Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Flowers & Meaning of Memorial Day

a cluster of potted purple white and red petunias with American flags at a garden center for Memorial Day

Hello fellow readers;  A Little Hope Foundation funds a Comfort Zone Camp supporting kids and young adults who lost a loved one to suicide. The camp, held the weekend before Memorial Day, reflects the meaning of the holiday and favorite Memorial Day flowers of remembrance.

the American flag and sunbeam with a red leafed maple in the foreground

Photo by Mary Stone

History & Meaning of Memorial Day

Memorial Day originated after the Civil War when 600,000 soldiers died. Originally called decorations day after President Lincoln’s assassination, it became a practice to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and flags in remembrance. The Day of Commemoration varied throughout the states. President Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor and a Confederate spy who never joined the army, plotted the assassination after attending Lincoln’s speech promoting voting rights for African Americans. That speech was on April 11, 1865.

The name Memorial Day emerged in 1882 and became more commonly used during the 20th century when it was officially named, celebrated on May 30, honoring all who died during military service.

It wasn’t until the Uniform Monday Holiday Act that four holidays were moved to a Monday to create a three-day weekend. Since 1971 Memorial Day is always the last Monday in May.

The Paradox of Pride and Sadness

While we celebrate veterans who gave their lives protecting our safety and freedom and those currently in service, there is also a deep sadness over lives lost and the physical and mental repercussions many veterans of war endure.

a red badge with Comfort Zone Camp logo CZC and white pin with yellow and orange Phoenix logoComfort Zone Camp combines healing circles where campers share their stories with fun activities, including a challenge course, always challenged by choice. But mental illness is not a choice caused by unhealthy habits. While the stigmas attached to mental illness have changed, sadly, some remain.

Each year there’s a camp theme in the form of a pin. In 2021 soon after in-person camps resumed, it was the image of a Phoenix, an ancient worldwide symbol of rebirth and recovery. When the mythical bird grows old 500 to over 1400 years, depending on the legend, it flies into the sun and dies. But it rises again from the ashes, first as a worm. It becomes a great sun Eagle representing resurrection, renewal, and the power of transformation and spiritual growth after hopelessness and devastating loss.

Some say a  Phoenix is on the first great seal of the United States that became the national emblem in 1787. Others report the history differently, that the initial image was a white eagle, not a Phoenix. The Secretary of Congress, Charles Thompson, assigned the final say and suggested replacing the design with a Bald Eagle.

cluster of potted purple white and red petunias with American flags at a garden center for Memorial DayFavored Flowers of Remembrance 
a grey dog sitting in front of walkway and garden with orange poppies

Steffi is showing off the poppies in my garden design done for delightful clients.

When contemplating the story about the meaning of Memorial Day, I was stocking up on plants for clients; I came upon a cluster of potted purple, white, and red petunias with American flags at a garden center—bringing to mind my favorite Memorial Day flowers, such as red poppies, based on the poem titled In Flanders Fields, depicting them growing between the graves of fallen soldiers.

Poppies don’t fare well as cut flowers, though, so red and white gladiolas shaped like swords, symbolizing strength and integrity, are often the flowers of choice. Red roses, carnations, blue delphiniums, and Gerber daisies are also popular in tribute to our heroes. Then, of course, there are the adored petunias I came upon at the garden center.Johnsonburg-Camp-Retreat Center-butterfly- garden

Speaking of flowers, a butterfly garden is amongst the beauty of the Johnsonburg, New Jersey Camp, and Retreat Center, which hosted the weekend camp; posted on the garden is a sign– Planting in Progress. Walk gently. In other words, recovery and growth are in progress. So be kind.

Memorial Day of Remembrance & Hope

May the future unfold when there is no war or weapons. Perhaps if enough of us nurture cooperation in the spirit of love during adversity, we’ll sprout new generations of leaders seeking peace rather than greed and revenge. It starts at home.

Garden Dilemmas, Ask Mary, and your favorite Podcast App.

Enjoy more of the story in the Garden Dilemmas Podcast:

*About the Poppies in Flanders Fields

** A Butterfly Garden of Growth and other Comfort Zone Camp lessons in Better than Twenty-Twenty and Lessons from Frosty

Helpful Links:

Comfort Zone Camp

A Little Hope Foundation

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness

mary stone kneeling next to a comfort zone camp signA personal note that may touch some of you-

Volunteering at the loss-by-suicide camps has been particularly poignant because I lost my Uncle Frank as a child. At that time, mental illness was not talked about; instead hidden. But I recall Mom sharing that she never knew how sad her brother was. She may have used the word depressed.

Uncle Frank had a history of loss as a child. Their brother John, died from meningitis before Mom was born. And then, their mother passed away due to complications from delivering my Mom. And so there was a lot of loss as a child, and I’m sure there wasn’t a Comfort Zone Camp to access.

I have fond memories of Uncle Frank, the only uncle we had. His taking his own life resulted in Grandpa moving in with us. I’ve shared that story about how Grandpa used to dig a garden and sit vigil, and I would plant sunflowers overhead. And can still see him sitting in his lawn chair, watching the garden grow.

Our minds and bodies are connected as our souls.

I’ve been going through something physically and emotionally, and I realize the two are closely connected. Since January, I’ve had alarming intermitted high blood pressure that manifested suddenly. Fortunately, some of the scary diagnoses are ruled out. And that’s been a process over time. Seeking in my heart, I realize my headspace is a likely culprit and have accessed a counselor through Mental Health Association, a local agency, to help. I am grateful for the healing underway.

I’m sharing this to encourage those struggling to find support. We tend to internalize stress and hardships. Complicating that is what’s happening in the world and the “news” deceiving ways of manipulating information and selling fear to boost ratings. It’s disturbing, adding to the unsettled feeling in our hearts. Not to say we should have our heads in the sand, but I don’t know; I’ll keep my head in the garden as much healing and growth can occur in nature and digging in the dirt. I hope it helps you too.

Thank you for listening to my personal story. I wish you a peaceful day, and may we never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice serving our country. And at the same time, may we feel inspired to serve and help others as we go through our daily lives.

Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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