These peonies are getting ready to bloom, they were brought to the garden from Tarr’s mother-in-law’s garden, Clarice Tarr. Photos courtesy of Karen Tarr

Gardening Green with Doug 

Paying Tribute to Pearl With a Pearl Bush: A Memorial Garden to Honor Loved Ones

By Doug Oster


May 5, 2021

When I posted a picture of my pearl bush (Exochorda) in full bloom on my Facebook page, Karen Tarr commented, “OMG, I have one blooming in honor of my mom, whose name was Pearl. Love the bush.”

I reached out to Tarr, to find out the details and learned there was so much more than just that one plant in her garden, planted to remember love ones.

It was a decade ago when she and her husband Dick began to search for something to plant in memory of her mother. Karen knew right where the plant should go, near the driveway where it would on display every day.

The couple often shop at Snavely’s Garden Corner, near their home in Chambersburg, Pa.

“They have great service, she says, you can ask them anything.” When Dick stumbled onto the pearl bush, they had plenty of questions for owner Chris Snavely about the culture of the plant.

The planting site had morning sun until 11 a.m. and then shade. Snavely gave the couple a rundown of the plant and they left the nursery to go home and plant.

“I was still working,” Tarr says. “Every time I’d come in, I would see it, every time I would leave, I would see it. Kind of like saying, hi mom, goodnight mom.” It was reminiscent of their life together. Tarr would call her mother every morning at 5:30, checking on her before work and then often call in the evening too. “Kind of like when you were a kid, you’d see your mom every day, she says of the shrub.

The plant has not only survived by thrived, it’s certainly special while in bloom, but is a reminder of her mother year-round.

“She had a big heart and helped a lot of people. Davis worked at a school cafeteria and loved the children,” her daughter said. “When we sit on my front porch, I get to see it bloom,” she said happily.

The pearl bush is an unusual plant that you don’t see that often in the landscape. The neighbors came over to check out the unique shrub and were amazed at the special meaning it had for the family.

“Everybody in the neighborhood just loved it,” she says proudly. “It’s for my mom, and everyone thought that was such a neat idea.”

Her childhood fascination with stargazing continues, as she shares evenings looking skyward with the pearl bush next to her.

Her late father Garnet Davis has also inspired the plantings in the garden. Tarr moved irises from their family home, they bloom in purple, lavender and yellow. She has embraced native plants in the garden too, by adding pretty purple wood irises which also remind Tarr of her father.

Spruce trees throw their seeds throughout the garden, sprouting wherever they are happy. They conjure childhood memories for her.

“As a kid, we wouldn’t buy a Christmas tree, we would go into the woods and cut one willy nilly,” she says with a chuckle.

Tarr moved one of the seedlings when it a sapling, now it’s nearly five feet tall, growing right outside her window.

“I’m just so happy, she says, I’m going to decorate it for Christmas. That’s the type of tree we had in our house because it was free.”

Her mother-in-law’s peonies were transplanted before her property was sold and now bloom annually in her garden.

“I always get purple petunias,” Tarr says. “My mother-in-law loved purple.” She liked portulaca too, so the couple always buys portulaca in her memory.

A hydrangea was planted at her childhood home, now there is also one in her garden.

“We always had one outside of my front door when I was a kid,” says Tarr. “We called them snowball bushes.”

She’s finding a space for a spirea bush which also was part of the landscape when she was growing up. Trumpet vines climb on a fence away from the house as another reminder of childhood.

Mae Davis was Tarr’s beloved grandmother who never wore perfume in favor of a little bit of Avon’s Lily of The Valley Cream Sachet behind her ears.

“It was kind of overwhelming,” Tarr says with a laugh.

She planted a small pot of lily of the valley, which has spread around the house and is blooming now.

“I always cut them and bring them in the house because they remind me of my grandmother,” she added quietly about the sweet fragrance. “She never wore trousers — always in her little dress and apron. I can just see her sitting on her porch when we would go visit her on Sundays,” Tarr says affectionately.

When thinking about the pearl bush, wondering what her mother’s reaction would be, she says, “I think my mom would love the fact we bought it for her, and I didn’t kill it,” Tarr said laughing.

This year she pruned it a little late and the blooms aren’t quite as spectacular as they’ve been in the past. “I think she would say, ‘you pruned it at the wrong time, Karen!’”

“I’ll do better next year,” she said, just like she was responding to her mom. Then, after thinking for a moment, Tarr added, “She would have approved.”

Karen Tarr’s parents, Pearl and Garnet Davis.
Clarice Tarr, Karen Tarr’s mother-in-law.
This pearl bush was planted my Karen Tarr in memory of her mother Pearl Davis.
Wood irises remind Karen Tarr of her father.
Lily of the valley is blooming right now in Karen Tarr’s garden and brings back memories of her grandmother.


Doug Oster writes a weekly column for The Green Voice Weekly Newsletter. He also the host of The Organic Gardener Radio Show every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on KDKA radio 1020AM. 

To see more garden stories, photos and videos go to