This section is from the book "The Florists' Manual", by William Scott. Also available from Amazon: The Florist's Manual.
The florist adjacent to or in a town or city, who does a general retail business, will have many vases to fill, and if his establishment is near a leading cemetery it will be one of the principal features of his trade. I know several who consider it their most important business.
Filling vases for cemeteries in some cities is at a price very close to any profitable margin, and if one or two set the price low the rest have to follow, for few people will pay more than their neighbor does. In some cemeteries the florist agrees to fill and water the vase for the season, and although the price charged for the watering, $2.00 to $2.50, for the service from June 1 to the time frost kills the plants, does not seem much to charge, it is by far the most profitable part of the business, if you have perhaps 200 or 300 of them.
I know some florists who have almost a "corner" on certain cemeteries, and there they charge a good price for filling, including a coat of paint. We are so situated we cannot do that. We charge 50 cents for one coat of paint and 75 cents for two coats.
Our best cemeteries are now kept in the most perfect shape; walks, drives and grass kept as trim as in the private grounds of the wealthy, and with shade trees scattered here and there in judicious groupings, the pleasant surroundings marred only by the over-use of monuments and statuary which in their glaring whiteness dispel at once any comfortable or cheerful feeling that might otherwise be associated with a cemetery. And the innumerable white iron vases only still further add to the cold dismalness of the scene. Why should it be so?
Some day a better and more advanced idea of our final resting place will be shown by subduing the ostentatious display of wealth and marble. Graves will be leveled and a small marker will denote the spot where the departed lies, and the whole cemetery will be a beautiful garden with its necessary features reduced to inconspicuousness. Monuments are not by their size and cost the slightest indication of the worth or genius of the person gone before. The most commonplace man lies at the foot of an imposing column, while the remains of a President of the United States rest near a humble stone. The remains of ex-Presiuent Fillmore lie in our beautiful Forest Lawn, known or noticed by few, and till within a few years in a sadly neglected grave. But this lavish display is good in one way - it distributes wealth, and the greatest good a wealthy man can do with his money is to spend it. Work is the best of all charities. We can help some by telling our customers to have their iron vases painted dark green or drab; a few have done so, but not enough.
Most of our vases, whether for the grounds or cemeteries, are iron, stone, or rustic woodwork. The stone vases are usually large, and are costly but much superior to any in appearance. I have never noticed any difference in the health of the plants in any of these styles. Sometimes the handsome, massive, stone vases are left without any outlet for the water to escape; always see to that if you are consulted. If a long dry spell occurs they do very well, but if we get a week's rain in July the consequence is disastrous.
The wooden vases, or baskets, as they should be called, are lined with green moss, before the soil is filled in. Plants always do well in them, but as the drainage is most perfect they take a large amount of water in August and September to keep them green.
Plants do excellently in iron vases. The great majority of the iron vases are now what is called the reservoir pattern. There is an iron basin which holds three inches of water immediately below the roots, separated from the earth by the casting but connected with the water in the center by a funnel of two inches in diameter, which dips into the water and which we fill with sphagnum. The inventor meant it to be filled with a sponge so that the soil would be always soaking up the water by capillary attraction. This also works well in dry seasons, but in wet times when the reservoir is always full the soil gets saturated and the plants die, and we frequently have to lift off the top of the vase and empty out the reservoir. This is a case of sub-watering to excess. I prefer the vases without reservoir. The reservoir vases look all right on theory, but in practice are often more harm than good.
When the frosts have killed the plants in the vases we empty them. The wooden baskets are stored in our sheds. The tops of the iron vases are turned upside down and the soil taken out of the stone vases, or, as is often done with the large vases, we fill them with some neat evergreens for the winter; the Chinese arbor-vitae and retinospora are good for the purpose. We make no charge for emptying the vases. Our people are mostly steady customers and if they are not we do it for our satisfaction, for what would look worse than withered plants where all else was neat and trim? It is no longer as it was when Gray wrote: Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire; Hands that the rod of empire might have swayed, Or walked to ecstasy the living lyre.