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Fill Your Yard with Special Memories: Plant Commemorative Trees on Arbor Day

By Jill M. Nicolaus (critterologistApril 25, 2008
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Trees provide structure and “bones” for landscape design. Even a single well chosen specimen can provide a wonderful focal point or anchor a garden bed. Whether you have space for one tree or for dozens, you’ll enjoy them more if you put some thought into choosing them. Planting trees to commemorate an occasion or to remember a special person can give personal meaning to your landscape.

Gardening picture

My husband and I were married on Earth Day, and this year we're celebrating our 10th anniversary on Arbor Day. We've planted a lot of trees in our yard, and many of them were chosen to mark an occasion. Each spring as we watch them leaf out, there's an extra joy in remembering when and why we planted those particular trees. The cluster of little Dogwood trees and Encore Azaleas in our front yard (photo at right) was planted in memory of our years at Duke University, where we met.

One of our favorite wedding gifts was the "tree for your yard" certificate that my brother-in-law and his wife gave us. We've always loved the fall color of Red Maples and thought it would be fun to one day be able to tap maples for syrup, as my father does in his yard. We found a beautifully shaped specimen that became the focal point for a planting bed behind the house. A Mimosa tree (a gift that reminds DH of his grandmother) anchors the other end of the island bed. The center of the bed holds a trio of smaller maples from my father's yard, and the bed itself is planted in daylilies and daffodils.

blooming branch of Bosc PearThe traditional theme for a 5th anniversary gift is "wood." We interpreted this a little less traditionally... our 5th anniversary gift to each other was a little home orchard for our new back yard. We chose dwarf varieties in order to have as many kinds of fruit as possible, and with careful spacing we squeezed in a dozen trees along one side of our lot. We had fun considering and debating about which trees to include, splitting them between mutual favorites (apples, pears, plums) and special favorites (cherries for him, nectarine and apricot trees for me). In spacing the trees for the orchard, I saved enough space in the back corner for a pair of pecan trees that I gave my husband as a birthday gift. It'll be a while yet before he gets any pecan pie from those trees; they're still small enough that a new branch is a cause for celebration.

Crooked Willow tree just leafing out in early springA wonderful way to remember special people is to plant a tree that shares their name. Neighbors of ours wanted to plant a tree to commemorate the birth of their baby girl. They were thrilled to find a tree with the same name they'd given her. Every year, she has her "first day of school" photo taken in front of the tree, and every year she and the tree are both a little bigger. I couldn't resist getting a beautiful little Magnolia last year, partly because it had the same name as one of my best friends.

Pass-alongs also have a special place in our gardens and in our hearts. I cherish my "Great-Aunt Erna's Lilac," planted close to the deck where we can enjoy its fragrance. A low spot in one corner of our yard holds a beautiful crooked willow tree, my mother's favorite, which she propagated for us from a branch of her tree. An offshoot from my mother-in-law's Nandina graces another garden bed.

shows crooked and hacked top of our poor bent Weeping Willow With commemorative trees, I think it's important to fix on the idea of the tree rather than on a specific specimen. Otherwise, you'll take it as a bad omen when the tree you planted for Uncle Jeff's 50th birthday dies the next year.

My husband proposed to me under a Weeping Willow tree, so when I laid out a landscaping plan seven years ago for our new yard, I marked off an entire back corner for a willow. We had a soggy spot that seemed perfect! The first willow sapling had a too-short taproot and didn't make it. Undeterred, we planted another. This one responded to the abundant moisture by flopping into a U shape, like a girl bending over to dry her long hair in the breeze. After several years of pruning it severely and tangling it in long ropes in vain attempts to get it to straighten up, we finally had to admit it was a lost cause. We'd planted the wrong tree in the wrong spot. That's hard to admit when you have an emotional connection to a tree!

young Weeping Higan Cherry tree at nursery with Since we don't have quite enough space to plant another willow closer to the house in a less wet location, we decided we needed to replace it with another tree entirely. This tree will also be special, since we'll plant it on our anniversary. We thought we'd have to search for weeks, but at our first nursery stop we found a beautiful little Weeping Higan Cherry. We'll be planting it this evening, and it will be the perfect focal point near the corner of the L-shaped garden bed that edges our lawn. With it in place, I think we will be able to "let go" of the weeping willow that just didn't work out. In its place, I'm planning to put a small water feature. A weeping cherry next to a little pond will still remind us of the setting where Jim said "Will you?" and Jill said "Yes!" Having it also mark our 10th anniversary will make it doubly special.

closeup of blooming branch of Weeping Higan Cherry against blue skyArbor Day itself is an occasion to plant trees. Commemorative planting of special trees on other occasions adds personal meaning as well as beauty to your landscape. A New Arrival, an Anniversary, a Homecoming, a Birthday, a Graduation, a Family Reunion—any day can be an Arbor Day!

Happy Arbor Day!


National Arbor Day in the US is the last Friday in April. Some states celebrate a different Arbor Day, according to the best tree planting time for their region. Other countries have their own Tree Celebrations. See the Arbor Day Foundation website for more information.

Photos by Jill Nicolaus.


  About Jill M. Nicolaus  
Jill M. NicolausBetter known as "Critter" on DG, Jill lives in Frederick, MD, where she tries to fit as many plants as possible into a suburban back yard. The birds are mobbing our feeders lately, so Sunshine Girl and I have a job keeping the Flyby Cafe' open for business! This year, we put out a special feeder just for the squirrels, filled with a seed & corn blend. We still see them acrobatically snatching food from the other feeders, but at least now they let the birds get a beak in edgewise! (Images in my articles are from my photos, unless otherwise credited.)

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
My best birthday present CapeCodGardener 7 34 Apr 27, 2008 9:36 PM
I've done this too Dutchlady1 4 31 Apr 25, 2008 11:25 PM
Good cheap trees cathy4 1 22 Apr 25, 2008 2:19 PM
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