Back in the mid-twentieth century, Memorial Day was also known as Decoration Day. It wasn’t only military veterans who were remembered and whose graves were decorated with flowers. It was all of our family and friends who had died. It was somewhat like a “Day of the Dead” or “Totenfest” in springtime.
The flowers that were put out in the cemeteries were the ones that were available from house yards and gardens, depending on the spring weather. This year, for example, the cold and wet weather means that late lilacs could be used. In other warmer spring seasons, spirea and peonies would be available. But not this Memorial Day. Those flowers still haven’t bloomed.
Bleeding hearts are in bloom around our house, but I don’t remember ever using them for the cemetery. They were, however, part of the standard landscaping elements carried over from the late nineteenth century. Other “old” flowers included lilies-of-the-valley, tulips, iris, and tiger lilies. The old farm homesteads were fragrant and colorful in springtime, but not so much in the hot and dry summer.
I remember that my grandma’s house in town had most of these flowers. Ironically, however, I just recently learned that my sister-in-law who’s ten years younger than me, really likes the old fashioned flowers: lilacs, bleeding hearts, lilies-of-the-valley, and peonies. In fact, she has them as part of the landscaping around her house.
Plastic flowers are currently much more convenient than cut flowers or plants for decorating graves. So now in addition to military flags there’s a lot of color in the cemeteries from artificial flowers. And, there still are a few real flowers used.