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Create your own memory garden with meaningful plants and found objects.

Updated on January 19, 2014

What is a memory garden?

A memory garden is simply an area of your garden where you assemble a few meaningful keepsakes from your life's explorations. Things like 'found' objects from the seashore, the wayside or the woods, things from the places you have visited and loved visiting.

Sitting amongst these mementoes in your garden can help you mentally revisit these places and relive the memories of the good times you enjoyed there.

This is a process that can change over time as you continue to add items and keep your commemorative garden constantly full of interest. But be aware that I don't mean such things as stuffed toy donkeys that you've wrestled back on the plane from the Costa Brava. I'm thinking of more natural things.

All gardens are organic in that they are the home of living things, but a garden that really feeds the soul should be constantly changing, constantly evolving.

There is no food for your soul in a garden that is ignored except for obligatory lawn cutting and resentful, grudging weeding. A garden that stays static can be dull.

Bare bones - the beginnings of my memory garden - Spring 2010.
Bare bones - the beginnings of my memory garden - Spring 2010. | Source
The end of the summer 2011 ... Nature has taken over.
The end of the summer 2011 ... Nature has taken over. | Source

So, what sort of stuff do I collect?

Don't worry, you'll know it when you see it. The point is to keep it as natural as possible. And it's also important to keep it legal, so no digging up wild flowers I'm afraid as most of them are protected species in the UK and may incur fines of up to £1000 per plant if you are caught taking them.

One of the best ways to start your memory garden is with some form of 'skeleton' - you can see what I started with in the first photograph.

At our last cottage our collection consisted of a lichen-covered rock from Pembrokeshire, a piece of Welsh slate, some angular Yorkshire limestone, a beautiful chunk of glistening quartz we found in our own garden, a driftwood beam from a beach in Wales and a piece of ancient bog oak from the sunken forest in Mount's Bay in Cornwall where we lived at that time. We even included an old metal fishing float we found washed up on the beach at Sennen Cove.

And when we moved to our present cottage in Devon we added a large pointed piece of granite from our Cornish garden, to remind of our happy times in Cornwall.

But I holiday abroad ...

Obviously if your memories are mainly overseas based, a memory garden is more of a problem. You could be in big trouble with the airlines, if you try to bring and bring a bit of hefty Greek stone back with you. And it's also important to be legal; the days of 'acquiring' Elgin Marbles-type antiquities is well and truly over so make sure the rock you found wasn't holding up the Parthenon.

So maybe you just limit yourself to bringing back a delicate shell from a much-loved beach, or a special-shaped pebble, a seabird's feather or even a bit of luminous, sea-washed glass to build up an arrangement on a corner of the patio; small finds can so easily be lost amongst plants.

The intense blue of native English bluebells.
The intense blue of native English bluebells. | Source
Primrose | Source
Rosemary … for remembrance
Rosemary … for remembrance | Source
Water droplets on forget me knots ...
Water droplets on forget me knots ... | Source

Soften your hard landscaping with plants.

Having said you should not go pinching wild-flower plants from the countryside does not mean to say you should not have wild flowers in your memory garden.

Okay, so you might not be able to have the genuine article from your holidays in the Yorkshire Dales but there are plenty of reputable wild-flower nurseries on the net, so you could always pick up a primrose or a native bluebell or a spotted orchid from them.

It may only be a proxy plant but it should give you a virtuous feeling as well as a good memory. I have planted my memory garden with rosemary plants as rosemary is for remembrance, to paraphrase Shakespeare. In actual fact this herb is very good for mental stimulation, helping to clarify thoughts and refresh the mind.

And what about forget-me-knots, the flower of remembrance. The Victorians gave a meaning to most flowers, a sort of language of flowers, and there are quite a few books and websites on the subject.

So it is easy enough to select the plants that are meaningful to you to plant in the spaces of your memory garden and these will help soften the harder features of your collection.

As you can see it is comparatively easy to make a truly memorable place in your garden with just a little creativity and it's as easy to do Timbuctoo as in England.

The only thing to beware of is that it can be difficult to leave these mementoes behind if you move and moving a load of rocks takes some explaining to the removal men.


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