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.
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.
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
- Determine if burying a pet is legal in your state or country. If this is an option, decide if you’d prefer cremation first
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’d love to hear about your cat graves and suggestions.
Love and purrs,
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