GARDENING amongst the dead

I just did a Google search for two words most of you have probably not bothered to search: garden cemetery. There are, as of this date, 17,400 entries that show up. And why did I do this search? Because this weeks Sepia Saturday theme, as I interpret it, is about gardens. See how easy it is to connect the dots?

I do have photos of people standing in home gardens posing and smiling. I think getting your photo taken in a garden is almost mandatory; we’ve all done it. But how many have posed at gravesites in cemeteries with “garden” in their name?

I think putting the word “garden” and “cemetery” together is a marketing tool. It sounds better to think of friends and family in a garden rather than say…Boot Hill.

When I was in art college I had a watercolor teacher who sent us to a local grand cemetery to paint. We were in a garden, a garden that just happened to be full of dead people with a beautiful view of the San Francisco Bay. The class scattered all over the grounds. My friend and I positioned ourselves in front of a row of mausoleums that housed the remains of some of the most important people to have ever walked the streets of San Francisco. I had a Coca-Cola bottle that I kept filled with water as I painted. There was a faucet nearby where I could refill it.

In the beginning, as we quietly painted, it didn’t bother us to be sitting in the middle of the historical dead, but then we noticed ants. A trail of ants seemed to be coming from one of the mausoleums and then pass right between us, around my Coca-Cola bottle, and on down the hill. Suddenly the place got a little creepy. Where had these ants been? It started to freak us out just ever so slightly. We went back to staring at the view, then looking at the ants, then back to the view, etc. We’d stopped talking. It wasn’t a garden anymore, it was a place full of dead people with ants. And then I felt the tap on my shoulder and about jumped out of my skin. I let out the scream first which was quickly echoed by my friend. No, it wasn’t one of the historic founders of San Francisco tapping on my shoulder telling me I was blocking their view of the Bay. It was the teacher. He seemed to really enjoy our reaction.

I went back to that cemetery many more times to paint. It is a beautiful place with a gorgeous view that just happens to be full of the dead, including a close family friend. It’s where Eleanor is. Eleanor is forever in the garden.

I have no idea who these people are. They're in a garden. And isn't it sad to think that for some the only time in their lives they are sent flowers is after they're dead.


  1. Wonderful description and a thought provoking observation about flowers and funerals.

  2. Indeed, an interesting idea for this week's theme. It does strike me as odd to get people to pose with the standing sprays of funeral flowers though.

  3. An interpretation I would never have thought of. The trend in the UK to cremations means there may be fewer flowers at funerals. It seems such a waste to watch the flowers wither and die; much better where there are rose trees planted in commemoration.

  4. What a wonderful post. I love your twist on the theme. It was almost like reading a novel. And those photos! Such a difference from the backyard garden pics.

  5. I want to see one of your garden cemetery paintings!

  6. Alas, all my cemetery paintings were put out of my misery a very long time ago. I was never that keen on watercolors. If I didn't burn them they're probably in the bottom of one of the landfills.

  7. Oh, darn. I was also hoping to see some of those paintings.

  8. The ants would have made me uncomfortable too. When I took art classes a few years ago, we did some drawing and painting in a nearby sculpture garden.

  9. You have made me think of the well maintained cemeteries i know, with trees, hedges etc. There is one right near where I work. Very thoughtful post, thank you.

  10. What an awesome story! I will spend the rest of the day wondering about those ants though.

    I love visiting cemeteries; we go to each Memorial Day and at least the ones we go to seem peaceful and pretty.

    Kathy M.

  11. Your opening anecdote was so vivid, you didn't need to post any pictures. Those ants! Good grief.

  12. Fine set and fun story!

    I've run across several cemetery photographs over the years in abandoned photograph albums. I’ve never made a set of them because I don’t have a fun story to go with them.

  13. Definitely not an angle I would have thought of, me thinks...
    Interesting though.
    I like cemeteries.
    My mom is buried in a rose garden, a prime location where she is...
    Good for her!!