Seventy-five years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service, now the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), was established largely because of the efforts of one determined individual—Hugh Hammond Bennett. Bennett served as the agency’s first chief for more than 15 years, tirelessly working to educate others about the seriousness of soil erosion. On Friday, October 15, nearly 20 NRCS employees and friends took time off from work and to be Earth Team volunteers, planting oak seedlings, azaleas and phlox in Hugh Hammond Bennett’s memory at his former home.
While chief of NRCS, Bennett lived in McLean, Virginia, on a two-acre tract of land called “Eight Oaks” after a prominent feature of the property. His landscape also boasted magnificent flocks of rose-colored azaleas and phlox. In the years since, the landscape had changed quite a bit. For example, until Friday, only two oaks remained on the property.
In celebration of NRCS’ 75th anniversary, several NRCS employees initiated a project to honor the man who started it all by restoring his former home’s landscape to its former glory. Andree DuVarney, a special assistant to the chief, lives in Bennett’s former neighborhood. She learned from the current owners that a conservation easement had been placed on the property to protect it from development and that the owners welcomed the idea of a restoration project.
A team consisting of DuVarney, Management Analyst Denise Decker, National Landscape Architect Bob Snieckus and National Plants Materials Center Manager Jeremy West brought this project to fruition. Together, they developed an impressive landscape plan to restore key elements of the landscape that existed when Bennett lived there.
A key part of the restoration plan was for the property to once again showcase eight beautiful white, willow and scarlet oak trees. After the volunteer team had planted the other five new oaks, NRCS Chief Dave White and property co-owner Brian Symmes planted the last oak seedling together as the other volunteers observed. With that final step, the living tribute to Bennett was complete.
Get more information on both NRCS’ 75th anniversary and Hugh Hammond Bennett here.
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