Grove Street Cemetery Horticulture


When you walk through the Grove Street Cemetery, take some time to look at the handsome trees and plants as well as the monuments and famous names. Grove Street is truly an oasis (definition—a green area in an arid region—a refuge) in the outer ring of downtown New Haven. Entering through Austin’s NeoEgyptian gateway, you may well be deeply impressed by the abundance of trees, bushes, and flower plants of many kinds.

The original organizers of the cemetery certainly planned on an oasis when they decided to name the north-south avenues for trees and several east-west paths for plants. In the lore of the cemetery, this decision is attributed to the idea that living things should be recalled in the city of the dead. Even in the early phases of development, James Hillhouse was concerned with the appearance of the cemetery and wrote that he thought Lombardy poplars and willows would be appropriate.

Although no tree in the cemetery is original to the 1796 date, there are many handsome huge old trees which date to the middle of the nineteenth century when money was collected to fund rebeautification. Unfortunately many of these trees are succumbing to advanced age, disease, and storm damage. As these trees die or become too deformed, they are being replaced, often by the same species but by a different variety (think of the species, rose, and the many varieties, e.g., “Peace,” for comparison). For instance, several venerable maples (Acer) on Maple Avenue have had to be replaced. A new variety (rubrum) was chosen because it will have a “shapely, dense, well-rounded head” and is noted for its “brilliant scarlet fall coloring.” On Magnolia Avenue, the species name (Magnolia) offers numerous possibilities and you will find a number of different bush or small tree magnolias (varieties stellata and soulangiana), as well as several examples of evergreen magnolias (M. macrophylla), a tree more often seen in the South with great luscious perfumed white blossoms in the summer and slick green leaves all year. There are cedars (Cedrus) on Cedar Avenue, though plants on all the avenues are not exclusively devoted to their names.

In a pleasant way, different species throughout the cemetery provide landscape interest. There are also some rare species—try to visit in the spring when dogwoods (Cornus) are in bloom and find the tree on the corner of Myrtle Path and Maple Avenue which is an unusual double-flowered variety. Many plots have been individually landscaped and are lovely, especially in the summer. The Grove Street fence berm is planted and kept beautifully by the Superintendent’s wife, son, and assistants. There are benches there to sit back on and survey the whole cemetery.

Currently, trees have been occupying a lot of the energy of the Friends of the Grove Street Cemetery, because we are in the midst of a capital campaign aimed at enhancing and renewing the edges of the avenues and paths which are commonly maintained as opposed to the plots which can be individually beautified. Recently the Proprietors of the cemetery and the Friends, realizing the need, employed Ballmori and Associates to put together a master plan for this renewal. In 2001 they produced a well-thought out presentation which has been adopted and is being implemented in stages. The plan involves plants as well as resetting of the edging and improvement of the surfaces of the avenues and paths.

In the spring of 2002, eight gingkoes (Gingko) and four locusts (Gleditsia) were planted on Myrtle Path and Central Avenue, respectively, and in 2003 eighteen gingkoes and two locusts were added. A good stand of locusts already shaded Central Avenue and the new ones have been added to this graceful alle. Some of the less compatible trees on this avenue will be moved or replaced in the future. Gingkoes were chosen for Myrtle Path because they are handsome, vigorous, “city-type” trees, an underused species, native China. It has lovely small fan-shaped leaves which turn a brilliant yellow in the fall—another good season to visit the cemetery and take in its beauty. Feel free to walk into this oasis, many times in many seasons.


Friends of the Grove Street Cemetery, Inc.
P. O. Box #9238
New Haven, CT 06533-0238