the season and I was wondering what we could consider. There weren’t many answers for me as far as the proposed meadow is concerned because I think I want to at least start that with mostly annuals and biennials rather than perennials and bulbs in order to achieve the meadow look as opposed to herbaceous plantings. But there was plenty of other interest amongst the graves.

Canna liles star in these small, grave-sized gardens

Cannas and dahlias were the stars yesterday morning. I am not a fan of cannas. They are too big, dominant and blobby for our tastes here and they don’t die down gracefully. But they are certainly showy and the colour range surprised me – from whites and pale lemons through paler pinks to bright, vibrant showstopper blooms. I can admire them without needing to grow them. In fact, I prefer to admire them elsewhere.

Gaura – they do indeed dance like butterfies in the breeze

The gaura looked terrific. Ethereal even, waving in the light breeze like clouds of butterflies. I must try again with these now we have more open areas of garden in full sun. And as I admired the combination of pink lavatera and tall cosmos, I realised again that it is the lightness and movement that I want in our newer meadow and perennial plantings. The romantic prairie look, Mark just called it. That is why I am not so keen on the ponderous cannas.

Hibiscus trionum

One grave was covered in Hibiscus trionum and it was the most eye-catching display of this pretty plant that I have seen.

Lilium formasanum reaching two metres tall

We had been talking about Lilium formasanum the previous day. While it is regarded as a weed in this country and banned from sale, we are quite happy to let it pop up around our place. It is one of those plants that I think in time we may come to accept as a permanent addition to our environment. I assume its weed status is on account of its seeding ways and its ability to pop up in all sorts of situations. We are increasingly of the view that we must learn to live with many of these interlopers and only wage chemical warfare on those that endanger our natural flora – the likes of Clematis vitalba (old man’s beard), Japanese knot weed and, in the area where we live, giant gunnera and pampas grass. The Formosan lily was looking right at home and picture perfect amongst the graves. It is a beautiful flower, though without the heady fragrance of many other lilies.

The belladonnas were also in bloom, as they are on our road verges and wilder margins of the garden here. They are so common we take them for granted, but if you look afresh at them each season, they are a lovely late summer bloom.

Alstomeria flower on and on, seen here with plumbago

In terms of bangs for the buck, alstromerias work hard. I need more of these. Not for the meadow but for my hot summer border. And definitely not the modern over-bred varieties that have been shrunk down to be bedding plants. I want more of the big, tall ones in clear reds, yellows and orange colour mixes. They seem to bloom from spring to autumn and that is not to be sniffed at, as long as you can contain their wandering ways.


All I came up with for my meadow in the end were rudbeckias to go with the amaranthus that has already established itself as a naturalised wildflower here. I may use the Lilium formasanum, despite it being a bulb and I had already decided I wanted the white Japanese anemone in big swathes, despite it being perennial. I simply love the romance of the windflowers. They need to be managed. In a garden situation they can be thuggish and invasive but I think I can mange them in the meadow.

Butterflies, bees and no doubt a host of other insect and bird life inhabit these gardens

Graveyards can be austere, grim places and parts of the Te Henui are of this stark nature, maintained only by weed spray and lawn mowing. But the areas full of these small gardens, flowers and trees lift the spirits and it is clear the public love walking through. Each tap has a little watering receptacle for dogs which was an endearing sight. It is worth a visit and I hope our elected Council officers and paid staff appreciate the special character that the volunteers, led by the dedicated Phantom of the Graveyard, have bestowed upon this place of memories. Some of us even go there for inspiration. Life, growth, flowers and community engagement in amongst death.

Windflower romance – the white Japanese anemones

10 thoughts on “Late summer inspirations from the graveyard

  1. Ruth

    Thanks for your posts on meadow gardens. You have inspired me to have a go in a 30m x 20m area. Any recommendations for preparing the ground without using sprays? I was thinking of laying cardboard to kill the grass/weeds and then gently raking the top surface to loosen the soil.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      We have yet to sow our meadow which is a bit different to the perennial beds we have done. But experience says that the more effort that goes into preparing the area and hoeing off the first rashes of germinating seeds, the better the outcome for the chosen wildflowers. We will probably rotary how the area again, rake it out. And then, because disturbing the soil will encourage all the dormant weed seeds to germinate, push hoe it time and again until we get impatient.our future selves will thank our present selves for this. Otherwise, the weeds will dominate by the end of the first season.

  2. tonytomeo

    Wow, I do not see that sort of gardening even on newer grave sites. Cemeteries are good places to get cuttings of old style trees though. Their landscapes do not change much.

  3. Mark Hubbard

    Graveyards are my favourite place to visit anywhere new. Always by myself, mostly take the pooch. They’re quiet and contemplative, great local history from reading the headstones. Important, somehow. My instructions are to be cremated, and Pauline’s, but a bit of me wishes we had a plot.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      You would enjoy this cemetery, Mark. I think it must be one of the prettiest and most interesting ones around. But I am with you on cremation as a personal option.

  4. Robyn Kilty

    If it wasn’t for Cannas and Dahlias (the Keith Hammett singles) my mini prairie would be sunk in late summer. Oh-h and the ‘weeds’! Hurrah for Orach and V.boniarensis and bronze fennel.
    How is your perennial/grass garden coming along?
    I like your cemetery! And agree about A.japonica especially the white one. Wish that Lilium formosum would take off here. Another gorgeous weed for my garden.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Dahlias, I don’t have so much of an issue with. It is those big, thunking cannas I do not like. I am delighted with my new grass garden. It has brought great pleasure this summer and is filling out well.

  5. janesmudgeegarden

    I agree with you about cannas, ‘they don’t die down gracefully’. I had two: one has been removed and the other is soon to go. I think they are garden thugs as well.

  6. sandra

    Good luck with ‘managing’ Japanese anemones! I thought I could confine them to a bed surrounded by a brick terrace. Huh. They’ve threaded their way under about 2.5m of bricks and popped up on the other side. Boiling water no deterrent, they have to be rooted out. I also now shun Alstromerias after a similar drubbing from them. Having tossed wildflower seed on a small garden near the kitchen door several years ago, I can report that California poppies and sweet William are the longest-lasting in terms of reseeding year after year. Soldier poppies third.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      We already have Japanese amemones but not in places where they are a problem. I am not sure that these plants are suitable for intensively gardened areas with other, smaller treasures but I am hoping I have the right situation to manage them. If not, I will admit when they have me beaten!

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