Non-organic cemetery decorations

By Peter Lammert | May 18, 2012

The telephone call was from the Rockland Walmart. The supervisor who called wanted to know if the cemetery in Thomaston allowed plastic flowers. I replied that as far as the Village Cemetery in Thomaston is concerned, where I am the sexton, there is nothing in the bylaws that prohibits artificial decorations. “Good e-nuff” she said in reply and that was that.

For about the last 10 years or so, I have tried to take care of the cemetery with the thought that it should be presentable at all times from daybreak to sundown, which happen to be the operating hours. Out west they have “tumbling tumbleweeds,” in the Village Cemetery, I’ve got rolling plastic flowers.

Years ago I quickly learned that with so many different people working in our cemetery, there has to be one person and only one person who answers questions from lot owners and visitors alike. The cemetery hires a crew to mow the 22 acres and trim around about 18,000 obstacles and pick up the branches from the 200-plus trees that grow in the cemetery. That crew could consist of two to three people or up to the 10 or 11 crew members who were working there last Saturday. The graves are dug by a contractor and he usually has at least one if not more helpers. The monuments can be set or lettered by any one of a dozen different monument companies and those crews can have multiple people working there. None of those folks know the bylaws so I ask all of them, who are asked questions by lot owners or visitors, to have people with questions call me.

Now back to the artificial flowers. The original name for what is now called Memorial Day was Decoration Day. I still see a few glass jars with lilacs at the bases of a few monuments. I was told that this was the traditional “decoration” for stones years ago. Lilacs and also tulips.

I pick up the seasonal decorations twice a year, every April and October, starting about the 15th of those months. I put signs at the major entrances (there are actually 22 ends of roads and avenues in the cemetery and if you think I’m going to put up that many signs, you have another thing coming) warning lot owners to remove “winter decorations” by a date certain. I have learned over time to delay picking up decorations for another week for as sure as can be, if I start picking up decorations on the stated date, there will be folks chasing me around the cemetery asking why I have “taken” their decorations. I have also learned to save the decorations for a while just in case I have removed a family treasure that someone just has to have back. I show them to where the ton truck, full of the removed decorations, is parked and give them a step ladder to help them climb into the body and tell them to have at it.

I have some guidelines that I go by for taking or leaving decorations:

Never mess with the pot buoy that marks a lobsterman’s grave;

Leave all religious statuary;

Leave all “babes sleeping in an open hand” statuary;

Leave all wooden crosses that have names engraved on them; (our cemetery bylaws mandate that all grave markers be of permanent material and after years of weed wacking, almost all wooden crosses succumb to the onslaught of the string trimmer)

Leave all stuffed animals etc. that are on children’s graves, especially those recently deceased;

And last, I leave the decorations from recent funerals on the grave for at least a week or until time or frost makes them look awful.

So far, I haven’t seen plastic decorations covering the graves of the recently departed but I expect any day now to see the fresh grave festooned with some kind of plastic tribute nestled in among all the organic materials.

Section 11 of the Village Cemetery is wide open to the prevailing northwest winds. If the plastic decoration that is comprised of various colored flowers stuck in a white styrofoam circle about a foot or so in diameter and an inch thick is not adequately secured into the ground, and the wind gets at it, those circles can come rolling out of the cemetery in anything over a 10-knot wind. I had signs up stating to “Secure all decorations” but the wind took them out two winters ago. The request didn’t help. Folks still just jabbed the metal prop that holds the styrofoam circle upright into the ground and the first good blow will send them rolling. The individual plastic stems if they are securely stuck in the ground will survive the summer if the folks running the weed wackers don’t have a bad spell when going around the monument. If they do, bits and pieces of brightly colored material will scatter far and wide. These usually get picked up if the mowing crew uses mowers with vacuums. The crew on this year isn’t using vacuums.

When flowers from organic decorations get clipped by the weed wacker, they will mulch themselves into the sod within days. Just a note here to anyone bringing decorations in plastic containers: string trimmers or weed wackers or whatever you call them, are getting so tough, the army is thinking of using them to test ballistic flak jackets so just how do you think that the less than a 16th-inch-thick green plastic pot will withstand the onslaught 20 or so times a summer? Very few pots of organic decorations get air borne but some do. Read on.

Please, if your cemetery allows decorations, choose a holder made of wood or fired clay or some other heavy material that will take a beating but still do the intended job. Also please remember that the staff at the cemetery does not water your pots of flowers. Our cemetery has summer water available from five spigots but the watering is your job. Remember that many of the live plants from the big stores use a soil mix that has oat hulls or some such material as part of the soil mix. This seems to dry out rather quickly. If a pot containing such a mix is not well watered and secured, it too can be blown over and become another lost decoration rolling about on the grass.

If you want to succeed in having your organic decoration last the summer, plan on removing the sod where they will be planted, take the plant or flower out of the plastic pot it was purchased in and plant it in the ground with sufficient moisture-holding medium. Then put a weed wacker-proof boarder in front of the piece, and plan on watering it when the hazy days of summer arrive.

If you really want to help the mowing crew and the cemetery allows them, use shepherd crooks to hang your decorations from. Be sure to put your name on the backside of the crook and the plastic pot. We have had one such decoration taken from the Sunrise section recently. I guess I’ll just have to install game cameras.

Next rant: How to secure items such as pots of geraniums on shepherd crooks. You will need Gorilla brand duct tape, about three feet of barbed wire, a small jar of white petroleum jelly, a small clear glass jar, a hammer and a tongue blade. Stay tuned!

Comments (1)
Posted by: Michelle Hannan | May 19, 2012 14:31

I would love to hear how to keep items at the cemetery from being stolen. It is so disgraceful that someone would steal from my mother's grave, but it happens every year. For whoever does this, not that they are probably reading this but..  I would be happy to buy you your own hanging plant or make you a pot of assorted plants, just please leave the ones I place for my mother alone.

If you wish to comment, please login.