Decorating Cemetery Monuments for Memorial Day With Cemetery Logs

And Container Gardens With Annual Flowers

Photo: fill July 4th planters with red, white and blue, like red geraniums and white million bells.
White million bells spills over the rim of this Memorial Day flower planter. David Beaulieu

Will you be decorating cemetery monuments this Memorial Day? If so, children (or others) may be curious about the exact meaning behind the holiday. Specifically, how does it differ from Veterans Day? And how do so-called "cemetery logs" planted for the May holiday differ from those planted for Veterans Day? More importantly on a practical level, if you're looking for some options in "patriotic" annuals for your planting needs, you'll want to see my pictures of red, white and blue flowers.

For those who haven't fully examined the history behind the two holidays, they may appear to be carbon copies of each other. But there is a difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day (beyond, i.e., the date of celebration). Memorial Day is a day set aside to honor U.S. military personnel who have died in the service of their country. Veterans Day, meanwhile, is the holiday on which America honors all U.S. military personnel (all who have served honorably, that is).

In terms of decorating cemetery (sometimes misspelled as "cemetary") monuments, a big difference (in Northern climes, at least) between Veterans Day and Memorial Day is that the weather for the latter is plant-friendly. Thus the so-called "cemetery logs" that you buy at the florist or nursery for Memorial Day are planted with live plants: namely annual plants (they're less expensive than perennial plants).

Cemetery logs look like window boxes, and their framework is often made out of rough-cut wood; this framework resembles a log, thus their name.

Like window boxes, cemetery logs are filled with soil and planted. But in regions where the weather is too cold on November 11 (Veterans Day) to sustain annual flowers, cemetery logs are decorated instead with branches cut from evergreen trees, winterberries, artificial plants and other ornamentation that can withstand the frosty temperatures.

Coming as it does on the threshold of summer (Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday in May), Memorial Day offers you better options for decorating cemetery monuments. There'll be plenty of time during the cold months to display artifical plants, so I heartily recommend that you use annual flowers for Memorial Day. Yes, annual flowers will die later in the year; but, in the meantime, they bring life to cemeteries. And isn't that what you truly seek from decorating cemetery monuments?

Except for their association with cemeteries, planted cemetery logs are essentially like other container gardens. Let that serve as a reminder: while you're shopping at the local nursery for Memorial Day cemetery logs, don't forget to pick up a planter or two for the yard. For small yards in particular, container gardens are effective for decorating your lawn, driveway, patio, porch or deck in spring. Just get something with enough size to make an impact. Cauldrons or Greek urns filled with colorful annual flowers are an excellent choice.

Selection of Annual Flowers

Popular choices in annual flowers for use in either container gardens for the home or cemetery logs for cemetery monuments include the following:

  • Ageratum -- short, usually blue to bluish-purple annual flowers
  • Alyssum -- short, trailing, usually white annual flowers
  • Lobelia -- short, trailing, usually blue or white annual flowers
  • Salvia -- medium-sized, usually red annual flowers
  • Geranium -- medium-sized annual flowers; red is most popular, but they also come in pink, white, salmon and shades of purple

Why these particular annual flowers? Well, for one thing, they hold up pretty well with the minimal care they'll get at cemeteries -- especially geraniums, which provide the main accent in such a composition. Also, as flowers for Memorial Day, specifically, this selection of annual flowers offers color choices suitable for the patriotic theme of red, white and blue.