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

Meaning of Memorial Day – A Little Hope

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 funded a recent Comfort Zone Camp supporting those who lost a parent, child, or sibling to suicide. The camp, held the weekend before Memorial Day, reflects the meaning of Memorial Day. Gratitude fills my heart.

President Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial

Photo By Jeremy Straub on Unsplash.

History and Meaning of Memorial Day

Memorial Day originated after the Civil War (April 12, 1861, to April 9, 1865), 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 Confederate spy, who never joined the army, plotted the assassination after attending Lincoln’s speech promoting voting rights for African Americans (April 11, 1865).

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

It wasn’t until the Uniform Monday Holiday Act that four holidays, including Memorial Day, moved to a Monday to create a three-day weekend. Since 1971, Memorial Day is always the last Monday in May. We honor and gratefully thank those who have served our country.

The Phoenix – a symbol of Rebirth and Recovery
a red badge with Comfort Zone Camp logo CZC and white pin with yellow and orange Phoenix logo

Comfort Zone Camp 2021 Pheonix Theme Pin

Admiration fills my heart for the courage and resilience of the campers who attended last weekend’s Comfort Zone Camp (CZC), the fourth camp to include an adult program because of the need to modify protocols to keep families and volunteers safe during Covid.

The parent-guardian  program mirrored the youth program– a combination of  healing circles where campers can share their stories and fun activities, including a challenge course, always “challenge by choice.” But mental illness, like most physical illnesses, is not a choice caused by unhealthy habits. While the stigmas attached to mental illness have changed over the years, sadly, some remain.

Growth after devastating loss.

Each year CZC has a theme in the form of a pin. 2021’s pin is an image of a Phoenix, an ancient worldwide symbol of rebirth and recovery. When the mythical bird grows old (500 to over 1400 years old, depending on the legend), it flies into the sun and dies. But it rises again from the ashes, first as a worm. Then it grows to become a great sun eagle representing resurrection, renewal, and the power of transformation and spiritual growth after hopelessness and devastating loss.

Some say a Phoenix was the bird 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. After that, Charles Thomson, the secretary of Congress, 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 DayFavorite Memorial Day Flowers 

Memorial Day flowers used to decorate gravesites include 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 also are popular in tribute to our heroes. Then there are the adored petunias.

Speaking of flowers, there is a butterfly garden amongst the beauty of the Johnsonburg (NJ) Camp & Retreat Center, which hosted last weekend’s camp. Posted on the garden is a sign – “Planting in Progress. Walk Gently.” In other words, Recovery & Growth is in Progress. So be kind—Garden Dilemmas? (and your favorite Podcast App).

This story is featured in the Garden Dilemmas Podcast:

Column updated 5/28/23

*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, 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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