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  • 2016 Award Winners

    Meet the distinguished recipients of the 2016 AHS Great American Gardeners Awards. The individuals, organizations, and businesses who receive these national awards represent the best in American gardening, and we applaud their outstanding achievements within their areas of expertise.

    2016 Award Winners

    Celebrating Horticultural Heroes

    John Fairey

    Liberty Hyde Bailey Award

    Given to an individual who has made significant lifetime contributions to at least three of the following horticultural fields: teaching, research, communications, plant exploration, administration, art, business, and leadership.

    John G. Fairey

    The lifetime contributions of John G. Fairey to American horticulture touch numerous fields, from teaching and research to the nursery industry. Born into a family of gardeners, Fairey found his own path to horticulture. After receiving a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1964, he began his career as a college professor at Texas A&M University in College Station, where he taught design to architecture students.

    In 1971 Fairey purchased a rural property in Hempstead, Texas, and began creating a garden he eventually named Peckerwood. Fairey’s interest in finding plants adapted to the challenging climate of the central South led him to start exploring southern Texas and neighboring regions of northeastern Mexico.

    Over the years, Fairey participated in over 100 plant-hunting trips both on his own and in partnership with public gardens, universities, and nurseries. Among these was a 1991 expedition to Mexico with Harvard University on behalf of the American Cancer Society. The goal was to locate a rare yew species that researchers believed might contain compounds effective against ovarian cancer. In 1987 Fairey cofounded Yucca Do, a mail-order nursery, as a way to introduce and share with other gardeners some of the promising new plants he was discovering and selecting.

    Over time Peckerwood grew from seven to 19 acres and became not only a renowned botanical showplace, but a haven for plant diversity. As issues such as overgrazing, mining, and development threaten Mexico’s natural areas, Fairey’s extensive efforts to document and preserve their rich flora have become increasingly imperative. By some estimates, Peckerwood’s preemptive conservation efforts may already have saved thousands of plant species from extinction. To ensure the preservation of the garden and its mission, Peckerwood is now owned by a nonprofit foundation with support from the Garden Conservancy.

    Over the course of Fairey’s career, he has received many awards, including the prestigious Scott Medal from the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania in 2013, and the Commercial Award from the American Horticultural Society in 1996 for his work with Yucca Do.


    Charles Hess

    H. Marc Cathey Award

    Recognizes outstanding scientific research that has enriched the field of horticulture.

    Charles Hess, Ph.D.

    After earning his doctorate at Cornell University in 1957, Charles Edward Hess spent the bulk of his 50-year career as a horticulture professor, researcher, and administrator at Purdue University, Rutgers University, and the University of California–Davis. A dedicated researcher, he published more than 125 articles, many relating to his work on plant propagation. Hess was appointed to the USDA as Assistant Secretary for Science and Education. He served as president of the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) and the International Plant Propagators Society, among many leadership roles. In 2013, he was elected to the ASHS Hall of Fame.


    Scott Skogerboe

    Paul Ecke Jr. Commercial Award

    Given to an individual or company whose commitment to the highest standards of excellence in the field of commercial horticulture contributes to the betterment of gardening practices everywhere.

    Scott Skogerboe

    Scott Skogerboe has selected, discovered, and bred numerous plants. Often tracking down selections believed lost forever, his horticultural detective work has led him to exciting finds, such as the last surviving apple tree planted by Johnny Appleseed. Skogerboe ran his own edible plant nursery for several years before joining Fort Collins Wholesale Nursery in Colorado, where he has spent the last 30 years as the plant propagator. He propagates roughly 300,000 trees and shrubs annually, and estimates he has grown over five million plants in the nursery’s greenhouses.


    Carol Johnson

    Landscape Design Award

    Given to an individual whose work has demonstrated and promoted the values of sound horticultural practices in the field of landscape architecture.

    Carol R. Johnson

    Carol R. Johnson, founder and chairman emeritus of Carol R. Johnson Associates in Boston, Massachusetts, has been a landscape architect for more than 50 years. Among her notable projects are the redesign of the Mystic River Reservation in Massachusetts and the creation of urban parks such as John Marshall Park in Washington, D.C. Johnson taught landscape architecture at her alma mater, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and has lectured at other universities in the United States and abroad. She is a trustee for the Hubbard Educational Trust, founded to further education in landscape architecture throughout the United States.


    Leslie Ariail

    Meritorious Service Award

    Recognizes a past Board member or friend of the American Horticultural Society for outstanding service in support of the Society’s goals, mission, and activities.

    Leslie S. Ariail

    Leslie S. Ariail was a member of the AHS Board of Directors from 2001 to 2015, serving in various capacities from secretary to vice chair. She also played leadership roles on various Board committees and the AHS’s annual fundraising gala. A longtime resident of Alexandria, Virginia, she was a founding member of Act for Alexandria, which has helped raise money for local charities, and currently serves as president of the Washington Forrest Foundation, a charitable organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. A lifelong gardener and award-winning flower arranger, Ariail is a member of the Garden Club of Alexandria.


    Jeff Lowenfels

    B.Y. Morrison Communication Award

    Recognizes effective and inspirational communication–through print, radio, television, and/or online media–that advances public interest and participation in horticulture.

    Jeff Lowenfels

    A resident of Anchorage, Alaska, Jeff Lowenfels has been sharing gardening advice through a wide range of media for nearly 40 years. Over that period, he has continuously published a weekly gardening column in the Anchorage Daily News, hosted a popular public TV show about gardening in Alaska, written three critically acclaimed gardening books, and hosted a long-running radio show. An active member and former president of the Garden Writers Association (GWA), he was inducted into the organization’s hall of fame in 2004. His book Teaming with Microbes received the 2011 GWA Gold Awards for best talent, book writing, and product.


    MaryEllen O'Brien

    Frances Jones Poetker Award

    Recognizes significant contributions to floral design in publications, on the platform, and to the public.

    MaryEllen J. M. O'Brien

    MaryEllen J. M. O’Brien of Sheffield, Massachusetts, is an inspirational floral designer who has competed in and served as a judge for numerous flower shows across the country. Currently she creates Flower Show Flowers, an online publication for amateur floral designers. Prior to that, she was the editor and graphic designer for By DESIGN, a Garden Club of America (GCA) periodical focused on flower arranging. Also for the GCA, she created a floral design course that affiliate clubs use to teach the art to their members. Her own innovative designs have garnered numerous awards from the GCA and other organizations.


    Bill Thomas

    Professional Award

    Given to a public garden administrator whose achievements during the course of his or her career have cultivated widespread interest in horticulture.

    R. William Thomas

    As the executive director of the Chanticleer Foundation, R. William Thomas oversees the acclaimed Chanticleer garden in Wayne, Pennsylvania. He also coordinates the distribution of the foundation’s grants, which have helped fund worthy garden projects around the country. Prior to joining Chanticleer in 2003, Thomas worked at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, for more than 25 years in a variety of roles. A popular speaker, Thomas has given horticultural presentations at public gardens and botanical institutions from coast to coast. He has written five gardening books, the most recent of which, The Art of Gardening (Timber Press, 2015), received a 2016 AHS Book Award


    Kathy and Lee Lovett

    Jane L. Taylor Award

    Given to an individual, organization, or program that has inspired and nurtured future horticulturists through efforts in children’s and youth gardening.

    Lee and Kathy Sapp Lovett

    Lee and Kathy Sapp Lovett began their careers 50 years ago as educators in the Hall County school system in Gainesville, Georgia. Kathy has since retired from teaching middle and high school, while Lee now serves as deputy superintendent. Together they have combined their love for gardening and education to create Gardens on Green. This educational garden next to the Hall County Education Building introduces children to “the miracles in a garden” as Kathy puts it. Gardens on Green is a teaching and learning space complete with conifer, vegetable, and pollinator gardens, as well as a compost center. More recently, a nutrition center has been added to teach kids about healthy eating habits. For many students, the garden is an influential first introduction to the joys of gardening.


    Terry Ferriss

    Teaching Award

    Given to an individual whose ability to share his or her horticultural knowledge with others has contributed to a better public understanding of the plant world and its important influence on society.

    Terry L. Ferriss, Ph.D.

    Terry L. Ferriss is professor emerita of horticulture in the Plant and Earth Science Department at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls. Along with teaching horticulture courses there from 1979 to 2015, she advised between 30 and 70 undergraduate horticulture students and a handful of graduate-level students each year. Starting in 1994, she served as director of the Internship Program for the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences. Toward the end of her long tenure, she also served as chair of her department. Ferriss has received several accolades for teaching, research, and overall contributions to horticulture, including the Outstanding Educator Award from the Perennial Plant Association and the Alex Laurie Award for Research and Education from the Society of American Florists, both in 2015.


    Kitty and Tom Stoner

    Catherine H. Sweeney Award

    Recognizes extraordinary and dedicated philanthropic efforts in support of the field of horticulture.

    Tom and Kitty Stoner

    Tom and Kitty Stoner of Annapolis, Maryland, are co-founders of the TKF Foundation, which focuses on creating and supporting public green spaces as places of sanctuary and solace. Through this foundation, the Stoners have partnered in the creation of more than 130 such projects—called Open Spaces, Sacred Places—in the greater Washington D.C. and Baltimore region over the last 20 years. The Foundation has also supplied $4.5 million for the Nature Sacred Award initiative, a national program that supports research projects designed to scientifically prove the inherent value and need for nearby, open access to urban nature. Based on results from this research, the Stoners hope to encourage further investments in urban greening.


    Tim Kant

    Urban Beautification Award

    Given to an individual, institution, or company for significant contributions to urban horticulture and the beautification of American cities.

    Timothy M. Kant

    Timothy M. Kant has served the city of Fairhope, Alabama, for more than 30 years. He began as a city horticulturist in 1983 and has been mayor since 2000. Kant’s focus on civic pride and quality of life is reflected in the city’s blooming success. Under his leadership, the city has placed first in its population category in the America in Bloom urban beautification award program, and third in the world in Nations in Bloom, an award that recognizes cities for environmental stewardship and innovative practices. Among the many awards Kant has received is the Norman J. Walton, Sr. Regional Award—Outstanding Member Government, the highest award given by the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission.




    Special Thanks to:


    ~Presenting Sponsor~

    Marcia and Klaus Zech

    in honor of Jane Diamantis, Awards Committee Chair


    Benefactor Sponsor

    Gay Estes


    Banquet Sponsors

    Ingleside Vineyards
    Main Event Caterers
    Party Rental Ltd.