Published on: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 Takoma Park Newsletter

Scatter garden advocates turned down by council

By Rick Henry

A group in Takoma Park was looking for eternal life. The big question – where will one go to achieve it? After a several-month search, members of the Committee for a Takoma Park Scatter Garden identified three possible sites within the city that they feel are ideal candidates for locating the city’s first municipal “scatter garden,” a place where people scatter the ashes of their loved ones, whose names are displayed on small plaques.

However, the City Council did a hand vote at its meeting on Feb. 22, indicating no interest in pursuing a scatter garden on city land at this time.

The three sites that the group had proposed are:

  1. Upper Portal Park, located at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Piney Branch Road, adjacent to the CadyLee Mansion;
  2. Stuart Armstrong Park/Woods, a big section of woods located at Philadelphia and Holly Avenues between Takoma Elementary School and Piney Branch Road; and
  3. Thomas-Siegler House and Garden, located at the intersection of Tulip and Maple Avenues

After hearing about and researching scatter gardens, a group of Takoma Park residents last year began pursuing a proposed Takoma Park scatter garden. Many cities have municipally-owned and operated cemeteries and many of those have scatter gardens in them. The Takoma Park scatter garden would follow a long tradition of cities providing a place for memorials to departed residents.

Encouraged by community feedback and working in concert with City parks and recreation staff and the Commemoration Commission, residents, including Jennifer Beman, have spent the last few months exploring the issue and location options in response to inquiries from the City Council.

“The City Council asked us to gather information about where it (the scatter garden) might be located, what it might look like and how it might function and then present it to them,” Beman said.

According to Beman, five criteria were used to evaluate the final three sites that were selected.

  1. The property has to be owned and maintained by the City, not the county.
  2. Immediate neighbors of the property must be supportive. “We went and talked with a lot of neighbors, and no one objected to the idea,” Beman said.
  3. The sites must be able to be adopted without a lot of change.
  4. The site must be “appropriate.” According to Beman, appropriate means “serene and tranquil, but also visible. It’s a hard balance to find.”
  5. The site must be underutilized, meaning it is not really being used for any other purpose.

Beman White said each proposed site has its virtues. “There are a number of markers already at Upper Portal,” she said. “And there is already a garden at the Thomas Siegler property, and we propose to locate the scatter garden behind the Carriage House.”

The Stuart Armstrong property was suggested by City gardener Mike Welsh. “It is basically an unused park with a lot of woods and is close to the municipal heart of town,” Beman said.

As to the other two issues the City Council raised, Beman said that she does not expect that any of the three areas would change significantly. “We would need a sign and maybe a bench or two, and we are not asking the City to pay. We would do a fundraising campaign to pay for those costs,” she said, noting that the group has received lots of support and encouragement and minimal concern from residents about the project.

She added that in addition to extensive canvassing of the neighborhoods near the proposed sites, around 200 signatures on a petition supporting the garden have been gathered, and public comment has been available through a website and a public meeting held on Sunday, Feb. 5.

However, at the Takoma Park City Council’s Nov. 2 meeting, councilmembers expressed concerns about a range of issues, including how eligibility for use of the garden would be determined, the costs the City would incur in maintenance and staff time, and in general, whether the City should be involved in this endeavor based on its other priorities.

Further, following Beman’s presentation at the council’s Feb. 22 meeting, Mayor Kate Stewart called for a show of hands to determine whether council members were in favor of the committee continuing its work or they were against the proposal for the scatter garden. The vote was 4 to 3 against the proposal with Council Members Kovar, Qureshi, Schultz and Smith opposing the idea.

Still Beman and the other supporters plan to meet with them individually during the next few months in hopes of changing their minds. They feel that a scatter garden within the city is something that should and will happen. “The histories of many towns are written in cemeteries,” she said. “This will leave a legacy of the City and create a space for those who are left behind to visit and reflect.”

This article appeared in the March 2017 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.