Rosemary for Remembrance

“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.” – Hamlet (1601) act 4, sc. 5, l. [174]

Forgive me; today I write to find catharsis. There’ll be none, I know, but I can’t read the whole way through the coverage of the Connecticut shooting victims in one go, and I feel the need to put something into the ether.

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My 5-year-old son and I play endless games of "20 Questions," and whenever the category is animal, we ask each other, “Person animal or animal animal?” We both know that they’re the same group, really, and yet something is different about the two. Over the last few days it’s been hard to shake the thought that what separates humans from other animals is our propensity to self-destruct. And when I think about the fools who quote the Second Amendment as a means to safety, I realize that ignorance is on the list too.

However, people also crave meaning and context, and I’d like to think that our constant search for deeper understanding makes us collectively a better group of beings than we might otherwise seem. There is no meaning or understanding to the shooting on Friday or to any other tragedy in the world where children are dying, but perhaps we can scramble around for some context. Rain is currently pouring down my window, putting a climatic face to our collective grief, but as it mirrors tears, the rain also stimulates growth. And so today I’ll try to offer some tiny shreds of context and steps toward new growth.

People have long ascribed meaning to plants and flowers, perhaps in an effort to better understand the world. If I were to plant a new garden today, I would fill it with context and memory. Here, then, are the makings of a memorial garden for Sandy Hook.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Rosemary Photo: Moosey's Country Garden

The clear blue of rosemary’s flowers was believed to come from the Virgin’s laying of her cloak on the plant while sleeping. Thus the plant was called the “Rose of Mary.” Minerva, Greek goddess of knowledge, was associated with rosemary, and in Hamlet, tragic Ophelia gives out rosemary after her father's death, echoing the long-held tradition of rosemary as memento mori.


Magnolia Photo:

The Victorians identified magnolia with dignity, and its origins in wild swamps align it with perseverance.

Gerbera (Gerbera jamesonii)

Gerbera Photo: Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Garden

An Asian and African native, gerberas are sweet and simple and represent enduring purity.

Forget-me-not (Myosotis)

Forget-me-not Photo: Conall McCaughey

Delicate in looks and tough in growth habit, Forget-me-nots are the keepsake plant.

Lily (Lilium)

Madonna Lily Photo: Stan Shebs, VanDusen Botanical Garden

Most goddesses of the ancient religions (Juno, Astarte, Eastre, the Virgin Mary) are associated with the lily. Lilies symbolize hope and rebirth as well as death; it is often used as a funeral flower. In the Victorian language of flowers, the lily stood for youthful innocence.

Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)

Chrysanthemum Photo: Amit Paul

Another Western funeeal flower, chrysanthemum is considered sacred and noble in China and Japan. Blooming in November, the chrysanthemum stands for the light of hope in dark times.


Dahlia Photo: Eden Brothers

Cultivated by the Aztecs, dahlias represent the transcience of beauty.

Dogwood (Cornus)

Korean Dogwood Photo: Wildwood Farm

The dogwood signifies endurance.

Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides)

Gardenia Photo: Herself's Houseplants

To the ancient Chinese, the gardenia suggested feminine grace.

Anemone (Anemone blanda)

Anemone Photo: Zanchetta Fabio

Also known as ‘Windflower,’ anemone was the favorite plant of Zephyr, the Greek god of the west wind. Medieval Christians believed that anemones grew on the hill where Christ’s blood had fallen. Aphrodite grew red anemones from Adonis’s blood as he lay dying. They have long been associated with abandonment and loss.


Iris Photo: John Scheepers

The iris stands for sorrow. The Greek goddess Iris guided souls to eternity after death.

Pansy (Viola wittrockiana)

Pansy Photo:

The French word for “thought” is “pensée.” Along with rosemary, Ophelia hands pansy to the Danish court after her father's murder.

Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)

Lilac Photo: Landscape Architecture Blog

Usually purple or white, lilacs suggest passion and absence. To the Victorians, they represented the beautiful sadness of love and its omnipresent sense of impending farewell.

Zinnia (Zinnia elegans)

Zinnia Photo:

Native to Mexico and brought to Europe by the Spanish conquistadors, zinnias came to mean absence and the sorrow that goes with it.


Aster Photo: Flowers Gallery

When the goddess Virgo scattered stardust from the heavens, asters sprung up. They represent the tiny beginnings from which all great things proceed.

White rose (Rosa)

White rose Photo: Postcards from Wildwood

In Asia, white is the color of death. The Old Testament's “Song of Solomon” claims that love is “as strong as death.” Contemplate the white rose, whose quiet beauty stands for purity and silence.

"Can we say that we're truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I've been reflecting on this the last few days. If we're honest without ourselves, the answer is no. And we will have to change." - President Barack Obama, 16 December 2012

Donate to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Read more: The Meaning of Flowers, Gretchen Scoble and Ann Field