Bellefontaine Cemetery (4947 W. Florissant Avenue)
The new Wildwood Valley Gardens brings a botanical garden-style appeal to Bellefontaine Cemetery.
is doing its part to make death less depressing. The more than 160-year-old north St. Louis cemetery has hosted concerts, cocktail parties and even booze-filled tours. Its newest addition, the Wildwood Valley Gardens, is another attempt at making Bellefontaine a less somber place — it's like a botanical garden in the midst of a cemetery.
“Cemeteries are often seen as depressing. This is not a depressing spot,” says Rick Lay, Bellefontaine's vice president of customer relations. “It’s a cemetery that’s not a cemetery."
The garden, which was only recently finished, is open to visitors during any time the cemetery is open from 8 a.m. to 5.m. It surrounds a creek that runs down to a large pond. In the center is the columbarium, a place to sit and enjoy the garden’s fountain. Waterfalls create a calming soundscape that can be heard throughout most of the garden. Plants, flowers and birds are everywhere.
But the garden is still in a cemetery, and for that reason almost every spot within it is a current or future burial site. It's not just plants beneath the topsoil; there are also bio-degradable urns filled with the ashes of loved ones lost. Families can buy up a plaque on the wall, filling the role traditionally played by a tombstone.
Individual burials in the varying parts of the garden start at $4,000. As of now, hundreds of open spots are available. And, starting at $50,000, parts of the garden can be reserved by families. In one part of the garden purchased by a family, a plaque states the daughter’s name while a sculpture of a fox sits atop a small podium looking out over the garden.
Bellefontaine’s Horticultural Specialist Kyle Cheesborough says the flowers in the garden are calm colors, with nothing too bright or distracting. It's important for the garden to be a reflecting place for families in mourning, he says.
“There’s a lot of consideration that went into this to make it a contemplative, reflective space,” Cheesborough says. “Always something blooming, always something going on… even in the winter time.”
Cheesborough says the flowers are often accompanied by a wide array of birds visiting the cemetery through the Mississippi Flyway. Bellefontaine has counted more than 130 species of bird on their grounds as part of a partnership with the Audubon Society.
If the beauty of flora and fauna aren't enough, why not enjoy a few drinks while visiting? The new garden will host cocktail parties and be a prime location for future special events at the cemetery, Lay says. Sips, Strolls and Souls, for example, allows visitors to tour the cemetery with wines and hors d'oeuvres.
“We relocated our cocktail parties from the chapel to this location because it was starting to look beautiful and we wanted to share it with people,” Lay says.
Check out more photos of the cemetery's new garden on the next page.
A fox guards over a family plot in the Wildwood Valley Garden. Family plots in the garden can host anywhere from six to sixteen cremations.
The garden's pathways are lined with plaques to signify the resting place of loved ones. Behind those plaques, in the soil, bio-degradable urns are buried underneath the flower bed.