How to Create a Pet Memorial Garden in Your Backyard

How to Create a DIY Pet Memorial Garden in Your Backyard by Layla Morgan Wilde

Your pet deserves a special resting spot. If burial is an option, here’s what you need to know.

For as long as humans have loved cats, we have buried them in our gardens or cemeteries. Formal pet cemeteries in the U.S. are fairly recent. I used to live near the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, the oldest one founded in 1895. While pet cemeteries have mushroomed, most people find it more convenient to bury their pets in the garden.

I don’t know who Souffle was but he/she was clearly loved judging by this grave stone dated 1918.

The first decision after your beloved pet dies, is what to do with the body. Sometimes, it all happens so fast there isn’t much time to make plans. If you have time, it’ll reduce stress to be prepared. This is timely and personal since I had two cats die in the past 7 months. It was winter and impossible to plant anything so I waited until spring. It was worth the wait and so healing.

Nou Nou visting her cat friends’ Domino and Clyde’s graves.

Every death is unique. I have four cats buried in four different areas at our old house. They died in Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter so I learned the pros and cons of burials in every season. It might seem odd having our memorial garden close to the house and patio but it’s  actually comforting. Someone else might find having the ashes of a dead pet in their home comforting while others find it odd. There is no right or wrong way to memorialize your pet. Don’t let the opinions of others influence how you honor your beloved pet.

8 Steps To Creating a Memorial Pet Garden
  1. Determine if burying a pet is legal in your state or country. If this is an option, decide if you’d prefer cremation first
  2. Do not bury on public land. If you don’t own your home, be sure your landlord agrees. Chances are you will eventually move, will that change your plans? It was hard moving from a home I’d lived in for 18 years leaving four cats buried there, but no regrets.
  3. Select the burial spot. A final resting spot warrants thoughtfulness. If the ground is frozen, wait until it thaws and store the body in a freezer. The location, whether close to the house, garage, out building or furthest corner of the garden is entirely personal.

4. Decide the burial container.  It can be as elaborate as a mini coffin or simple as a shroud. If being eco-friendly is important to you, I would suggest a biodegradable container like Paw Pods which Merlin was buried in. Some choose to bury their cat in their favorite cardboard box or cat carrier. I buried Coco in a wooden crate of my husband’s favorite, but everyone since has been buried in variety biodegradable fabric shrouds. It could be as simple as a linen sheet, towel or favorite scarf of shawl. I like to fold the cloth securely and tied with ribbon or string.

5. Digging the hole. Grave digging is hard work but cathartic. Use a proper shovel like a garden spade. Make sure there are no underground wires and pipes. Choose a place without deep tree roots. Snow is not a problem unless there is a deep freeze. If the ground is too frozen to dig, another option is needed like freezer storage or cremation.

A. Measure the approximate size of the needed hole. Better that it’s bigger than too small. We knew when Clyde was in decline, my husband dug the hole early and covered it with a plastic storage container top and tarp for the soil. It ended up being too small and needed a bit more digging thankfully most of it was done in advance.

B. The deeper the hole, the bigger the mound of soil. If you don’t want to dig the ideal 3+ feet deep, consider building a burial mound from added soil. That’s what I created for Merlin and flatter versions for Clyde and Domino.

cat grave marker

6. Decide what to plant or place over the soil. Before planting, rake the area to the desired size and shape. You may want the memorial garden to blend in with the design of your existing garden or stand out. The design can be as formal or rustic as your choosing and it doesn’t have to be finished overnight. Depending on the time of year, you might order bulbs or visit your local nursery.

Consider what is already available on your property. I transferred moss, lily of the valley and stones from another part of the garden. Some ground cover choices include: grass turf, grass seed, moss, wildflower seeds, ground cover plants, wood chips, rocks, stones, decorative gravel. I like using indigenous plants that attract butterflies. Think long term in terms of plants, bushes like rose bushes according the growing zone in your area.

I love moss but it must be planted in a shady spot and not in full sun. If you like to see instant results, plant annuals and not seeds. Use your creativity.

 For adding moss, I added small clumps in a patchwork design and within weeks the edges filled in nicely.

cat grave-angel cat Clyde

Engraved granite grave stones or monuments can cost hundreds to thousands depending on the size. A slab of field stone costs only a few dollars. I hand-painted the slab and while not perfect it’s purrfect if you know what I mean. Before you paint, sketch out the name and and date in pencil. No paint lasts forever so expect to touch it up every couple years.

domino cat grave marker burial

To prevent animals digging in the burial area, I like to place something heavy like a slate tile, slab, rocks or bricks. It’s only an issue for the first few days. Cats decompose quickly within weeks and skeletonize depending on the environment within a year.

7. Final Touches are Meaningful and Healing. Added plants, perennials, annuals (quick pop of color), grave stones, markers, angels and other sculptures, prayer flags, votive candles or lanterns, sea shells, crystals, wind chimes, sundial, and any other decorative item of personal importance. Every garden is in constant flux with the seasons and natural cycles. Every memorial garden is as unique as the beloved pet(s) resting there. Celebrate their birthday/gotcha day with flowers. Decorate for the holidays from Valentine’s Day. Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, Halloween an so on, even if it is just to light a votive candle.

summerland_cat grave

There is no reason a memorial garden has to look like a cemetery. It can be subtle like this rustic one for for my cat Coco. Whatever you decide, when created with love will be appreciated by our angel pets.

rustic cat grave memorial garden

I’d love to hear about your cat graves and suggestions.

Love and purrs,

Layla

This post is dedicated to a special cat, Harvey who died this week. May his memory be a blessing. He blogged with my friend Marjorie Dawson in New Zealand. Read about this heroic white wonder cat at Dashkitten

25 thoughts on “How to Create a Pet Memorial Garden in Your Backyard”

  1. The memorial gardens are so beautiful. We have to get started on ours soon. We have so many burial sites in our yard from tiny fish to large dogs and every kind of critter in between but mostly feline kids. We just added another grave a few weeks ago when our sweet southern gentleman Beauregard
    passed away. I have buried so many that I think I have perfected the art of grave digging even while crying so hard I can barely see.
    My babies are close by and always will be. I simply could not have it any other way. They honor me with sharing their lives with me and I will honor them with being with them when they cross over the bridge if possible and a burial. I owe them all that final grace.
    On a brighter note I now have two new babies that magically appeared the other day. Not Feral at all so probably dumped. They are beautiful, one male solid black named Ziggy and one Tortoiseshell female named Luna. Where there is a hole caused by loss there will be ray of sunshine to seal it up.

    Luvs
    Skeeter and Izzy and the Feral Gang plus the new kids and the angels >^..^^..^<~

  2. I have two kitties buried, and there were pavers marked with the names and dates…the others were cremated…also MJF. I want to make nicer stones, and then add some statuary of pets and other memorial type plaques. In a corner by our back steps. Then if/when we move we can just take the markers, etc..and the cremains we have. The two buried kitties are long gone…over twenty years ago…the beginnings are there, but I need more time to do the work. hopefully when I retire…and when Benji no longer tries to be a gardener after I get done…LOL! (Hubby can’t do that kind of work on account of health concerns…)

    Your memorial spots are very lovely.

  3. Beautiful…this would be the only time I kick myself for selling my house/backyard…. but these memorial gardens are beautiful. ty

  4. Thank you, Layla, you gave us food for thought. It’s a beautiful and very informative post at the same time. Our Angels Isis, Hercule and Loupi are in the garden ; we never found Céleste’s body, but her favorite toys and blanket are burried there too. The graves blend in with the rest of the garden for now, because our humans couldn’t decide what to do. It’s going to change. Purrs

  5. Thank you Layla as I am in the process of making several memorials now…two cats that we lost last fall within months of each other…it was warm enough to bury them and mark their graves but not the right time to plant…and also two cats that have been gone for years now but their planted flowers have sort of died off so we are redoing their area…My son surprised me at Christmas with two stones with the names of the last kitties that we lost…and of course the tears flowed when I opened those gifts…and we plan to have two more made for the first two sweet girls…Needless to say every cat I have had the pleasure of sharing life with had touched my heart in a special way…To honor their lives this way is just one more way to show how much I love them…Until I see my dear friends again…

  6. So beautiful. We didn’t do ours outside as our Little bit was cremated. We have a shrine on or fireplace mantel with her ashes, all the cards and gifts we got from friends and family. Her first toy and her favorite treats, just to name a few. We visit it often and talk to her. A peaceful place as yours is.

    Thank you for joining the Feline Friday Blog Hop.

    Have a purrfect day and weekend, Layla. My best to your mom. ♥

  7. Layla,

    The dedication is much appreciated and moved me greatly. Harvey would be proud to be in such esteemed company as Odin, Domino and our hero Merlin. Your lovely shrines have inspired me to work on a celebration of Harvey and Dash in our garden.

    Thank You.

  8. There is actually a memorial garden for the dog belonging to our house’s previous owner. It’s nice, and it’s been left as is. These are good and very thorough instructions.

  9. When we took on my MIL’s cats when she died, the first to pass were buried in her garden with her other cats.
    When we knew we were selling the farmhouse we buried the others with our own cats that had come before.
    We have a memorial rose garden, and a rose is planted above each cat’s body. With Eric and Flynn we have 12 cats in their garden. We try to choose a colour rose that represents the cat it is for.
    Both Eric and Flynn have a near ginger colour for their roses. You can see a photo of the colour of Flynn’s rose here:
    https://allatseawithme.blogspot.com/2020/06/wordless-wednesday.html

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