When Memorial Day comes around, my family and I gather up armloads of fresh cut garden flowers for graveside decorations. With 28 grave sites to decorate, having enough fresh flowers takes some careful planning ahead.
For gardeners living in the western desert scrub of Hardiness Zone 6 (which includes southwest Idaho, central Washington and Oregon) our choices for Memorial Day flowers are somewhat limited. Mid spring blooms such as tulips, hyacinths, syringa, and lilacs will have disappeared by the middle of May, just a couple of weeks before the Memorial Day holiday. Fortunately for us, there are a wide varieties of bulbs and perennials that consistently come into bloom two or three days before Memorial Day.
Despite the wide variety of late spring bloomers, not all varieties of flowers will work in a Memorial Day arrangement. Weak or short stemmed garden florals really don’t have the strength to hold their shape in a vase, and will droop several hours after being picked. From experience, we’ve discovered the best Memorial Day garden florals are those with long, sturdy stems including these five varieties:
The iris was first cultivated in 11th century France and has a long tradition of being used in the West for graveside decorations. These colorful flowers grow from either a rhizome or fibrous root stalk, and can reach heights of up to 40 inches. Irises have a very short bloom time with unusually fragile blossoms. Irises usually come into bloom during the Memorial Day weekend.
There are over 200 varieties of iris available. The more common variety of iris we see decorating gravesides include the bearded iris and the yellow flag.
Heuchera ‘Paris’ PPAF
Locally, we call these delicate flowers Cora Bells. This perennial has medium sized, white veiled leaves with columns of deep rose colored flowers that work quite well as “filler” in our graveside bouquets. Cora Bells have long lasting blossoms that typically come into bloom about a week before Memorial Day.
By Memorial Day, we can usually count on several of our rose bushes being in bloom. Miniatures seem to bloom slightly ahead of full size roses, with south facing rose bushes blooming a few weeks ahead of ones planted on the north side of the house.
Bridal Wreath Spirea
This old fashioned Victorian era shrub grows up to 6 feet in height and width, and is characterized by arching branches with tiny clusters of white flowers. While Bridal Wreath Spirea doesn’t make for a nice bouquet on it’s own, it does work quite well as filler. This variety of spirea comes into bloom about 10 days before Memorial Day.
Salvia Nemorosa ‘Caradonna’
Also knows as Caradonna Blue Sage, this 24″ x 18″ perennial produces tall, dark purple flower stems with deep blue-violet flowers. Salvia begins blooming shortly before Memorial Day, and keeps on blooming for many more weeks. The blue-violet color of the Salvia adds a wonderful variety of color to a Memorial Day Bouquet, and their sturdy stem will remain upright in a floral arrangement.
For families who decorate grave sites on Memorial Day, nothing is more personal that arranging a bouquet of carefully picked flowers from one’s own garden. With a little advance planning and some careful chosen varieties, you too can grow a wonderful assortment of old fashioned flowers just in time for your family’s Memorial Day celebration.