Seeds of Remembrance Flourish
This Pennsylvania woman plants "bulbs not bombs" to honor 9/11 victims and to create a place of peace.
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Judy Focareta choked back tears as she described her feelings when she first heard the news of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks.
"The knowledge life was never going to be the same for any of us in this country, or the world, was sad to me," she said.
Planting a Memorial Peace Garden was her way of dealing with that sadness. “I was looking to do something in a positive way to remember those who lost their lives," Focareta said.
Inspired by a magazine article about an Amsterdam florist who sent bulbs to be planted in New York City parks, she decided to create her "something positive" in the courtyard behind her house.
She was taken by a quote from one of the volunteer gardeners: "Plant bulbs not bombs."
"That's exactly how I felt," she said. "Instead of seeking vengeance, the best way to honor those who died would be to help those who were grieving, so I thought, 'A peace garden, what could be better?'"
The garden is tucked behind the little bed-and-breakfast she runs in Saxonburg, in western Pennsylvania, wedged in beside an old garage with walls covered in ivy and clematis vines.
Focareta kept the original brick-and-stone walkways but dispatched the invasive mint that overran most of the garden. She planted perennials around the existing trees and filled window boxes with blooming plants.
Her garden is a public space open to all who would like to see it. "I wanted it to be available to anybody who felt the need to come in, sit and enjoy it," she said.
But it's not simply beautiful. It also reflects its purpose.
- Anemone struggles to keep its blooms open in the afternoon rain in Judith Focareta's Memorial Peace Garden at her Mainstay Bed-and-Breakfast. (SHNS photo by Bob Donaldson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
"I wanted it to have flowers in it that reflected attributes of peace and peacemakers," Focareta said. "I also had the idea if you planted flowers that originated in all parts of the world it would signify that we could all live in harmony." A Japanese anemone blooms happily right next to Russian sage, garden diplomacy at its best.
Focareta's favorite spot is a cloth swing hanging under a huge tulip tree, where people can sit and be hidden by a thick canopy of leaves. "It's like being part of the tree," she said.
In the corner behind a 3-year-old oak leaf hydrangea are two wicker chairs shaded by a magnolia tree. Focareta wants visitors to feel comfortable in the space. "I think it's an overall sense that they can relax when they're there. It's a place where they can feel safe and not worry about anything for a while."
Focareta's garden is part of a national program called the Living Memorials Project, sponsored by the Forest Service, a unit of the federal Department of Agriculture.
"We're trying to convey the restorative power of trees through this project," said Peter Rodbell, the Forest Service's program manager for urban and community forestry. There are now more than 650 sites registered. Most of the gardens are close to one of the three sites struck by airliners in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"Having a connection to one of the sites is pretty important," Rodbell said, since the gardens are intended to be places where communities can honor the heroes and victims.
"There are some very powerful sites," he said.
One is at the Shrine of St. Joseph in Long Hill, N.J. Organizers there were able to acquire three steel beams from the World Trade Center, and they put in some ancient bells.
"When that bell goes off, it's chilling," Rodbell said.
Trees are an important part of the project because of their long life span. Rodbell hopes the gardens will help heal wounds caused by the attacks, and then continue to provide solace.
Focareta said she believes the current efforts are just the beginning. "I would really like to see more gardens like this; that's my hope," she said. "I just imagined there would be so many people that started these gardens.
"Designate even the smallest space where you can feel peaceful and just contemplate your place in the world and how to make the world better."
Information about the Living Memorials Projects is available at www.livingmemorialsproject.net.
Doug Oster writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
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