An initiative started by a grieving mother to beautify her son’s grave has blossomed into a community passion to bring old, tired graves in Purewa Cemetery and Crematorium in East Auckland to life with flowers.
In 2019 Miriama Toms lost her 16-year-old son Felix suddenly and unexpectedly to a medical event. The family chose a grave site in E block closest to their Meadowbank home so they would always feel close to Felix. Miriama planted the grave with flowers to create a little bit of heaven for him.
“The cottage garden type flowers symbolise eternity both in the past and the future and provides a beautiful mindfulness space,” Miriama says. Seeing the lovely impact of the flowers she then sought permission from Purewa management to plant nearby graves, which were clearly unattended because of their age and without families to visit and tend them.
Miriama gathered a small group of like-minded volunteers, some of whom had also lost young family members, and the project to beautify and show respect for an older part of the 132-year-old cemetery was born.
The local community responded with donations of plants, small shrubs, top-soil, potting mix and flowers both from individuals and nearby businesses, such as Sunhill Garden Centre. Sibuns Funeral Directors donated valuable hosing and 40 thermos-type coffee mugs for volunteers and the Little Bamboo cafe provided free coffee.
A friend of Miriama’s made gorgeously fragrant hand cream from the gathered petals from the plantings, which was given as a thank you gift to volunteers for their dedication and hard work. Miriama also provides other grieving families with flower seeds gathered from E block to inspire others to plant their own gardens.
As Summer approaches the critical work of watering the planted graves begins and Miriama would love to see more volunteers, who may be in Auckland over the holiday break, offer their services.
“Lockdown has been difficult for volunteers because while they can come individually to garden, we haven’t been able to meet as small groups and share a coffee after working in the cemetery, and this social interaction and appreciation of each other’s skills and interests, is an important part of what we do,” Miriama says.
“After 18 months we have reached the point where the E block planting is almost self-sufficient with the flowers producing their own seeds and seedlings and the trees nearby produce the mulch we need. It’s environmentally friendly and sustaining and at this time of year, is a riot of colour and beauty, bringing new life and ongoing respect to these lovely old graves,” she says.
Purewa General Manager Alastair Crombie is delighted with the difference in E block and many of the public have expressed their gratitude too.
"Miriama’s initiative along with the Purewa Cemetery Trust Board’s plan to work through the oldest parts of the 20-hectare cemetery restoring early graves that have been worn down by time, result in a type of regeneration and respect for the past while giving families and visitors something beautiful to look at and remember,” he says.