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Prime Living: Aiken arborist cares for flora in 'treasure' of Hopelands Gardens

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Camellias, live oaks, magnolias and azaleas in some of Aiken's most prominent places are acquaintances of one of Aiken's more active retirees, as Tom Rapp has come to know quite a few over the course of decades. 

Rapp, a certified arborist who spent all or part of 33 years as Aiken's municipal horticulturist, retired in 2017 but is maintaining contact, at least five days a week, with the flora of Hopelands Gardens, one of Aiken County's most prominent beauty spots.

These days, he's aboard on a part-time basis, as part of a duo with Diane Holler, who also came out of retirement to help meet the ongoing need at Hopelands.

Pruning, weed control, litter control and mowing are part of the package – "anything that you might expect for a ... public garden like this," in Rapp's words.

"Hopelands is a treasure that the city's had for years," Rapp said. "And it's special and even more so now, with the COVID situation, and people wanting to get away from wherever they're at – their living quarters – and come out here and walk around; and it's nice that they've been allowed to do that through all the problems with the health issues."

The facility, in addition, is "a great dog park," Rapp added. "A lot of dog walkers come out here, which is kind of cool."

The idea of "cool" also plays a major role in his thinking this time of year.

"I try to get out here as early as I can, to try to beat the heat," he said, confirming that the relatively cool months will bring a change of schedule.

Rapp's early tenure with the city included the time (1985) when Aiken first received "Tree City USA" status, an honor bestowed by the Arbor Day Foundation in recognition of "meeting four core standards of sound urban forestry management: maintaining a tree board or department, having a community tree ordinance, spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry and celebrating Arbor Day."

Hopelands Gardens was the home of winter residents Oliver and Hope Iselin, of New Rochelle, New York, and was bequeathed to the City of Aiken in 1970, having been "designed as a peaceful haven of beauty for the enjoyment of Aiken citizens and visitors," as described on the municipal website

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