This is a guest post from Rae Story.

Rae is an artist and Qi-Gong practitioner, who integrates nature in her work.

I shared with Rae this idea of ‘inheritance plants’, which are those significant plants we receive or get to know from other people and the ones we would like to pass on and be remembered for. In this post, Rae reflects on how some plants have become mementos for the deaths of loved ones.

You can find out more about Rae and her work at

I was never very good at remembering birthdays. It was easier for me to remember the month than the actual date. So I probably never had much hope of remembering anniversaries of deaths. And it is true that for people who died 4 years ago or more I really couldn’t tell you the month let alone the date of people who had died. But in the last few years a new way of re-membering has been revealed to me. I began to associate the death of the person with a specific plant, flower or fruit that was in season at that time.

I didn’t decide to do this as an attempt to remember their death dates or for any other rational reason. It just emerged slowly, and it keeps happening.

The first case was at our friend’s funeral, a terribly sad occasion, she was an adored life partner and mother with two young boys and they had all been through so much already. We got lost on the moors and realised the sat nav was set to ‘avoid motorways’, so of course we were later than anticipated which is always a bit stressful, but on the way in and near to the crematorium I noticed banks and banks of snowdrops. Just beautiful huge drifts of white, and it really stayed with me. The following Tuesday I was booked to run an art workshop ‘searching for snowdrops’ in Swinton Grove Park in Ardwick, so this event took on a new significance as we searched out and drew their elegant forms as we crouched down low in the freezing cold park. From then on, I knew I would never forget the time of year that she died. Every year since, I eye the snowdrops and think of Katherine, her love for her family and joy at seeing and hearing the Red Kites that were established near to where they lived, she would always point them out long before I would have noticed their calls and appearance. Now, she is also called to mind by the snowdrops. Last year I bought 50 snowdrops ‘in the green’ and planted them in her memory, but the best is always coming across them wild and free in the woods.

Snowdrops – photo by Rae Story

Another binding of death with nature occurred when my friend’s mum Sheila died unexpectedly on a Monday morning after saying just days before that she felt she had about 8 years left! Such a bright spirit and force of nature she was active and engaged with life and community right up until her abrupt end. The family decided on a simple burial and a local gathering. I didn’t know her very well, but we shared a love of gardens, nature, creativity and expression and I just admired her energy and life force. I wanted to mark the occasion and had just been reading Nan Shepherds The Living Mountain. At one point in the book she talks about a funeral and noted that someone had left a hedgerow wreath on the grave. I just thought that would be so fitting for Sheila. She was as Nan Shepherd stated about the person in her book – ‘a hedgerow kind of woman’. So I experimented the week before the burial, cutting the May Blossom and Elder and weaving in ivy and other flowers and foliage that lined our hedges at home and at the allotment. I figured out that these were not going to last long in a wreath without water, so in the end, I cut and prepared everything and took it all in a bucket of water, putting together my wreath in the car park at the last minute and then carried it to the grave.

Now there is no doubt in my mind when Sheila died, and when to contact my friend to give him my wishes and check how he is doing as soon as the May Blossoms appear.

Hedgerow wreath – photo by Rae Story

My father in law passed away in January. At that time of year there isn’t much in flower, but on the day of his funeral, it was a clear blue cold and crisp morning and the plum blossom was in it’s full glory in the garden. Vibrant pink against the cobalt sky. The plum blossoms are not a flower I would have naturally associated with him, but their significance is about their hardiness and ability to flower in the depths of winter when everything else is in its dormant phase. Their strength of character and tenacity. Which in fact chime very well with his personality.

It feels nice to remember people in new ways.

Plum blossom – photo by Rae Story

Last autumn when Alison my friend and colleague of 25 years dying I had been checking updates and news and hadn’t really been attending to nature or the environment around me. The feeling of sadness landed with me strongly the day she died and I remember feeling that night, that as I was going to bed , she was no longer in the world. I found that so hard to reconcile. I continue to grapple with the loss of someone whose life was so entwined with my own. The day after she died, I woke up early and was full of energy, so much so that I just had to get out of the house and walk. It was a glorious morning and everything felt filled with grace, almost glowing. When I got home I felt the urge to paint something, and so I sat in the kitchen with my paints and paper and painted what was in front of me – which of course was an apple. At that time of year every surface of my kitchen is filled with apples – from the garden, from the allotment, gifts from friends, cookers for the chutney recipe and foraged crab apples. As a result, I came to associate Alison’s death with the apple harvest. I painted two apples that morning and made them into cards. I gave one to Alison’s wife. A is for Apple, and Alison…

Apple watercolour
Watercolour by Rae Story

Having a way to remember the time of year and association with a seasonal plant seems a perfect way to honour people and tend my own grief. I wonder what will be in season when I die, maybe the Elder blossoms or berries would be quite fitting, but I guess like so many of life’s mysteries’ we don’t get to choose.

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