Memorial gardens have been an important part of my career from the very start. My first was for my own father as a fledgling designer in my senior year at Penn State. My dad had died suddenly of a heart attack the summer before and I was trying to come up with ways to cope.
I knew I wanted to design and build something on my mom's land in the rolling countryside of southwestern Pennsylvania. Some years before, my dad and I worked together to salvage beautiful foundation stones from an abandoned farmhouse and barn nearby. One of these stones was about 9' long by 24" wide by 12" thick and relatively flat on top and bottom. Still lying on a pile unused, I knew this could serve as a memorial bench. I also wanted to incorporate trees in the plan. I remembered that my grandfather had nailed thick planks of oak between closely growing trees to make rustic benches. Over the years, the trees continued to grow and wrapped around the ends of the bench, further securing it in place.
For my dad, I put it all together. First, I chose the high point of a prominent hill within view of the house and with panoramic views of the area. Next, I built a low, free-standing, dry stack stone wall that would serve as a pedestal for the massive bench stone. Our excavating contractor and his trusty worker had become family friends over the years and they were especially fond of my dad who was admired by many. They were happy to use their equipment and know-how to carefully place the bench stone on its pedestal. My final move was to plant two native sycamore trees within a few inches from each end of the bench stone. Hopefully their branches will reach for the sky and their trunks will expand, enveloping the entire ends of the bench with their girth. Then someday perhaps, my children or grandchildren will be able to remove the pedestal stones and the trees will support the bench on their own.