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Homewood Cemetery of Pittsburgh joins elite group: It's an arboretum

| Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The Homewood Cemetery of Pittsburgh has achieved what only 23 cemeteries and memorial parks in the country have managed: attained arboretum certification.

This is “an acknowledgement of what we have done, and also a promise of what we'll do,” says Jennie Benford, the cemetery's sole tour guide and director of programming for the historical fund. Benford says to obtain arboretum status, organizations must record detailed inventories of the types of trees they have and meet particular quotas before they can apply for consideration.

The designation comes through the Arbnet Arboretum Accreditation Program and The Morton Arboretum.

Founded and opened to the public in 1878, the nonprofit, nondenominational cemetery sports a lawn-park style, with almost 200 acres of monuments within a carefully maintained landscape.

Homewood Cemetery arborist Ashley Allen has identified more than 40 species in the cemetery's 33 sections, among them mature oaks, maples, horse chestnuts, ginkgos, sycamores and beech. The varieties are labeled with plaques, and soon there will be a digital inventory with photos.

Benford says giving the grounds proper maintenance and drawing attention to the landscape will continue to be one of Homewood's top priorities. “As the trees grow and reach maturity and beyond, we need to make sure others are growing up to replace them,” she says.

Of the nearly 78,000 people buried there, several notable Pittsburgh namesakes are among them. Those include the Heinz, Mellon, Frick, Benedum and D.L. Clark families. Jazz icons Erroll Garner and Walt Harper, painter George Hetzel and U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg Perle Mesta are buried there, as well.

As an arboretum, the cemetery will continue to serve as an educational institution, granting the public access to and information about its collections and educational programs. The cemetery grounds will remain open to the public free of charge.

The Homewood Cemetery will celebrate its arboretum recognition at its annual Founders Day Celebration on Aug. 16. Keynote speaker Rick Sebak of WQED will kick off the event at noon, and attendees can enjoy refreshments, entertainment and activities until 4 p.m., including a performance by Opera Theatre of Pittsburgh, a scavenger hunt and hoop rolling for kids, and a display of vintage automobiles

Cemetery general manager Gary Frink says becoming an arboretum is important because it introduces a new way for the growing Pittsburgh canopy to give back to its citizens.

“We really just want to give back to the community, and be responsible neighbors,” he says.

Emma Deihle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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