Last night I went to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society here in center city. I got there way early for my 6PM meeting with the other Grave Gardeners. Our talk for the evening was entitled Forget me Not: Planting a Cemetery Garden.
I am new to gardening, but in no way am I new to cemeteries. I spent my life up until I was 21 living across the street from Magnolia Cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia.
I spent most of my childhood running around that cemetery. We didn’t have much of a yard at our house, so the “cem” – a word that I have only encountered in the vernacular of my neighborhood compatriots – acted like a natural extension of my childish territory. Fully half of it was empty, so we used the half not occupied by the dead to play baseball, set off fireworks on holidays, play tag, and generally run amok on.
As I got older, I went to the cem to read. I had a favorite tree that I would sit beneath and friends that I would visit when I journaled.
I was fiercely protective of the cem. When I was 16 I caught a guy peeing on a grave and chased him with a large branch that had fallen from a tree. He ran, dick flapping in the breeze, terrified of the young girl threatening to beat him with a part of the very place he was defacing.
It’s been a long time since I felt as connected to any place as I was to the neighborhood where I grew up. The cemetery and the Wawa and the streets where my childhood was spent.
Recently Frankie and I moved to a house in West Philadelphia. It’s on a quiet little street and, in the months since we moved there, it has become a home to me in a way that nowhere has been since I left Magnolia Cemetery and my childhood home behind.
A few months ago, a dear friend posted a link to the West Philly Local calling for Grave Gardeners. I got deeply excited immediately at the prospect of beautifying a graveyard. And the Woodlands is not far from where I live, so it seemed ideal.
Along with my excitement came the immediate apprehension at the prospect of confronting my legendary Black Thumb head on. I have never been able to keep plants alive. It’s a serious detriment to my image of myself as a nurturing human. I recently got a plant for my desk that I have named Oscar. Oscar has lived for several months on the edge of my desk, in view just above the edge of my computer screen. He was dying in the office of one of my colleagues because she has no windows. But I have access to all the light Oscar could possibly want in my front office.
Against the calling of my Black Thumb, I sent in my application to the Grave Gardeners and awaited their response. I was surprised and delighted when they told me that I had been accepted. Our first class was last month and concerned a history of cemeteries in the United States, the transcript of which I will make into a blog entry at a later date.
Last night’s class was our second meeting, and the last one that will be held outside of the bounds of The Woodlands itself. And the most exciting thing is that, last night, we got our grave assignments.
It is with great pleasure that I would like to introduce you to Mary Siffert Ruehmann. A resident of the 29th Ward here in Philadelphia, Mary was born to Frederick Ruehmann and Caroline Ludy on January 27th, 1846 and died on the 12th of May, 1909 at the age of 63. At this point, I do not know if she had any children. It does not seem likely since she died with her father’s name, but I am going to try to do some more research and see what I come up with.
I have not fully decided what I would like to do to pay tribute to Mary. I am going to visit her over the weekend and see what her grave calls for. Since it doesn’t look like there is any writing visible on the headstone part of her cradle grave, I will likely put roses or some sort of vine up there as a large backdrop to what I will do below.
Any advice that any of my gardening friends have would be most welcome. She is placed in such a way that her garden will receive full sunlight, so do keep that in mind.
I am very excited to begin working on this project in earnest. There will be a lot more blog entries coming as I learn more about gardening and as Mary’s plot develops over the summer. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out!