Answer: I like lilacs--there are quite a few different varieties available, and they are very hardy. There are so many other good choices, however. Perhaps a mix of evergreens, for winter interest, and flowering deciduous shrubs (like spring-flowering lilacs and summer-flowering sweet pepperbush). Winterberry, a deciduous holly, holds onto its bright red berries into the winter. (A compatible male shrub must be nearby to get berries.) Some hardy perennials include astilbe, asters, daylilies, hosta, coralbells, siberian iris, peonies, garden phlox, creeping phlox, gayfeather, coneflowers, and sedum 'Autumn Joy.'
Daffodils and crocus are reliable, and will spread on their own. There are some remarkable, striking daffodils in a range of colors available now. Snowdrops are a wonderful harbinger of spring. Summer-flowering lilies and fall-flowering crocus would add color throughout the season.
Sorry to hear about your loss. Hope this helps you plant what sounds like a beautiful memorial garden.
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