What is a memory garden? RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2024 designers share how to honor loved ones in your backyard

Award-winning garden designers say that incorporating different elements and plants in your yard is a beautiful way to remember individuals

The Sue Ryder Grief Kind Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2024
(Image credit: RHS / Neil Hepworth)

There's beauty in the way gardens can bring us together, whether it's enjoying tending to plants with each other or sitting with loved ones in nature.

This week at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London, I had the joy of exploring many beautiful backyard ideas. One that stuck out was the Sue Ryder Grief Kind Garden, designed by Katherine Holland. This garden showcased a peaceful place for people to come together to discuss grief and reflect on lost loved ones.

I spoke with the award-winning designer to find out more about using garden spaces for grief and how to create a memory garden in your own backyard.

The Sue Ryder Grief Kind Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2024

(Image credit: RHS / Neil Hepworth)

What is a memory garden?

What is a memory garden?

(Image credit: Gary Mayes via Getty Images)

If you've already explored green therapy, you'll know that there is a lot of research on the wellbeing benefits of gardening and plants. Memory gardens are an example of this, a place to honor and reflect on those you have lost.

'A memory garden doesn’t need to be costly - it can be a simple design,' Katherine says. 'Remember, this space is hugely personal to you and reflects your relationship with the person who has died,' she adds.

Katherine lost her mum in 2020 and has since been inspired to create safe garden spaces to talk about grief and remember those we have lost.

And you don't have to dedicate the whole of your outdoor space to achieve this either, you can carefully use garden zoning to create a memory space within your yard.

Katherine suggests asking yourself a few questions before creating your memory garden.

'How do you want to feel when you use the space?' she says. 'What would you like to remember about them?'

Taking some time to think about what you want to achieve in the space and the best way you can honor your loved one is the best place to start when planning your garden.

Katherine Holland
Katherine Holland

Katherine is an RHS award-winning garden designer who combines her passion for strong design and beautiful planting to create bespoke, wildlife-friendly gardens for her clients.

How to make a memory garden

There are many ways you can make a memory garden in your backyard. Award-winning designer, Katherine Holland, has shared five ideas to get started so that you can create your desired space to honor and remember your loved ones.

1. Use different textures to remember an event

Ornamental grass

(Image credit: TorriPhoto via Getty Images)

A good place to start when creating a memory garden is pinpointing a special event or occasion you want to remember.

'For some, an overarching memory of a loved one can relate to a holiday or celebratory event such as a wedding - or even just a special day out,' Katherine says.

'For example, my mum and I went on a short holiday to the Isles of Scilly. If I wanted to create an area in my garden to remember that special time, I would place a simple water bowl in the space and surround it with loose, soft ornamental grasses such as Stipa Lessingiana and nepetas,' she adds.

Using a range of textures can transport you back to that time. This could include making a sensory garden with different ornamental grasses or water features.

2. Incorporate features to honor their hobby

Bird house in tree

(Image credit: Photo by Rafa Elias via Getty Images)

For something linked more directly to the person you wish to remember in this space, incorporate something to reflect their hobby or personality.

'If the person who died was a craft beer drinker you could buy a second-hand cut-down barrel for use as a planter and fill it with herbs that could garnish your own drink to toast them,' says Katherine.

You can likewise add birdhouses and choose plants for birds to remember birdwatchers. There are plenty of birdhouses in different styles available online, like this green birdhouse from Amazon.

'For me, secateurs and a straw hat will always remind me of Mum and our shared love of gardening,' says Katherine. 'This is why during show week at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, the coffee table at the center of the Sue Ryder Grief Kind Garden will feature both those items as a special memory for me,' she adds.

3. Choose fragrant plants that remind you of them

Lily of the valley

(Image credit: Jacky Parker Photography via Getty Images)

Scent can instantly bring memories to our minds, which is why planting a fragrant garden is a popular way to remember loved ones in your outdoor space.

'Sue Ryder research has revealed that 91% of people believe that the five senses of touch, taste, sight, sound and smell can trigger emotions and poignant reminders of someone they are grieving,' Katherine shares.

'Fragrance is often the most evocative sense and much has been written about its effects in evoking even the most distant memories,' she adds.

Katherine suggests approaching this in a couple of ways. You can try finding plants that resemble a fragrance the individual wore, whether it's floral like fragrant roses or woody like pine trees. Popular fragrant plants include lavender, like this Grosso Lavender from Nature Hills.

'Another way to introduce fragrance is including a person’s favorite plants and surrounding a little seat with fragrant flowers,' says Katherine. 'My mum potted up a lily of the valley flower because that was my granny's favorite flower. Now I have that pot and it reminds me of both of them.'

4. Create immersive planting to evoke a safe feeling

garden path leading to seating area

(Image credit: Sophie McAulay / Alamy Stock Photo)

When you create a memory garden, you want the space to feel calm and safe so that you can use it to reflect.

'When I was overwhelmed with grief and felt an overriding sense of despair after my mum died, I needed a space that would help me feel still and calm,' says Katherine. 'I think to gain such a feeling, you need to be immersed in the planting, to feel safe and sheltered,' she adds.

At Chelsea, Katherine used a mixture of sensory garden plants, including fragrant flowers, grasses that move gracefully and different pops of color to create a feeling of being enclosed by planting. 'When you're in it, you feel protected and sheltered. I describe it as a green hug,' she tells me.

Ornamental grasses for privacy are also a great choice for creating a closed-off, quiet space.

5. Make room to reminisce with others

pergola and outdoor seating area with festoon lighting

(Image credit: Future)

If you aim to create a space that can be shared and enjoyed by others, then it's key to include outdoor seating.

'You may seek to create a space that can be shared by friends and family to remember a loved one. You may want to come together and share that space for a specific anniversary so do make sure the space is adaptable to varying numbers of people,' suggests Katherine.

You can go the extra mile to make your memory space inviting by creating an outdoor living room mixing furnishings and planting together.

Try choosing furniture with soft, calming colors, too. Katherine's Chelsea design had sculptural benches in a lighter wood color to provide a welcoming space for conversations about grief. Find outdoor seating perfect for your space online, like this Beachcroft Outdoor Bench from Ashley Furniture.


Can you create a memory garden indoors?

A memory garden is a space created to remember and honor lost loved ones. Just because you don't have an outdoor space doesn't mean you can't create a memory garden. Try styling houseplants that remind you of the individual, such as using their favorite plants or indoor flowering plants in their favorite color. You can also create an indoor herb garden with fragrant herbs that remind you of them. No matter the space you have available, it's always possible to use plants to create a space of memory and reflection.

You can create a memory garden in your backyard by simply incorporating planting and features that evoke memories of a lost loved one. Katherine suggests making the space personal to you so that it serves you in reflecting on time with the individuals you are remembering.

Find more inspiration for creating a green sanctuary in your yard by exploring our expert guide on zen gardens.

Tenielle Jordison
News Writer (Gardens)

Tenielle is a News Writer in the Gardens team at Homes & Gardens with five years of journalistic experience. She studied BA Journalism, Media and English Literature and MA Magazine Journalism at Cardiff University. Before coming to Homes & Gardens, Tenielle was in the editorial department at the Royal Horticultural Society and worked on The Garden magazine. She is passionate about sustainable living and the role gardening has to play in tackling the effects of climate change. Tenielle is also a houseplant lover who is slowly running out of room for her ever-growing collection. She has experience successfully propagating indoor plants and overcoming common houseplant problems.