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SNA Announces 2013 Award Recipients

03 Sep 2013 10:46 AM | Karen Summers (Administrator)

The Southern Nursery Association (SNA) has announced the recipients of the 2013 SNA Awards. The awards were presented at the Annual SNA Business Meeting on Wednesday, August 7, 2013, at the Georgia International Convention Center during SNA 2013.


The SNA Awards Program began in 1956, when the late John B. Wight, Sr., suggested to the officers of the Southern Nursery Association that an award be offered annually to the person of their selection who, in their opinion, had contributed most to the advancement of the industry in the South and to the welfare of the Southern Nursery Association.  This first award, considered a lifetime achievement award, was named the Slater Wight Memorial Award in memory of the late J. Slater Wight, brother of the late John B. Wight, Sr. Nomination and selection of recipients is made by the SNA Board of Directors.


This year’s recipient of the Slater Wight Memorial Award is Dr. Nick Gawel, Director of the Tennessee State University Otis L. Floyd Nursery Research Center in McMinnville, TN. Nick has been associated with SNA for close to 20 years and has served as Assistant Director of Research (2005-2008) and Director of Research (2008-present). In this voluntary role he is responsible for coordinating the annual SNA Research Conference. Gawel received his PhD from Texas Tech University and worked for USDA/ARS in Griffin, GA and Phoenix, AZ prior to joining Tennessee State University in 1993.  Gawel’s research area is Plant Breeding and Genetics, Phylogenic Analysis, and Molecular Markers, and he has published numerous research papers. Nick has been happily married for 24 years and counting, and he has the two best kids in the world.


Established in 1974 by David E. Laird, Jr., in memory of his father, SNA Past President David E. Laird, Sr., this award, considered the young nursery person of the year award, is presented each year to recognize qualified young men and women for outstanding service in the field of environmental horticulture and to offer inspiration for others starting out in the field. The recipient must be 39 years of age or younger and must be a member of his/her state nursery association. Nominations are made by the State Associations within the SNA region with final selection by the SNA Board of Directors.


This year’s recipient of the David E. Laird, Sr. Memorial Award is Joseph B. Hillenmeyer, Joseph Hillenmeyer Garden Design, Lexington, KY, who was born into a family with a horticulture tradition that dates back to the 1700’s in France and Germany.  Joseph’s great-great-great grandfather, Francis Xavier Hillenmeyer, came to America in 1838 after training at the famous Baumann Brothers Nursery in France. His arrival set into motion what has now been six generations of his family in the horticulture industry in Lexington. He grew up in Lexington, leaving in 1993 to attend The McCallie School in Chattanooga, TN. After graduation, he worked with Don Shadow at Shadow Nursery, Winchester, TN, a nationally recognized horticulturist noted for his work in developing new cultivars of ornamental plants. In 1996 Joseph traveled to New Zealand where he worked as the horticulturist at a horse farm and interned at a perennial nursery. His next trip took him to Western Turkey where he worked at the well-known Karaca Arboretum outside of Istanbul. This is where he was really able to begin forming comprehensive ideas about garden design and thinking about organic connections between the garden and the home. Joseph has now returned to Lexington where he began his own garden design firm in 2001. Since then he has had the opportunity to continue to travel the world and the U.S. studying garden design and horticulture.


Established by the SNA Board in 1992, the SNA Pinnacle Award is given to the individual within the allied industry who, in the opinion of the SNA Board, has contributed most to the advancement of the industry in the south and to the welfare of the Southern Nursery Association. This award is limited to SNA members. Nomination and selection of recipients is made by the SNA Board of Directors.


This year’s recipient of the SNA Pinnacle Award is Gary L. Stover, Stover Manufacturing, Port Orange, FL. Born and raised in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains near Middletown, New York, Gary was drafted out of college in 1968, pursuing an engineering degree. Discharged from the Army in 1970, and thinking about a new career path, he earned a private pilot license, and with new wife Shirley, headed for Daytona Beach to attend Embry Riddle University to get an A&P license and work in commercial aviation. A daughter (Melissa) arrived in 1971 and at the time there was more money working on boats and he worked as a mechanic a local marinas. During that time a relationship with John Powell developed while working on his boats. One fateful day in 1973, John waded out of the Halifax River (his boat broke down in front of the marina where Gary was working), and he offered him a job at Economy Label Sales. His career path was cast and his family was growing with the addition of their son Joshua in 1976. At Economy Label, Stover had the opportunity to modify and build production and printing equipment, and learn the tag and label business. John was an employer, mentor and friend. In 1997 Economy Label was sold and his position terminated. He was fortunate enough to join Horticultural Printers in Port Orange and continue working in the industry – and specifically building the thermal/roll tag business model for Horticultural Printers. In August 2012 Horticultural Printers moved the Port Orange production equipment to Dallas and shut the facility down. He chose not to move to Texas. Currently, with partners Robert Grooms, Mike McClure, and John Thompson, they are again building the thermal/roll tag business model – this time to their own specifications.


Established by the SNA Board in 1999, the SNA Environmental Award recognizes individuals and businesses that have demonstrated exceptional leadership and through their voluntary efforts exemplified inspiration, vision, innovation, leadership and action to preserve and protect the environment. This award is not limited to SNA members or to the horticulture industry. Nominations for this prestigious award are made by the SNA Participating State Associations and SNA Members with final selection by the SNA Board of Directors.


This year’s recipients of the SNA Environmental Award are Saunders Brothers, Inc., Piney River, VA, and Dr. John Lea-Cox, University of Maryland. In awarding two Environmental Awards this year, the SNA Board acknowledges not only Saunders Brothers for water conservation efforts in the implementation of using the Evapotranspiration (ET) based irrigation in their nursery, but also Dr. John Lea-Cox for his work in the development of advanced sensor-based wireless networks for decision-based irrigation and nutrient management.


Saunders Brothers began as a partnership between five brothers in 1915. Today, third generation brothers, Tom, Bennett, Jim and Robert, with their dad, Paul, operate the wholesale nursery, orchard, and farm market. The wholesale nursery operation now consists of approximately 75 acres of container production and 75 acres of field production. They ship over 1,000 products to garden centers, landscapers, and re-wholesalers throughout the mid-Atlantic region. Their 125-acre orchard provides fresh fruit for their farm market as well as other wholesale and retail markets.


Saunders Brothers, the 2013 Virginia Nursery & Landscape Association’s Environmental Stewardship Award recipient, was recognized for their water conservation efforts utilizing technology that was developed in row crop production. They began using the ET-based irrigation during the summers of 2011. The goal of the ET-based irrigation is to determine the amount of water lost from a containerized plant during one day and to replace exactly that amount through irrigation. Base numbers for irrigation were determined through testing that was coordinated by two University of Florida’s researchers, Tom Yeager and Jeff Million. Using these figures as a guideline, irrigation in 2012 was monitored using Leachate Fraction (LF) testing. Through testing in 2011, Saunders Brothers Inc. determined that equal or better quality plants could be grown using less water and less fertilizer. It was determined that fertility levels could be dropped on some crops from 30-40%. In 2012 when local rainfall levels were 25% below average, overall water use dropped by over 50% when compared to the previous 5-year average. Starting in the fall of 2012, SBI installed their first wireless irrigation controllers on a third of the nursery. Designed by Fralo Control Systems, irrigation run times are entered on PC’s and wirelessly transmitted to irrigation control panels. Sensors monitor pump pressure and flow to maximize the efficiency of the irrigation system. Through the new system crops can be grouped based on their individual needs to water at any time of the night or day. Part of the wireless system in 2013 will be controlled by a computer program that automatically adjusts irrigation amounts dependent upon crop stage, container size, plant spacing and daily weather data from a weather station on-site. Continued trialing of plants using lower rates of fertilizer will take place. By the fall of 2013 the company intends to irrigate all of its woody plants using the wireless system while continuing to monitor the LF of the crops. LF testing will expand in 2013 to include herbaceous crops as well.


John Lea-Cox is a Professor and Nursery Research and Extension Specialist at the University of Maryland, College Park. He teaches courses in Principles of Water and Nutrient Management, Greenhouse Crop Production and co-teaches Senior Capstone and Sustainable Seminar courses. His research and extension programs are focused primarily on increasing the efficiency of water and nutrient applications in the nursery and greenhouse industries. John leads the water and nutrient management extension program for ornamental production in Maryland, with one other colleague. To date, this program has trained over 130 professionals and growers who have written over 350 water and nutrient management plans for nursery and greenhouse operations. He currently leads a national $5.16M USDA-NIFA specialty crops project, which is developing advanced sensor-based networks for decision-based irrigation and nutrient management in nursery and greenhouse systems.  More information on the project, the participants and project impacts can be accessed at During his career, John has established or co-established five major research and extension programs, co-authored one book and five book chapters, published 24 peer-reviewed journal articles, 32 national and international conference papers, and more than 60 society, trade or extension articles.  He has been invited to speak at more than 50 International and national conferences, and has given more than 300 other national, regional presentations and workshops.


Two deserving industry members received SNA Honorary Member Awards this year. Each recipient has made outstanding contributions to the association and the industry during their active participation in the Southern Nursery Association. The SNA Board of Directors recognizes Wilbur C. Mull, Classic Groundcovers, Athens, GA, and Dr. Carl. E. Whitcomb, Lacebark Publication & Research, Stillwater, OK, for their dedication to SNA and the field of horticulture.


Wilbur C. Mull, celebrating his 50th anniversary – in business that is– is founder of Classic Groundcovers in Athens, GA. Born in Albion, NY, Mull came to Georgia and received his B.S. in Ag Economics in 1963, followed by his M.S. degree in 1965. Later that year he started sticking cuttings in the back yard of Dr. Jerry Padgett for 75 cents per hour. But he continued marketing and business and learning more about the green industry while teaching marketing classes and running a local country club. Finally, he decided to make the move and open Classic Groundcovers. Wilbur has served as President of the Georgia Nurseryman’s Association (1981). He received the Georgia Green Industry Association’s Jake Tinga Distinguished Award (2003), and the Vivian Munday/Buck Jones Lifetime Achievement Award (2011). He has served as Georgia Governor to the American Nursery & Landscape Association. He is a past recipient of SNA’s David E. Laird, Sr. Memorial Award (1976) and the SNA Slater Wight Memorial Award (1993). Like his talent and service to this industry, he has been recognized by numerous other organizations outside the green industry. As impressive as the credentials are, Wilbur is always quick to give the credit to others, a true sign of humility.


Dr. Carl E. Whitcomb, author, lecturer, researcher and consultant, was born and raised in Kansas. He received his B.S. in Horticulture from Kansas State University (1964), his M.S. in Horticulture, Agronomy from Iowa State University(1966), and his PhD – Horticulture, Agronomy and Plant Ecology from Iowa State University (1969). He was professor at the University of Florida and Oklahoma State University before founding Lacebark Publications and Research. Dr. Whitcomb has authored numerous technical papers, articles and books. His excellence and dedication to the industry has been acknowledged throughout his career. He received the SNA Porter Henegar Memorial Award in 1977, the American Nurserymen & Landscape Association’s Chadwick Award (1983), the Outstanding Oklahoma Nurseryman award (1985), the SNA Slater Wight, Sr. Memorial Award (1986), the Florida Nursery Growers & Landscape Association’s Outstanding Industry Person Award (1987), and the Award of Merit from the Garden Writers Association of America (1988). He was named Fellow of the International Plant Propagators Society (1993) and received the International Plant Propagators Society’s Meadows Award (1999). Whitcomb has received numerous other awards. He and his wife LaJean have two sons and recently celebrated their 50th anniversary.


Other awards for 2013 was the Porter Henegar Memorial Award, presented at the SNA Research Conference Awards Luncheon and the Don Shadow Award of Excellence, presented at the Southern Plant Conference.


In 1969, an Award of Merit was created to honor those individuals who have made outstanding contributions to ornamental horticultural research and, more specifically, to SNA. In 1972, the SNA Board of Directors resolved that the Award of Merit would be renamed the Porter Henegar Memorial Award for Horticultural Research in memory of the late Porter Henegar, Past Executive Secretary of SNA (1959 - 1972), to commemorate his years of tireless effort and service to the SNA. The recipient is selected annually by fellow research workers for his/her concern and work toward improving the nursery industry.


The recipient of the 2013 Porter Henegar Memorial Award is John W. Olive, Auburn University, Auburn, AL. A native of Columbus GA, John received his B.S. in Agronomy from the University of GA and a Master's degree in Plant Pathology from UGA in 1986. He worked in the UGA Extension Plant Disease Clinic in Athens for 3 years where he helped diagnose disease problems for commercial growers as well as homeowners. In 1989, he accepted a position in Mobile to work as plant pathologist at the Ornamental Horticulture Research Center (in Springhill). In 1990 he became the superintendent (director) of the Research Center.  Besides coordinating research projects at the center, he assists commercial growers, identifying plant diseases, troubleshooting other problems and helping recommend controls.  John has been attending and participating in the SNA Research Conference since 1989.  He has co-authored papers in several different sections and has served as the plant pathology section chairman.  He has chaired and been a judge on the Bryson James Student Research Competition several times. Although his position as Center Director has a lot of administration responsibilities, he has been fortunate to work with great research faculty who have encouraged him to actively participate in their research.


The Don Shadow Award of Excellence, named for the first recipient, Don O. Shadow, Shadow Nursery, Winchester, TN, is presented to an individual, corporation or organization that has provided exemplary service, leadership and generosity in the development, promotion and use of new and improved landscape plants. Recipients must demonstrate a sincere commitment to and passion for expanding knowledge and use of new and improved plants for the landscape. This award is presented to an individual, corporation or organization that has provided exemplary service, leadership and generosity in the development, promotion and use of new and improved landscape plants. Awardees must also demonstrate a strong volunteer and/or service commitment to bringing better plants to the landscape. Recipients must demonstrate a sincere commitment to and passion for expanding knowledge and use of new and improved plants for the landscape. Nominations are accepted from attendees of the Southern Plant Conference and SNA Members. Nominees may be carried forward from one year to the next. Selection is made by the SNA Board of Directors.


The 2013 recipient of the Don Shadow Award of Excellence is Rick Crowder, Hawksridge Farms, Hickory, NC. Rick began his career in the nursery business after finishing high school in 1972. He received his Associates Degree in Ornamental Horticulture from Catawba Valley Community College. He began working at Hawksridge Farms in 1982. Rick helped with the nursery setup and daily operations and became General Manager and President of the company in 1985.


Rick has served on the Board of Director’s of North Carolina Association of Nurserymen from 1995 – 1999, serving as President in 1998. He served on the Board of Advisors for the JC Raulston Arboretum for 6 years, and formerly served on the Board of Advisor’s for NC Arboretum in Asheville, NC. Rick also served on North Carolina’s Green Industry Council. He has been active in the International Plant Propagator’s Society since 1990, and was President of the Southern Region in 2010.

In 2003 Rick’s commitment and service was recognized with NCAN’s Copeland Award for Lifetime Achievement, which is the highest honor given to nurserymen in North Carolina.


Rick has traveled many times to the West Coast and British Columbia searching for new plants. He has made numerous trips to Japan, Holland, England and Scotland, as well as Germany, Italy, New Zealand and Belgium in the last several years visiting various nurseries, arboreta and gardens.


Hawksridge Farms is well known in the industry for the development and introduction of new plant cultivars to the trade.


SNA believes industry members should be recognized for their distinguished talents, extraordinary service and life achievements. The SNA Awards Program is designed to recognize professionals who have demonstrated their commitment to the Southern Nursery Association and the industry through these annual awards. For a list of previous SNA award winners, visit the SNA website at


Founded in 1899, the Southern Nursery Association is a non-profit trade association representing the horticultural industry in the southeastern U.S. SNA provides member services to wholesale growers, brokers, retailers, landscape contractors, landscape architects, grounds maintenance contractors, interiorscapers and allied suppliers. The SNA strives to unite and advance the horticulture industry through educational, research and marketing efforts.


Photos of all award winners can be found on the SNA website at


For more information on SNA, contact the Southern Nursery Association, Inc., PO Box 801454, Acworth, GA 30101, 678.809.9992,, or visit the SNA website at

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