Planting poppies to honor veterans

Published 9:00 am Sunday, May 25, 2014

Serendipity Gardens by Carol Hegel Lang

“In Flanders Field” is a war poem written during World War I by Canadian physician and Lt. Col. John McCrae. He wrote the poem after presiding over the funeral of a friend and fellow soldier Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres.

Annual poppies, like the ones pictured, usually bloom around Memorial Day weekend in Carol Hegel Lang’s gardens. – Provided

Annual poppies, like the ones pictured, usually bloom around Memorial Day weekend in Carol Hegel Lang’s gardens. – Provided

In Flanders Field, by John McCrae, May 1915:

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“In Flanders field the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row and row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and we were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders Field.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

Carol Hegel Lang

Carol Hegel Lang

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders Field.”

This poem has always been a favorite of mine and never once have I been able to read it without tears flowing from my eyes. You see, as a young child, I was taught to honor the dead on Memorial Day, whether they are veterans who have died serving our country or family members and to pay my respects with flowers.

My father was a veteran of World War II, my cousin Don Lammers died in Vietnam and many other family members served their country proudly.

My mom started me out young by helping bring flowers to the graves on Memorial Day, a tradition carried on by me today. The day before Memorial Day we would get out the Mason jars from the cellar and wash and dry them in preparation for the next morning.  Bright and early we would head out into the garden to pick flowers to make bouquets that we would put in the Mason jars.

First, we would cut the bridal wreath spirea as they would be the filler in the jars. Next, we would pick lilacs in several shades of lavender because they would add fragrance to the bouquets. Then it would be the colorful tulips, peonies, violets and whatever else might be blooming.

We didn’t go to a garden center and get flowers, but they came from my mom’s own garden where they had been loved and nurtured over the years. There is a difference, you know.

Now it is my turn to decorate the graves and to remind my grandaughter of all those people she will never get the privilege of knowing. You taught me well, Mom, and hopefully I have taught Carissa the meaning of honoring the dead. When Carissa was about 4 years older, a veteran already of visiting cemeteries with Grandma, she told her own mother that she wanted to put flowers on the graves.

Michelle took her to the garden center and she picked out flowers so that when she went with Grandma and Grandpa she could decorate the graves, too. It was probably one of the most cherished memories I will always have.

This little girl trooped over to each grave and set her bouquets by the gravestones as tears fell from my eyes. She holds her hand over her heart at parades just like she was taught, and she knows that those who have served our country and have died hold special places in our hearts.

As I plant the poppies every year I am reminded of the poem “In Flanders Field” and, maybe I am a bit old-fashioned, but I feel it should be recited in every school room across the nation. I wish more people planted poppies in their gardens as a tribute to our veterans.

You see, just buying a poppy once a year just doesn’t seem like it is enough when you think about the sacrifices our veterans and their families have made.

My flag flies 24/7, 365 days a year to honor my father, veterans and those who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

My gardens honor my mother and her love of flowers, but somehow it just doesn’t seem like it is enough. We need to teach our children and grandchildren to remember those that have passed on and about their heritage, and that flowers are a wonderful way of teaching these as well as making memories.

So thank you, Mom, for teaching me to pay tribute to those we love and those who served our country.


Carol Hegel Lang is a green thumb residing in Albert Lea. Her column appears weekly. Email her at