Oakland Cemetery returns to its roots as a ‘garden of graves’ with plant sale Saturday

By David Pendered

Atlanta’s Historic Oakland Cemetery will give a nod to its roots as a garden cemetery when it opens its doors Saturday morning for its fifth annual Spring Plant Sale, featuring a demonstration on container gardening.

camellia

For the first time, camellias will be on sale at the Historic Oakland Cemetery’s annual Spring Plant Sale. Credit: flickr.com

For the first time, camellias will be on sale, including some of the earliest varieties grown in North America, according to a statement from the garden.

The selection of plants includes heirloom tomatoes, vegetables and herbs. Shrubs and perennials will be available, including a wide array of pollinator-friendly plants. All are suitable for the home, patio or balcony.

The Spring Plant Sale is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission is free and the event is open to the public. At 10:30 a.m., HOF gardener Andrew Johnson is to lead a demonstration on container gardening. Johnson has created many of the containers at the cemetery. His presentation is to cover tips for creating container gardens for plants including herbs on the windowsill and larger pieces suitable for a porch or balcony.

All proceeds benefit HOF gardens – tools, equipment, bulbs and trees, according to the statement.

“Oakland Cemetery’s Victorian inspired gardens are filled with unique and beautiful plants and our Spring Plant Sale is an ideal way to get your outdoor or indoor garden ready for the season while supporting a great cause,” Sara Henderson, HOF’s director of gardens, said in a statement.

oakland cemetery

Historic Oakland Cemetery will return to its roots Saturday with a Spring Plant Sale that reminds Oakland was built in the style of garden cemeteries. Credit: oaklandcemetery.com

When Oakland opened in 1850, it was patterned after the garden cemeteries that became popular during the previous 20 years.

As author Tate Williams wrote in a story posted on americanforests.org:

  • “IN THE 1820S, AMERICA’S CITIES HAD A PROBLEM: People kept dying, and church burial grounds were filling up. Fortunately, a group of horticulturists in Massachusetts had a solution and, in 1831, Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge became the first modern cemetery. Other cities began to follow suit, dedicating rolling, scenic tracts of land on the outskirts of town to honor the deceased. This ‘rural cemetery,’ or ‘garden cemetery,’ movement not only temporarily solved the problem of where to put the dead, but it also gave us the nation’s very first parks.”

Williams reports that garden cemeteries were victims of their own success. The “gardens of graves” inspired the construction of urban parks. These parks featured similar types of design and ornamentation.

Atlanta followed this development pattern, as well. Piedmont Park, as the land is now known, was opened in 1887. For the design, sponsors hired the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, widely considered to be the father of landscape design.

The Piedmont Exposition opened in October 1887. It was the second “cotton exposition” hosted in Atlanta in era after the Civil War. Civic leaders intended the event to stake Atlanta’s claim as the center of the New South that was being espoused by Henry W. Grady, the managing editor of The Atlanta Constitution, according to a report on georgiaencyclopedia.org.

Grady is credited with creating a catchphrase that is still quoted today. In a speech posted on learnnc.org, Grady states (emphasis supplied):

  • “I want to say to General Sherman—who is considered an able man in our hearts, though some people think he is a kind of careless man about fire—that from the ashes he left us in 1864 we have raised a brave and beautiful city; that somehow or other we have caught the sunshine in the bricks and mortar of our homes, and have builded therein not one ignoble prejudice or memory.”

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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