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Perpetual beauty: Pascagoula woman encourages others to go green in the cemetery

TAMMY SMITH/SUN HERALDTwila Ford snips some lemon verbena to give members of the Moss Point Garden Club during a recent presentation at Greenwood Cemetery in Pascagoula. Ford says vases can be breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
TAMMY SMITH/SUN HERALDTwila Ford snips some lemon verbena to give members of the Moss Point Garden Club during a recent presentation at Greenwood Cemetery in Pascagoula. Ford says vases can be breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Twila Ford of Pascagoula wants to encourage people to think outside the polyester flower box.

She recently spoke to the Moss Point Garden Club in Pascagoula's Greenwood Cemetery to address a subject she's passionate about: keeping gravesites attractive while respecting the environment. With All Saints Day on Sunday -- Nov. 1 -- it was a timely topic.

In the center of the presentation area was a pile of trash she and her husband had gathered in the cemetery. While some was litter likely from passing cars, most of the pile was deconstructed and faded polyester flowers and fake greenery, ribbons, plastic flower pots and green foam in which the flowers once had been stuck.

"None of this came off actual plots," she said. "We did not remove anything from grave sites. This is what my husband and I picked up off the ground here in only 30 minutes. This was all wind-blown debris."

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With the OK from Greenwood Cemetery officials -- and she emphasized getting approval first from your own loved one's cemetery officials -- Ford has put her efforts to her husband's family's plot there, where gravestones from 1947 to 2014 are under an impressive Live oak, its hefty limbs covered with resurrection fern. Colorful and hardy pansies are filling in spaces between graves, and lemon verbena and resilient holly fern dot the edges.

"Some holly ferns will live 35, 40 years. You just put them out and they take care of themselves," Ford said. "Nothing was here one year ago today. This has all happened within the past year."

She understands why polyester flowers are so popular: They seem to be easy care, and they lend color to a loved one's grave. But their colors fade, and the flowers themselves fall apart as they take a beating from rain, strong sunshine and heat. Ford had hung a polyester lace curtain from one of the lower-hanging limbs to prove a point.

"That curtain is 43 years old," she said. "Polyester is the complete opposite of green. It just doesn't disintegrate."

The idea, she said, is to find and plant attractive plants that can take care of themselves, choosing according to how much sun or shade the plot gets.

"The mondo grass, the angelonia, the ferns will be here way after I'm gone," she said with a laugh.

Ford acknowledged that some cemeteries have restrictions on how gravesites can be decorated. For those with permanent vases or urns as part of the gravestone, she suggested putting a small plant in the urn -- perhaps succulents or other plants that don't spread. Again, check with those in charge of the cemetery.

She noted that in Europe, cemeteries are filled with living plants.

"They would never dream of using fake flowers. Over there, this would be ho-hum in their lives," she said, casting a hand across the family's plot.

That's not to say Ford never, ever would use artificial

flowers. She showed a few examples where they were incorporated with organic elements.

In one, a few were wire-wrapped around a thick natural vine and draped over a headstone, the bottom of the vine stuck in the ground at the side of the headstone.

In another, part of a holly bush cut during a pruning, became a sort of "planter" for polyester roses, with each shortened limb of the holly bush slightly hollowed to accommodate the roses.

She even added a sprinkling of realistic-looking lush pink roses to small magnolia boughs at the foot of the grave of her late mother-in-law, Rose E. "Murphy" Ford, in honor of her birthday.

Ford also uses found organic materials for creative arrangements.

"I look for where people have trimmed their magnolias and leave the boughs by the side of the road," she said. In one instance, she stapled boughs to a long, rectangular piece of wood to lay over the top of a gravestone. A similar one, made several months ago, decorated a nearby gravestone and had turned brown. Somebody -- Ford doesn't know who -- caught on to the idea and added a few yellow and red flowers to the brown leaves to create an attractive fall arrangement.

She liked that a stranger, in a way, paid the idea forward. That's her goal: spreading inspiration to go greener in the cemetery.

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