Memory Tree

Do you have a memory tree?  A tree planted in memory of a loved one?  I would like to share with you my memory tree that I planted in honor of someone very special.

memory tree

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)

You may or may not have noticed in my previous posts that I mention my siblings, our families and my mother, Pastor Farmer.  However, I have not mentioned my father before.

My dad was a very special man….not just to me, but to countless others.  He was a great dad to me and my siblings, but he also dedicated his life to those children who did not have parents who could care for them. 

memory tree

Desert Willow in the park.

My father worked as a social worker in Los Angeles, working with teens in group homes and foster care.  For many this can be a very difficult job, but to my dad, it was a very rewarding career.  He loved nothing better then to help people.

Just over three years ago, my dad and mom took a huge step and moved to Arizona to be near me and my two siblings.  Both my parents had just retired and had plans to enjoy their children, grandkids and travel. 

Just three months later, on Memorial Day 2007, we were to spend the day at my parent’s house for lunch.  But when we arrived, my father had an earache and small fever and was in bed.  A couple of hours later, he was incoherent and was rushed to the hospital.  He was diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis and never regained consciousness. 

To say that we were reeling from the shock of his sudden death, is an understatement.  But, we were so blessed to have him in our lives and the memories of him sustain us until we can be with him again in heaven.

memory tree

Desert Willow tree at Scottsdale Civic Center.

One of my special memories of my dad, occurred when I was 12 years old.  I was going through a very awkward period as many 12 year olds do.  I was tallest in my class, had pimples, freckles and felt so ugly.  But I remember my dad looking at me and telling me that I was beautiful.  I didn’t know how he could think that, but I knew he would never lie to me, and so I hung on to the fact that at least my dad thought I was beautiful.

After my dad’s death, my mother divided my father’s ashes between me and my siblings and I used some of mine around a tree that I had planted in his honor.  It is a Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis), which is one of my favorite desert trees.

memory tree

Flowers from other Desert Willow trees in my garden.

I love the subtle scent of the leaves, but my favorite part is the beautiful flowers that occur spring through fall.  As beautiful as this tree is when in bloom, it is entirely unremarkable in winter, when it sheds it’s leaves.

Hardy to zone 7, this southwest native, does best with regular irrigation.  I prefer training them as multi-trunk trees instead of a single (standard) trunk. 

Of all my plants in my garden, this one is the most special to me because whenever I look upon it, I remember my dad.

memory tree

This is the photo that I use for my google account.   These are flowers from my Desert Willow Memory Tree.

Just three years ago, this week, my dad passed away.  On the anniversary of his death, we were all gathered together to celebrate the graduation of my daughter, Rachele, from high school.  Later this year, my brother and his wife will welcome twin boys into the world.  It is wonderful to see how my dad’s legacy lives on in both his kids and grandkids lives.

My Kids

My Kids Brittney (her broken feet have finally healed),  Rachele (our graduate), Jeff (my son-in-law), Ruthie Gracie & Kai

**I would like to thank you all for all of your supportive comments as my son Kai has been recovering from surgery.  To be honest, I have been completely overwhelmed by your support and it has helped me through some difficult days.  Kai is doing so much better that he is almost off of prescription medication for his pain.  Of course, since he is feeling better, he wants to move into different rooms of the house, so my arm muscles are getting bigger due to my carrying him, which is easier then getting to the gym these days ๐Ÿ˜‰


It will be Kai’s turn in about 10 years…

I must admit, it feels great to slowly get back to our regular routine and I plan on posting regularly again ๐Ÿ™‚

I hope you all have a great day!

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
32 replies
  1. Ami
    Ami says:

    Noelle: Your post really touched my heart. That beautiful desert willow tree is definitely a great choice to honor your dad! I think to have a memory tree to associate with your loved one is such a great idea.

    You are a busy mom with five kids who each has their own events and needs. With only two boys, I already feel so busy, I don't know how you do it. You are such a super mom in my eyes ๐Ÿ™‚ AND, you still post very often!!!

    Glad to know Kai is recovering well!

  2. sweet bay
    sweet bay says:

    I am so sorry for the loss of your dad. The world sounds poorer for his being absent from it. I don't know which is worse, a sudden loss or one that you know is coming; both are very painful but the shock of a sudden loss is very traumatic.

    You have planted a beautiful tree in his honor. It's great to hear that Kai is making good progress, and congratulations on your daughter's graduation.

  3. Patchwork
    Patchwork says:

    Desert Willow is a beautiful tree, to honor your beautiful memories.
    It's hard to lose a parent. But, they live on in our hearts and the lives of their children.

    Your beautiful family, honors those beautiful memories, too. Your dad would be so proud.

    Glad everyone seems to be doing so well.

    Have a good weekend.

  4. Catherine@AGardenerinProgress
    Catherine@AGardenerinProgress says:

    What a beautiful tree to grow in memory of your Dad. He sounds like he was a very special man. I think trees or plants planted in someones honor is a very nice idea. I have certain plants that remind me of my Poppa in my garden.
    Congrats to your graduate! Glad everyone seems to be recuperating in your family. You've had a lot going on this year.

  5. Liza
    Liza says:

    You are beautiful, Noelle, and not just because your Dad said so. You're doing special things in this forum, and I think it's great.

  6. Curbstone Valley Farm
    Curbstone Valley Farm says:

    A beautiful tree Noelle, and a lovely tribute to your father. Congratulations to Rachele! I'm glad to hear that Brittney's feet are healed too. Kai is looking better every day. Have a wonderful weekend!

  7. Balisha
    Balisha says:

    How nice to see the whole family together for the graduation. I asked about Brittney's feet and now I know that she is healed. The tree is beautiful and there is a beautiful meaning behind it's planting.I hope that things continue to look up for you and your family. You can see that little guy is just surrounded by love.
    Have a nice weekend…Hugs to all…Balisha

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Congratulations to your graduate and best wishes for a speedy recovery to your son! A memorial tree is a lovely idea and the Desert Willow is a pretty one here. I too lost my dad – he was laid to rest Memorial Day Weekend 2007. I enjoy your blog very much.
    Daisy in Ahwatukee

  9. Antique ART Garden
    Antique ART Garden says:

    I can feel your pain, I lost my Mom suddenly at age 65 of a heart attack . Sudden and terrible. So glad you have a tree planted in his honor , he does have a beautiful daughter and beautiful grandkids ! the best of him , comes out in his family, bless you , Gina

  10. debsgarden
    debsgarden says:

    I work with social workers daily, and I know what a difficult job they often have. Your dad was a special man, and he produced a very special family. You are blessed that he gave you many wonderful memories. I'm sure he would be pleased with the lovely tree you planted in his honor.

  11. Rebecca @ In The Garden
    Rebecca @ In The Garden says:

    Dear Noelle, your post is so very touching and beautiful. You are lucky to have had such a wonderful father, but I can only imagine how traumatic his passing must have been. You have such a beautiful family, and clearly so much love between all of you. Hugs to you, this must be a difficult time of year for you and you have so much going on with Kai. I'm glad your daugther's feet have healed. Best wishes to your brother & his wife, twin boys are wonderful (but a lot of work – ask me how I know ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). The memory tree is stunning, what a beautiful and meaningful reminder. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  12. Floridagirl
    Floridagirl says:

    How wonderful to have a tree to remember your father by. The blooms are beautiful. Wonderful also to see his legacy living on in the next generation. He surely was a good man who loved and lived his life for children.

    Congratulations to your daughter as she starts this new segment of life. And best wishes to Kai in his recovery. Your family has been through a lot, but you all seem so happy and close.

  13. Martha Z
    Martha Z says:

    A beautiful tree to honor a beautiful soul. This has been an emotional week for you with a mile stone for your daughter, Kai's surgery and the anniversary of your father's death. You seem to have learned to take it one day at a time. God Bless.

  14. Kyna
    Kyna says:

    Second time in a week you've made me teary ๐Ÿ™‚

    I don't have a memory tree at this time…my dad died in 2002, when Iw as 21. He had a heart attack while he was driving to work…fortunately he didn't hurt anyone else. I didn't have a close relationship with him. He wasn't very nice to me most of the time (think Alec Baldwin leaving that nasty message on his 13 year old's voice mail).

    But now I remember good times with him more than bad…and I'm grateful for his half of the genetics that gave me my weird sense of humour ๐Ÿ˜€ I think you've inspired me to write about him sometime.

    You have such an amazing family! And I can see where you got your caring nature, in that story about your dad. I always say that there are special people in this world like you two, to care about those people that others might pass over, or give up on. Amazing.

  15. Marilyn
    Marilyn says:

    I've been lurking for a long time. I'm a desert gardener too. I am so sorry for the loss of your dad. My husband has had viral meningitis twice-and I know the terror. My heart breaks for you and your family. But what a blessing to have a beautiful physical remembrance of his life as well as your sweet memories. Thanks for sharing your life and passion for growing things.

  16. antigonum cajan
    antigonum cajan says:

    I do have memories, of trees that I planted, killed/mulitated decades later, mostly
    Bauhinias, Bucera busaris, Mahogany.

    But I continue the struggle with my blogs, guerrilla gardening and my own
    garden with over
    one hundred botanically identified
    Great blog….A pleasure having dropped by….

  17. Bonnie
    Bonnie says:

    Thanks for sharing this. What a wonderful man your father was, to give his time to people. Your tree is beautiful.

    I hope little Kai is doing well! Those stronger arms will be able to give him tighter hugs!

  18. Hocking Hills Gardener
    Hocking Hills Gardener says:

    What a wonderful tribute to your Dad.We daughters really miss our Dads. The tree is lovely. Thanks for sharing your story of him. I am glad to hear that Kai is doing well also. Gracie looks like you. They grow up so fast. You have been a very busy lady.

  19. Teresa O
    Teresa O says:

    Hi Noelle…beautiful post. I had two memory trees given to my family upon the death of my ex-husband's mother's death and then when my mother died. Both trees stood in the front yard of the farmhouse and each time we drove up the lane they greeted us. Unfortunately, I no longer live on the farm, but the trees continue to grow. Someday, I'll stop by and take a photograph of each them, but it's just too difficult to see the farm at this time.

    Many blessings to you, your family, and especially to Kai journeying down the road to recovery.

  20. sweet bay
    sweet bay says:

    You asked about the Transylvanian Sage — its scientific name is Salvia transylvanica, so it must be from that region. It's quite cold hardy; before reading up on it I had assumed that like a lot of salvias it was on the tender side.

  21. Kathleen Scott
    Kathleen Scott says:

    Lovely post about remembrance and the continuum of life. A tree is the best marker, I think. Death nourishing life which nourishes more life. And more beautiful over time, a comfort.

    I'm glad you put in the graduation pictures. Everyone looks happy.

    Kai is amazing. He gets my vote for character. I'm so glad he's mending and feeling better.

    I'm with you on desert willows–extraordinary blooms and lovely fragrance. I have 4, none of which are anywhere near as pretty as yours. But I haven't given them regular water; our native plant guy said rainfall is enough (it wasn't enough during the last scorching summer, also an epic drought and I did water some then). Is there a particular amount of water that is best?

  22. Gail
    Gail says:

    The desert willow flower is lovely and a wonderful memory tree choice. It's so hard when a parent dies, but especially after such a short illness when there's been no time to prepare ourselves. I chose a Hamamelis vernalis, a native witch hazel, for my mother's memory tree. It's a tree that blooms in the winter and that's what my mother did in the last years of her life.

    Your Kai is a trooper and I wish him a speedy recovery!


  23. Kate
    Kate says:

    I planted a memory garden for my Mom, after she passed away in 2006. Since the house was going on the market, I took samplings of all of her flowers from her gardens and started them at my home. It's looking pretty good! When her beloved peonies bloom it always makes me smile.

  24. Christine
    Christine says:

    What a lovely tribute to your father and his legacy – a growing, happy family. I'm feeling that part of this must have been hard to write – Your love of your dad sure shines through your words.
    I scattered some of my father-in-law's ashes in a hole I dug for a rose, all in his memory. Over the years, the rose got moved to a better spot, but soon a shoot came up from the original place where it was planted. I think he must prefer that spot as the rose continues to grow there. ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. camissonia
    camissonia says:

    Noelle, I was really touched your loving recollections of your dad. When my grandmother passed away about 15 years ago, I paid tribute to her memory by planting a red & white candy-striped shrub rose called "Scentimental," since she always loved roses. Kai looks great, and I think he's well on his way to a speedy recovery!

  26. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    Now i know why you are so kind and generous to kids who needs help, from your DAD! You are also so busy working but still keep on caring for your own and others, as well as your relatives, and also us because you keep on posting and commenting. You are so blessed for that. And congratulations for your daughter's graduation! Oh by the way, you mean Rachel is already married before hi school graduation? That seems so early. Anyway, more power to you and God bless.

  27. Country Mouse
    Country Mouse says:

    I am lucky enough to be caring for my 94 year old dad at home, and my mother lived to her eighties. I didn't have much of my dad's time growing up as he was a sailor, so now we are having this second chance and it is wonderful. I was growing sweet peas in memory of my mum, but they escape around here – so now I have a memorial snapdragon! We didn't have trees in our tiny gardens and I associate my mum with garden annuals, and that's how I hold her in my heart. Thank you for sharing this very touching post

  28. Rosie@leavesnbloom
    Rosie@leavesnbloom says:

    Noelle – what a beautiful tribute to your father – and such beautiful tree blossom. Your father must have been so proud of you when you went and adopted your 3 little ones from China. I have a great regard for those who work in social work – its a hard job but very rewarding at times. My brother and sister in law are hoping to adopt their foster children in the next few months.

    Congratulations on the graduation and I'm glad those feet have healed. Now I hope Kai's will recover just as quick as his big sister.

  29. Brad
    Brad says:

    I think the tree is a wonderful tribute to your father. I've always thought that was a beautiful way to remember those we love. And it sounds like all of your children are doing well/better and I hope they continue to do so. Hopefully soon you can let go of the worries and stress by gardening. Always therapeutic for me.

  30. Carol
    Carol says:

    Oh, Noelle, This is such a moving and beautiful post. Your family is lovely and so sweet to see Kai in the photos. Your remembrance of your dad so touching and your memory tree is fitting with such a special flower. When loved ones are taken from us … it is never easy… but such a shocking way and when there was so much promise of sharing lives … what a heartbreak. You have a such a supportive loving family around you. You are very lucky in that way! Your father's caring so for others is certainly living on within you. Thank you for sharing this.

  31. Scotkat
    Scotkat says:

    Dear Noelle such a tear jerker blog but such an amazing story.

    You must be so proud.

    As I was of my dear add too.

    I do not have a memory tree but a memory Rhodendrum planted inmy garden and a memory rose.

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