Gravener:  n.  A Grave Gardener


The award for the most unusually cool application using our Enriched Topsoil goes to The Woodlands for their Grave Gardeners Program.  Yup—I said it—Grave Gardeners!

Grave Gardeners logo

Jessica Baumert is the Executive Director of the Woodlands, and the brainchild of this unique program.  The Woodlands, a National Historic Landmark District, is a 54 acre property containing an 18th century garden, 19th century rural cemetery, a mansion, community garden, and acres of open space that backs up to West Philadelphia’s University City.

With the mansion already targeted for restoration fundraising, Baumert wanted the many “cradle graves” that line the Woodlands Cemetery to also feel the love by being restored to their original botanical beauty.  So with excitement and apprehension, Jessica put her dream out there—with an open call for “Grave Gardeners”, and hoping there may be 20 people willing to join her to get this project going.

Imagine her surprise when 80 people, many of whom are city residents with no land of their own available for gardening, applied!  Blogger Modern Day Dirae, who, like many of her fellow “Graveners” have become mildly obsessed with their grave’s resident, posted this on her blog:

It is with great pleasure that I would like to introduce you to Mary Siffert Ruehmann.


Mary Siffert Ruehmann’s Cradle Grave

A resident of the 29th Ward here in Philadelphia, Mary was born to Frederick Ruehmann and Caroline Ludy on January 27th, 1846 and died on the 12th of May, 1909 at the age of 63. At this point, I do not know if she had any children. It does not seem likely since she died with her father’s name, but I am going to try to do some more research and see what I come up with.  I have not fully decided what I would like to do to pay tribute to Mary. I am going to visit her over the weekend and see what her grave calls for. Since it doesn’t look like there is any writing visible on the headstone part of her cradle grave, I will likely put roses or some sort of vine up there as a large backdrop to what I will do inside the cradle.”

Mary Siffert Ruehmann’s Cradle Grave after planting

To prepare, the Graveners attended 3 seminars covering topics such as the overall cemetery beautification movement in Phila., Victorian plants and their use in cemetery gardening back in the day, and how to prepare garden beds for planting.

The Woodlands, through the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, used over 100 cubic yards of Laurel Valley Soils Compost-Enriched Topsoil to fill the cradle graves and ready them for planting. LVS Enriched Topsoil contains Compost, which increases soil’s organic matter to:

  • Help hold water, requiring less irrigation
  • Improve soil structure, allowing air, water and nutrients to move freely
  • Provide macro and micro nutrients to plants
  • Supply beneficial microorganisms

The Woodlands Cradle Grave with Laurel Valley Soil and plantings

The Woodlands is one of the hundreds of betterment projects that we have done in conjunction with PHS.  Stay tuned as we chronicle more of them here in our blog!

In the meantime, want to learn more about The Woodlands Grave Gardening Program?

Check out the video below to see the beautification process in progress:

And follow the Woodlands on Facebook here: