August 30, 2022
tony digiovanniOne of the most important areas of the Landscape Ontario home office is the Memorial Arboretum. This is because Landscape Ontario is not a property nor a building. It is a community founded by visionaries who voluntarily took on the responsibility to advance and grow a profession and who intuitively understood we are in the business of enhancing lives.

On July 20, with family and friends in attendance, we recognized the contributions of eight pioneers by planting trees in their honour. It is that spirit of contribution that reaches beyond generations and provides a legacy of benefit that inspires the future.

Planting a tree is an act of hope and an act of contribution. It is a gift from one generation to another. It is fitting that the trees we planted memorialize remarkable individuals who shaped the profession and community we are a part of.

The Landscape Ontario family would not have existed without the drive, energy and contribution ethic of these pioneers. The entire profession has benefited from their work and values.

The eight individuals are: Bill Putzer, Burke McNeil, John Paul LaMarche, Bob Wilton, Len Cullen, Neil Vanderkruk, Hank Deenen and Joe Pepetone. I was fortunate to have met and been influenced by each one. Here are some brief comments about them.  

Bill Putzer

Bill and his father John may have lamented the day that Landscape Ontario moved the home office so close to Putzer Nursery. Whenever we needed anything they were the first individuals we would reach out to. They were always generous with their time and resources. When we started the Memorial Arboretum we wanted to purchase some trees from Bill. He would not let us pay. He said “memorial trees are priceless.” Most of the priceless trees in the Arboretum come from Putzer Nursery. The two rows of ornamental pears along the entrance of the property were also a gift from them. Bill was involved in many projects on the site. He cared deeply about the association and its members, serving on the Growers Group for years.

Burke McNeill

Landscape Ontario would not exist had it not been for the mediation efforts of Burke McNeill. Burke was the Extension Specialist for the Ministry of Agriculture when he was asked to chair the unity meetings that brought together three separate associations into one in 1973. It was no small achievement to convince each group to give up their dues and budgets for the sake of working together, but Burke did it. He was the association’s first Honorary Life Member because of his facilitation and collaboration skills. He was a huge supporter right until his passing.

Neil Vanderkruk

In everyone’s life there are special individuals of influence. Neil Vanderkruk was that special person for me. His was the phone call that changed my life direction and my career. He was always there to guide, mentor, support and inspire. He spent his entire working life volunteering on various committees and boards of the association. He received all the honours and awards the association bestows, including the prestigious Honorary Life Membership. Neil made immense contributions to Landscape Ontario and the industry. His wisdom, vision, spirit and memory will live on in the thousands of people he has touched.

John Paul LaMarche

Paul was a business coach and highly respected speaker and consultant. He helped hundreds of our members become more successful. He was always available to help anyone that needed business advice. Paul was also a frequent contributor to our magazines and to the Canadian Garden Council.

Even in his retirement he was active on social media. His posts were always helpful and encouraging. During the early days of COVID-19 he offered his expertise and experience free of charge to anyone who needed it. Paul was helpful and caring to the very end.

Hank Deenen

Hank was the founder of Hank Deenen Landscaping, currently owned by his son Harold. Hank was a strong believer in associations and participated in the founding of the Ontario Garden Maintenance and Landscape Association which was one of the organizations that gave birth to Landscape Ontario. He was also very involved in the unity meetings that led to the formation of our association. The association used to meet in the basement of his home.  

Hank embodied the principles of honesty, integrity and the importance of kindness to all. His son Harold’s passion and service to Landscape Ontario was inspired by his father.

Len Cullen

Len was a visionary and pioneer in every sense. He was a trailblazer whose innovations are still talked about today. His passion and enthusiasm for gardens and business lives on in the hundreds of individuals and associates who have made their mark on the horticulture and landscape profession. I heard his daughter Sue describe her father as a passionate leader who was not afraid to dream big and work hard to realize his visions. His son Mark has the same attributes. Len elevated the horticultural profession. What a great legacy he has left.

Bob Wilton

Bob founded Clintar in 1973. It went on to be one of the largest landscape firms in North America. Bob was a mentor, teacher, friend and visionary. Bob was one of the founders of the association’s Snow and Ice Management Sector Group and was instrumental in raising the bar of professionalism. Bob was well known for taking time to learn about people, and to teach them. He would spend hours sharing his knowledge and experience with anyone who requested it — even if they were competitors.

Joe Pepetone

Joe was the owner of Holland Park Garden Gallery in Burlington, Ont. He was also one of the members who initiated the Landscape Ontario Garden Centre Sector Group. When Joe passed away, the Mayor of Burlington wrote: “Joe’s life work not only beautified our city, but added to the very health and well-being of our environment in a lasting and sustainable way.”

Joe was the one who taught me the value of freely sharing information in an association setting. I once asked Joe why he was so free with sharing business information at a Garden Centre Group meeting, when his competitors were sitting around the table. “It’s easy,” he said. “Do the math. If I offer one good idea in a room with nine competitors and they do the same, I receive nine ideas back.”  

There is a common thread that ties together the lives of these wonderful individuals. They were all contribution-oriented. They left a legacy of caring, nurturing, humour and love. They made a positive difference in the lives of others. They blessed others through their example and lived lives that mattered. Landscape Ontario is honoured to celebrate their legacy.
Tony DiGiovanni CHT
LO Executive Director