This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
A judicious observer says: - " Churchyards and cemeteries' are scenes not only calculated to improve the morals and tastes, and by the botanical riches to cultivate the intellects, but they serve as historical records".
It is generally admitted there are no such beautiful cemeteries in Europe, as are to be seen in this country. At least, not as regards the grand landscape effects, which render the American " cities of the dead," so different from those of other lands. Not that there is any lack of taste, or appreciation of the beautiful, elsewhere among the people, but where utility is paramount to all other considerations, they are absolutely precluded from practically adopting the extensive landscape lawn system prevailing here.
Although the British empire is undoubtedly of vast extent, they are nevertheless very much circumscribed for want of room within "Albion's sea girt isle." And more especially is that the case as regards cemetery grounds, which in consequence are more limited in size. The difficulty of obtaining available land sufficient for such purposes, to say nothing about the cost, in a great measure prevents them from devoting so much space for mere ornament. And yet, with all these disadvantages, there are many excellent examples of gardenesque cemeteries in England, as travellers often testify.
The well-arranged modern cemeteries of today, with all their monumental grandeur, floral adornments, and fine landscape accessories, bear but little resemblance to the unassuming old church-yards where, for ages past, our ancestors have gone to their dreamless rest. Beautiful indeed as is much of the rural scenery of "Merrie England," where "Town and village, dome and farm, Each give to each a double charm ;" yet is incomplete without the ivy-mantled little church and its quiet burial ground in the picture. And perhaps no other objects than the quaint architecture of the village churches have afforded more subjects for the artist's brush and pencil than have these antique objects of exquisite beauty. And whoever musingly walks through an old church-yard, with its solemn mien and its many monuments of decay, with their pointing analogies on every side, has not felt better for the meditative mood which engrossed his feelings?
The cheery presence of sweet flowers, now everywhere so lavishly used, effectually dispels all semblances of gloom which, in former times, was supposed to be consistent with the neglected sombre graveyards, as they used to be, even since the writer's recollection. And as trees and shrubs give a serene beauty to the land scape, their quiescent appearance is wonderfully picturesque about our final resting places.
"The church-yard yew," so common to the ancient burial grounds of England, is indeed an object of veneration, as the poet Gray thus graphically describes one :
"Beneath those rugged elms, that yew tree's shade, Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap, Each in his narrow cell forever laid, The rude forefathers of the village sleep".
While recently in Derbyshire, I visited the celebrated yew, which still exists in the churchyard of Darby Dale, and where the bones of the villagers, in their many long years of repose, have calmly slept in its solemn shade. This time-honored tree, whose leaves seem as fresh as ever, after a computed existence of more than one thousand three hundred years, is still in appearance a hale green tree. The venerable evergreen measured a little over twenty-eight feet in circumference, and is between fifty and sixty feet high. Notwithstanding its extreme great age, it exhibited no signs of decay in its weird old trunk and branches.
I remember another umbrageous and secluded church-yard, through which I strolled one afternoon in June, where the odor of musk roses, honeysuckles and jasmines, which gracefully festooned the tops of some old hawthorns, were blending their fragrance with the new mown hay in the adjacent meadows. While resting on the old rustic stile, I noticed near by both violets and primroses, though out of flower, nestling among the fronds of the curiously-fashioned Scolopendrium crispum and the graceful little Asplenium viride, with Veronica officinalis, all so meek and pretty. While scattered along the copestones of the surrounding wall, where the mortar was loose and crumbling, green patches of Sempervivum tectorum, Sedum acre, Linaria cymballaria, Asplenium trichomanes, and A. Ruta - muraria, with moss and lichens in abundance. Nor was there wanting among them the old wall flowers Cheiranthus fruticulosus and C. Cheiri, once the glory of our grandmother's gardens, and so sweetly scented as any which grew therein.
While sacred to the memory of other days, and so grateful to the olfactory sensations of the good and simple folk who lived and died among them, grew sturdy bushes of those universal favorites, the sweet old Provence and rich Damask roses, of exquisite perfume, bo dear to all true lovers of flowers. Of these olden beauties, Rosa damascena was welcomed by our ancestors in 1573, while R. moschata and R. proviencialis came into favor in 1596, during the reign of "Good Queen Bess." And notwithstanding the many excellent additions to the Rosary since then, they have held their own among their numerous gay competitors for admiration ever since. And still another old and curious fashioned kind was there, no less than the famous striped red and white York and Lancaster rose, whose history dates from the time of the marriage of Henry VII., of Lancaster, with Elizabeth of York, which settled their bloody feud sometime between 1485 and 1509, Everything around bore evidence of remote antiquity, and even the rose bushes seemed aged like the rest.
Incidentally, in connection with these admirable old roses, I would like, in ideality, to carry the reader back to the beginning of the fifteenth century, when Henry IV. was king. The scene is in a country church-yard, October 25th, 1402, wherein the rose is made to play an important part.
Quoting from "Cullom's Antiquities," the following remarks will convey to the reader's mind the recognized importance of roses in the affairs of the goodly folk of the olden time.
"Sir William Compton granted to Thomas Smyth a piece of ground called Dockmadive, in Haustede, for the annual payment of a rose, at the nativity of Saint John the Baptist, to Sir William and his heirs, in lieu of services; dated at Haustede, on Sunday next before the Feast of All Saints, 3 Henry IV., 1402".
It seems to have been a common occurrence in ancient times to date important deeds on Sunday, in the church or church-yard, where it was usual, according to long custom, to execute them. The reason assigned for it was to give greater publicity to the transaction, in the presence of God-fearing people, who were then assembled to worship Him.
The Romans, in their fondness for roses, left legacies in their wills, so that their tombs might be annually decorated with this sweetest of flowers, a practice said to be introduced by them into England. Both Camden and Aubury speak of the church-yard in their time as "thickly planted with rose trees".
While in "the sacred precincts of the dead," with pensive feelings pondering over the past, and vaguely speculating upon the future, memory aptly recalled the almost forgotten lines with which Anacreon describes the superstition of the Greeks, who innocently believed the rose protected the remains of the dead.
" When pain afflicts and sickness grieves, Its juice the drooping heart relieves; And after death its odors shed, A pleasing fragrance o'er the dead. And when its withering charms decay, And sinking, fading, die away, Triumphant o'er the rage of time, It keeps the fragrance of its prime".
Happily for us, the present halcyon time in which we live is appropriately designated "the age of flowers." And after a close observation of the old and new, it thus appears to the writer's conception of what will come to pass "after we have shuffled off this mortal coil;" we are destined to sleep in some beautiful umbrageous spot, "where soft vernal fragrance clothes the earth," as nature fashioned it; or the imitative landscape gardener has deftly laid out, " where sighs of devotion are breathing of flowers".