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Live Oak Preserve at Grand Prairie Memorial Gardens, Texas






Located in north central Texas, Grand Prairie Memorial Gardens opened its gates in November of 2004. Juvenile live oaks, a native tree, are scattered throughout the park. While experiencing all four seasons, its maintenance staff must work through short winters and long, hot summers.


Grand Prairie Memorial Gardens, located in Grand Prairie, Texas is a 26-acre public cemetery offering five gardens with continually care for burial lots, a mausoleum with casket crypts and columbarium niches. Inside the mausoleum, a canopied area is available for meditation, visitation and memorial services.

Limestone accents reflect the elements of earth in the building. Featuring a number of the gardens, a soothing pond, and tranquil grounds, burial spaces are located in five garden areas including the Garden of Hope, Garden of Peace, Garden of Serenity, Garden of Honor and Heritage Garden. Bronze vases, granite benches and memorial trees are available as memorials to loved ones.






Eight planter bed areas can be found throughout GP Memorial. Most are prominent at the front entrance, with seasonal flowers used year round. Pansies are planted in the winter, while zinnias are often used for spring and summer shows.


Staff

Landscape Superintendent, R.D. Slayton has managed the park since it opened over three years ago. He has a relatively small team, consisting of two full-time groundskeepers and a seasonal worker who is on site four hours a day from February through October. Slayton comes from a parks and recreation background and has a great deal of experience in turf management. He has a degree in business administration, is a licensed irrigator and chemical applicator, and has been working in landscape management for 20 years.

He and his staff work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. typically, Monday through Friday.

They must be on site on a few Saturdays as well, but no burials are performed on Sundays.






Being such a small crew, they often have to improvise. Because of this, they were innovative enough to take a fairway blower, which is normally used on golf courses, to clean the many concrete sidewalks and roads on the grounds. "It does the work of backpack blowers in a lot less time," said Slayton.







Turf

While Grand Prairie Memorial consists of 26 total acres, only 12 are developed. Common Bermudagrass is the turf of choice for Slayton and his staff. They spray continuously for dallisgrass and yellow nutsedge on the turf.

"It is extremely tough to take care of in our Texas soil," said Slayton. "We are trying for a monolithic look in our turf. But these other weeds stick out like a sore thumb. Dallisgrass is a dark grass and grows in clumps, which is a trip hazard. Nutsedge will outgrow everything else because it's a straight single stem rather than a flat growing grass."

Plants

Eight planter bed areas can be found throughout the property. Two are prominently visible at the front entrance with another set of beds at a secondary entrance. Seasonal flowers are used year round. Pansies are planted in the winter, while colorful plantings are chosen for the summer months. "Last year we planted zinnias for spring and summer shows," said Slaton. Petunias are also a popular choice for plantings. "We want to use a lot of color in the plantings," said Slayton. "The community residents who visit like to see a lot of color."

Depending on caseload, we try to spend the first three days of the week working on the grounds," said Slayton."But we get pulled away to take care of internments throughout the week. We have to be very flexible, being such a small staff. No one has specific assignments, but instead we work as a team and share the workload.

Trees

The landscaping staff plants and maintains all of the trees on site. Tree trimming is done every fall, and memorial trees-which are purchased by loved ones in honor of the deceased-are placed in a common area. These memorial trees are all relatively small, as the cemetery is only a few years old. However, in order to prevent disease the staff tries to use a diverse variety of species.

The most common tree found on the grounds is the live oak, "because it remains green year round," said Slayton. "Oak wilt decline is in the area but it hasn't hit us yet." At the urging of a city horticulturist, they have chosen to plant many varieties of trees to prevent this or any other disease that could wipe out the arbor population.






Twelve of Grand Prairie's 26 acres are developed, and common Bermudagrass is the landscaping crew's turf of choice. Achieving a monolithic look in the turf is the goal, so they work to eradicate weeds, which stick out like a sore thumb.


Fertilization

The staff fertilizes the turfgrass three times a year. Depending on ground temperature, they perform their first fertilization around April 15 and then again every 6 to 8 weeks after that. A 15-5-10 formula combined with a pre-emergent herbicide is used in the first and last applications in April and October.

The slow-release fertilizer is used with a rotation of pre emergents. Because the plant material becomes immune to the herbicides over time, a variety must be used in order for the treatment to be effective.

Spraying

The staff uses a number of pesticides to take care of pests around the grounds. Where they are located in Texas, they face a major problem with fire ants as well as aphids. "We like Orthene for contact control of the fire ants, which is used as needed," said Slayton. "We also use Award for bait broadcast, for long term control of the ants." It is used when ants are active for foraging, which isn't necessarily limited to the summer months. "After heavy rains in the spring they can become a problem," said Slayton.

Not much spraying is done on the trees found in the park. "The forest is very young-we opened in November of 2004-the most care we do is removing dead branches," said Slayton.

Tools

Since the cemetery is relatively small, the crew employs one riding mower. However, the Toro 4000 D is very versatile, doing many jobs on site. It can be used as an out-front 72 mower, but also works well when mowing between the markers.

The staff also uses two 22-inch walk-behind mowers, a number of backpack blowers and trimmers, as well as small agricultural tractor. Being such a small crew, they often have to improvise. Because of this, they were innovative enough to take a fairway blower, which is normally used on golf courses, to clean the many concrete sidewalks and roads on the grounds. "It does the work of backpack blowers in a lot less time," said Slayton.

A Case 580 D backhoe is also a major tool in their arsenal.

"We do all of our burial openings and closing and set our own markers," said Slayton. "We average about 125 burials a year."






Grand Prairie Memorial falls under the umbrella of the Grand Prairie Parks and Recreation Department, which cares for over 5,000 park acres. Inside the mausoleum, a canopied area is available for meditation, visitation and memorial services.


Irrigation

The crew at GP Memorial utilizes a fully-automated irrigation system. They have five 30-station solar controllers that manage the watering throughout the grounds.

"All of our beds are moving towards drip irritation," said Slayton. "Being a city agency, we have to be a model for the community. A lot of the time they restrict our water first before the citizens.

We can continue to use water with drip irrigation though." While the cemetery does get some of its water from a well, "99% of the water comes from the city," said Slayton.

Challenges

Managing the 1.6-acre pond on site is a major challenge for Slayton and his team. To fight filamentous algae, they use copper sulfate in large granular form. In addition, a clean-pond product is used to control the duck-weed and primrose. Ponds are aerated using a water-cooled system rather than oil cooled. "It seems to last longer and if there is a breech, water does not harm the pond like oil," said Slayton.

One of the other unique challenges working on the grounds of a cemetery is healing in a grave, as Slayton put it. "When we dig a grave we are aggressive in going back and making the grass grow as quickly as possible," he said. When the facility first opened, they contracted this job out. However, problems started occurring when the subcontracting company did not bury the graves deep enough. Because of this, the sun was penetrating the soil, which reflected upward and the heat began burning the grass up.

Seeing a need for a change, Slayton's team took over and began to develop deeper holes. They then began backfilling the plot with native soils, a starter fertilizer and some fresh sod on top. "By doing this we saw that the area would heal back in about two weeks (depending on conditions)," said Slayton. "It was very rewarding for us because families were very happy with how quickly the areas around the graves began to grow." In fact, one of the biggest complaints the cemetery gets is from families of those who do not purchase a stone marker. The grass heals so quickly that after only a few weeks they have trouble finding their plot!



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October 17, 2019, 9:03 am PDT

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