Cremation Garden, Trail Design Ideas For Spring Planning

While the rising cremation rate is affecting each segment of the death care industry in different ways, some say that it's perhaps the cemeterians who have the most to gain from successfully overcoming the challenges presented by this growing trend.

And as battle plans are being drawn in cemeteries and memorial parks throughout North America, it's clear that one of the main lines of defense is becoming the addition or expansion of cremation gardens and nature trails.

Many owners and managers of independent and corporate memorial properties are in fact finding there is surprisingly much to be optimistic about when it comes to the possibilities that cremation gardens and trails offer them and their customers.

For starters, they're relieved to learn how areas of their property that they had once considered unusable for traditional in-ground burials--due to sloping terrain, awkward size, rocky soil or tree growth--are actually ideal sites to be easily transformed into revenue-generating cremation sections.

And unlike other cemetery construction projects that can cost $1 million and two years of planning, in most cases cremation gardens and trails can be completed with a smaller budget and within just weeks or months, so they can begin offering more attractive cremation options to their customers sooner.

By their very nature, cremation gardens and trails give planners the chance to be less structured and more creative, allowing them to blend the design into existing topography or transform space previously reserved for traditional in-ground burials into cutting-edge profit centers that have the ability to cause enthusiasm among their families and sales staff alike.

Many projects are being designed in-house by superintendents, with and without assistance from local landscape architects.

Others are benefiting from retaining national firms such as Colorado-based CPRA Studio, LLC which has emerged as a leader in the design and construction of cremation gardens using a team with over 47 years of combined landscape architecture planning experience.

Whether creating a cremation garden covering just 300 square feet or in expandable phases over several acres, here are some things to consider:

Entryways, Signage & Banners
Creating an entryway to a cremation garden or trail apart from the property's main entrance--however subtle or spectacular--is important to give guests a sense they are about to visit a special place...a cemetery within a cemetery.

This first impression can come from an entry as simple as a handsome wood gate under an arbor or as grand as a waterfall with nearby natural or faux stone pillars crafted by a mason between adjoining walls or built to be free-standing.

Distinctive signage, whether mounted on wood posts or real or artificial boulders, can set an upscale or rustic theme for the entrance and various sections of the cremation project.

Festive banners, popular at parks and on the streets of communities everywhere, can be attached to lightpoles surrounding a cremation garden--and linked by similar ones throughout the cemetery--to add captivating color, to welcome in the changing seasons and holidays, and draw attention to the area's unique qualities.

Conveying a feeling of separation between a cremation garden from the main cemetery not only reinforces the concept that the area is a special place, but also can contribute to the overall theme of a project.

Hedges and earthen berms can create natural boundaries associated with a secluded garden while Victorian-style wrought iron fencing lends itself to an upscale "estate" ambiance and no-maintenance concrete faux wood rail fencing makes one think of a rural ranch setting.

Plants, Trees & Ground Cover
Cremation gardens can be designed to be relatively maintenance-free by placing memorialization products among drought-tolerant ground cover, low-growing plants, shrubs, woodchips and/or mulch.

They can of course be landscaped with generous amounts of plants, flowers and lawns, but most cemeterians seem to appreciate the fact cremation gardens and trails can often look their most natural without turf or extensive vegetation which needlessly adds to their maintenance and water costs.

Planners are also excited to discover that existing trees-which have likely made many sections of property unusable for in-ground burials in the past-can now be embraced as ideal centerpieces for cremation gardens or trails and provide a mature feel to new projects.

If maintenance costs aren't such a concern, designers can install various heights and types of plants, from ground cover to shrub and tree layers. Adding variety creates more levels of food to attract birds and other animal life and helps meet the preferred habitat needs of a diversity of species.

Edging an area with shrubs, annuals and perennials does double-duty to beautify a project while providing breeding and nesting areas and a food source for a wide variety of birds, butterflies and small mammals.

(Audubon International offers a Cooperative Sanctuary Program certification membership especially for cemeteries, among other categories of businesses, aimed at protecting the environment, reducing landscape maintenance costs and enhancing opportunities for wildlife. For details, call (418) 767-9051 or visit

Paths can generate a sense of discovery in a cremation garden and can create anticipation for the areas just "around the bend." A good pathway combines beauty and function, taking guests from one area to another in a graceful, natural way.

A path can follow along flower beds, soften and divide large expanses of lawn or garden sections, or lead to a water feature or relaxation area. Stepping stones, gravel, crushed granite, concrete, brick and slate are some of the popular materials used to create beautiful and lasting paths.

Architectural & Landscape Lighting
A cremation garden or trail can be transformed after dark with just a few architectural and landscape lights in appropriate places that inspire a spiritual mood.

Lighting can expand the use of outdoor space while providing atmosphere and space definition.

It gives cemeteries and memorial parks the chance to extend the amount of time for ceremonies into the evening hours, even making it possible to charge a premium for "Sunset Service" packages--which could include a catered meal--with the added benefit of making it easier for those with busy schedules during the the day to say farewell to their friend or loved one.

Children's Areas
Changing traditional social attitudes towards death can start with youngsters visiting your cremation garden with parents and siblings. Their youthful energy and playfulness can be accommodated with areas specially designed for their visual pleasure and active use which may include playground equipment.

The goal should be to present them with a positive experience while they're still young which can transfer into a favorable feeling towards their local cemetery or memorial park in their adult years.

Structures, Landscape Accents & Art
Decorative planters, a gazebo, arbor, rock wall and wood pedestrian bridge are just some of the many landscape structures and landscape accents that complete a well-planned cremation garden or nature trail.
Abstract or real-life sculptures by local and/or national artists can heighten the visual appeal of a project while generating word-of-mouth exposure through admirers who are visiting a loved one there or just taking a weekend stroll at your property.

With 275 acres of greenspace and an arboretum, Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston , MA ( enjoys a reputation as one of the finest examples of the rural cemetery garden in the United States.

Recognizing the importance of the property as both a national treasure and neighborhood resource, in 1992 the trustees of Forest Hills Cemetery created a non-profit organization that raises funds for educational programs, preservation projects, contemporary sculpture exhibitions, and community events.

Most recently, 24 works of contemporary sculpture were installed on the grounds for a one year exhibition with brochures containing a map and artists' statements available for visitors.

Water Features
The sound of falling and running water from a natural or man-made waterfall, pond or stream is popular with planners of cremation projects who know this element is uniquely able to achieve the serene and tranquil environment they desire.

Formal fountains, reflection pools, small or large lakes, and even urns with water flowing from them have an incredible way of capturing the attention of young and old alike and healing the mind and spirit.

Memorialization Products
Industry manufacturers are keenly aware of the need to supply more practical and profitable cremation garden products to give families a reason to keep their loved one's cremains in a permanent place at a well-maintained cemetery or memorial park where they can visit and celebrate their memory.

Columbariums, realistic artificial boulders with recesses for bronze plaques, garden niches, memorial benches, sundials, upright and flush granite memorials, lawn cremorials and mausoleums are just some of the choices planners currently have at their disposal to give their customers a well-rounded mix of products and pricing.

Network with colleagues to discover cremation garden success stories they've experienced themselves or might know about, attend trade shows, talk to your manufacturers' sales reps and keep abreast of death care industry trade magazines for the latest in new cremation memorialization products.

Gathering, Picnic & Rest Areas
The most successful cremation garden and trail projects appeal to both those who have, or want to have, loved ones interred there while also attracting visitors from nearby communities who simply enjoy peaceful walks on the property.

More of a park that celebrates the memories of life compared to the quiet sadness many feel traditional cemeteries represented in the past, today's cremation gardens can welcome guests with open space, patios and plazas set aside for gatherings and burial ceremonies, areas for couples and families to have picnics, and benches where a person can observe nature or read a book for the afternoon.

One or more small covered or uncovered amphitheatres for 50-100 people can be located in a cremation garden for funeral ceremonies as well as nature presentations, poetry readings, musical performances or other activities.

More substantial structures (i.e. a large one-room cottage with adjoining restroom and kitchen facilities) can be built in or near a cremation garden for catering or family reunions that are part of a memorial service as well as pre-need sales presentations, community-related meetings or other functions including weddings which can generate revenue to fund upkeep.

To request a free cremation garden planning guide from Valley Monuments, call (805) 487-1971 ext. 10 or toll-free (877) 652-1815 ext. 10 or visit its website at