When Christine Williams explains that her job description involves “emotional landscaping” it makes you stop and think. Christine and the horticultural team at Catholic Cemeteries + Crematoria (CCC) produce beautiful and tranquil sanctuaries for families to ensure their visits to our memorial parks are peaceful and reflective.
Christine has been responsible for the maintenance of the landscaped gardens at CCC for more than a decade. With over 30 years horticultural experience, it is not a position she thought she would hold, but one she knows is vitally important and can make a real difference to the community that regularly visit the cemetery grounds.
Christine has seen the team significantly grow from two to nine gardeners. Originally, work was completed in between maintenance and funeral services. The former CEO, Peter O’Meara, and COO, Lauren Hardgrove acknowledged that the gardens and landscape were a crucial element of the cemetery for both cemetery and recreational visitors.
When the memorial gardens and lawns look their best, this has a positive effect on visitors and makes them feel better “It can really alter someone’s visit, if they are in an area that is well maintained and peaceful, it changes their train of thought and makes visiting the cemetery less sad.”
The team are also responsible for creating new areas for families and communities. It is essential to consult and include cultural beliefs in the design process for these areas. At Kemps Creek Memorial Park, Christine researched trees that were important to the communities’ culture and made sure to include these in those new lawns.
The most rewarding thing about this job is the appreciation from families. Christine often meets them in the cemetery whilst she is working and engages in conversation on how the place is looking. They will discuss what is in flower and how the gardens look amazing. Christine is proud to pass this feedback onto her team.
Christine enjoys having a chat with regulars at Rookwood Catholic Cemetery to check in with how they are. She explains that “this is not a counselling session, but it can be moving and emotional” as she gets to know each of them. One of the regulars, lost her husband 12 years ago has spoken to Christine for 10 years and brings in a home-made curry to say thank you for looking after her husband’s section.
A family who had a loved one in the Mary MacKillop Rose Garden, were appreciative of getting the trees thinned out that shaded the rose bushes and affected the roses from flowering. This triggered a maintenance program to get rid of dead wood and create a summer spot, so more flowers can bloom which is significant to many visitors.
Christine has been going above and beyond in helping those unable to make it to the cemetery. During COVID she would send photos of family plots, so people could see the area and it would make them feel better. This is part of the ongoing care that is part of the Catholic Cemeteries ethos. Christine believes it is “beautiful to be able to give that to people”.
Late last year, an avenue of trees was planted at Kemps Creek Memorial Park. The whole team were involved, and it brought them together post COVID. When the trees grow this will provide a majestic entrance seen by everyone that comes into the cemetery.
The cemetery gardens and trees provide crucial shade and visual highlights for visitors and habitat for wildlife. The cemetery is home to many animals including tawny frogmouths, echidnas, goannas, and birds such as kookaburras and black cockatoos.
The team are active in the community with regular donations to various organisations, such as rosemary to Legacy, palm fronds to local parishes at Easter and foliage to help feed koalas and primates at Taronga Zoo.
Christine and her team have endured several challenges over the past few years. The team worked sensitively in an operational cemetery, navigating the challenges of COVID and severe weather events.
During the drought period they had to get permission from Sydney Water to keep the gardens alive. The team conducted hand watering to keep areas green, as they could not use sprinklers.
During the La Nina rain period, areas were getting washed out and if was difficult to keep morale up. Too much water caused the plants and trees to die, as they became water-logged. It is an on-going balancing act to maintain the cemetery gardens and keep families’ content.
During the COVID lockdowns, the team was split up to work autonomously. Driving through the cemetery they would often see funerals taking place with only eight family members permitted. It was emotional to witness these restricted services where people were not permitted to make physical contact and console one another.
Throughout spring and summer, the gardens bloom with colourful flowers that symbolise remembrance and love. The garden designs at CCC allow people visiting to focus on why they are there, to remember their loved ones.
The team take great pride in their work and show ongoing care to families and visitors. The memorial gardens at Rookwood, Liverpool and Kemps Creek provide visitors with a sense of place and peace.
Our cemetery grounds are a special and sacred place that people visit, can grieve in, and remember their loved ones. Christine and her team make a difference to our customers every day, by creating and maintaining these beautiful peaceful havens.