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From left to right: Anna's rose bush with the ashes of her grandmother planted within the roots, The Living Urn planting system. All photos courtesy of The Living Urn

Celebrate New Life with a Biodegradable Urn

As cremations surpass burials in the U.S., this Denver-based product is gaining worldwide attention.

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Anna Brewer had been holding onto her grandmother’s ashes for seven years before she found the right place for them. She was raised by her grandmother, Lillian Besch, and while she wanted to eventually fulfill Besch’s wish of scattering her remains in a rose garden (it was her favorite flower), she was hesitant because her family was planning a move from California to Colorado. Brewer was afraid of scattering the ashes, and then moving hundreds of miles away from them.

That’s when her husband, Mark Brewer, developed a product that would allow her to plant her grandmother’s remains into a potted rose bush. “Because we don’t know where life will take us,” Anna says. “I wanted to be able to take her with me wherever we went.” The Living Urn is a biodegradable urn that can be planted with any tree or plant you choose. Within two weeks, the ashes and the urn (made from pressed cardboard and plant materials) fully absorb into the soil as the plant grows.

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Mourning families around the world are asking funeral homes and veterinary offices (there’s a version for pets, too) about this product. Amidst calls from businesses in places like New Zealand and Singapore, Mark has chosen to first strengthen their nationwide presence before slowly moving the product overseas. Currently, The Living Urn is available in the United States and Canada (with Puerto Rico and South Africa in the works).

Mark has been an entrepreneur since the age of nine, when he tended a garden and sold the vegetables door-to-door. But his professional career took him along another path, working with venture capital funds in the finance industry. When he noticed the trend of cremation surpassing burials—the National Funeral Directors Association projects that more than 70 percent of families will cremate their loved ones by 2030—he and two childhood friends ideated and created The Living Urn. “We’ve always been environmentalists,” Mark says of himself and his business partners. “And by far this has been the most exciting venture.”

The biodegradable urn has been on the market for about a year, but the team spent more than two years developing it. “The last thing we wanted was for the tree not to grow,” Mark explains. “We spent a lot of time meeting with soil scientists and arborists.” The urn comes with everything you need, from a proprietary ash neutralizing agent to premium soil mix and planting instructions.

All the trees ship from The Arbor Day Foundation in Nebraska during the chosen seedling’s planting season. You can choose between one of their 19 tree options in Colorado or you can opt for just the urn and purchase a plant on your own from a local nursery. (Specific to the nine planting zones nationwide, there are 36 trees available overall.) Let’s say you purchase a Colorado blue spruce (our state tree also happens to be the most popular product) in December. Your urn will arrive immediately and your tree will follow in the spring, when the planting season arrives.

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Anna chose to buy an orange rose bush locally because her grandmother’s favorite color was orange. “When I see the orange roses, it reminds me of her,” she says. It took about 10 minutes for Anna to follow the planting instructions—Mark was there for moral support, but she says she never needed him to explain the how-to portion—and now she has a plant that, in her words, “keeps on giving.” When the roses bloom, Anna trims them and keeps them in a vase in the kitchen where she sees them every morning before heading to her job as an elementary school teacher. And although the roses eventually die, she looks forward to tending to fresh blooms each spring.

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