A sea of bright neon vests gathered under a cloudless sky at Arlington National Cemetery this morning, as over 400 landscapers prepared to offer their skills as a tribute to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
This marks the 20th year the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) has participated in Renewal and Remembrance.
Every year at Renewal and Remembrance, volunteers from across the country gather to maintain the beauty of these hallowed grounds. They and their families give of their time pruning, planting, mulching, aerating and installing lightning protection in the trees.
“This is our chance to do with actions what can’t be put into words,” said Phil Fogarty of Weed Man. “Our work is a way of letting families know we refuse to forget.”
In the past, NALP has focused on lime application, generally applying 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Now the effects of these applications have taken place and the pH of the soil only needs 2 pounds of lime per 1,000 square feet this year.
This has freed up volunteer landscapers to focus on hardscaping, irrigation installation and repairs, and phosphorous application.
NALP members used more manual push spreaders and walk behind aerators this year to enable them to treat the nooks and crannies of the cemetery that are harder to tend to.
Some landscapers, like Lawn Dawg’s president, Jim Campanella, have been serving almost since the beginning of the event.
When Campanella started his company in 1997, he was quick to join NALP the next year and has attended Renewal and Remembrance every year since.
“It’s a way of giving back,” he said. “The grounds here are amazing. I can run my business and operate Lawn Dawg because of the sacrifices these people made, but also my uncle is buried here as well. He served in Vietnam War, so in a way it’s also giving back to him.
“If we can beautify this place for people visiting their loved ones and (help them) have a memory of coming here and it being peaceful and beautiful, that means a lot to me and my team.”
Campanella came to Renewal and Remembrance his first year with just one other employee, but this year he brought a crew of 20. His team worked on the aeration program this year.
“Every single employee I’ve ever brought here has thanked me afterwards and said ‘Please let me go back again someday,’” Campanella said. “I think it’s something everybody should experience and if they can’t make it here, do it locally.”
The landscapers’ children were also able to lend a hand. Over 50 children helped plant lavender, geraniums, hostas and shrubs around the Spanish-American War Memorial. They also placed flowers and pennies on gravestones in Section 21, which is where the first nurses were allowed to be buried.
“We wanted to point out there are more than just soldiers buried here,” said Anne Marie Kuperus with Farmside Landscape and Design.
Kuperus has been coming to Renewal and Remembrance for 12 years. She used to participate in the children’s program herself and now she helps organize it.
Some companies had multiple teams doing different tasks. Sunrise Landscape and Design had one crew working on evening out some hardscaping, while other employees worked on landscaping and watering plants.
“It means a lot,” said Pablo Mejia of Sunrise Landscape and Design. “We like to give back to our troops. They give a lot – a lot of them give their lives.”
Participating in Renewal and Remembrance “makes us feel good too,” Mejia said.
Several people participating in the special day of service for the first time talked enthusiastically about coming back next year.
“It’s nice to just do something nice for them and their families, to say thank you,” said Kelsey Jacquard, a product manager with Hunter Industries. “I’d definitely come back next year.”