It was in early September 2001 that Becky Montgomery, Linda Ross and a two other volunteers began work on the garden.
Within the half-wild expanse of Santa Rosa's old Rural Cemetery, dedicated to the departed, they envisioned their habitat garden as a little affirmation of life, vibrant with blooming shrubs, buzzing bees and butterflies. Here people, perhaps those without graves to visit, could place engraved stones in memory of loved ones.
But quickly, it became something more.
Santa Rosa Memorial And Habitat Garden
Two weeks after they selected the perfect spot in a sunny area at the bottom of the hill, just beyond the Franklin Avenue gate, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 occurred, changing everything.
"We all just agreed that this garden will be our affirmation of life," said Montgomery, a retired teacher. "This will be our way of showing we have faith in the future."
The process of preparing the ground and putting in those first plants also proved therapeutic.
"Everybody was so traumatized," remembered Ross, a longtime English instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College. "It was just healing to be in this beautiful space and planting stuff."
They worked through their feelings as they worked the soil. Now, 13 years later, the garden is an endearing racket of native California plants. It serves not just as a memorial garden but as an exuberant affirmation that life goes on.
It can be found next to the familiar Cannonball Memorial, erected a century ago to honor veterans. About five modest memorial stones have so far been placed, half-hidden amid the carpenteria, salvias, phacelias and ceanothus like Easter eggs waiting to be discovered by anyone who walks slowly and looks down.
Among them is a stone to Montgomery's father, Albert Lauer, an Air Force major who disappeared off the coast of Guam in 1958. Beside it she has planted native dogwood and wild strawberries, because he loved strawberries. In spring, irises burst out in blue, his favorite color.