Any Active, Associate or Student member of the Vermont Nursery & Landscaping Association (VNLA)/Green Works, current in dues, as well as any Honorary member, is eligible to nominate individuals for the VNLA awards. The deadline to submit nominations is December 31, 2021.
The 2020/2021 Award Winners
Horticultural Achievement Award
This award is given to individuals connected to the horticulture industry in Vermont who are over 35 years of age and whose accomplishments have advanced our industry educationally, by plant development or growing, through literature, or through outstanding personal effort. This award is the most prestigious and distinguished that can be received from the VNLA/Green Works.
This year’s recipient of the Horticultural Achievement Award is VJ Comai. VJ is a native Vermonter who grew up in Readsboro. He attended UVM and earned his BS in Community Forestry and Horticulture. He began working for John Padua at South Forty Nursery back in the day until John left to run Cobble Creek Nursery full time. VJ then became the nursery manager at South Forty, owned by Dr. Mack and Doris Mack for twenty years. VJ grew many different varieties of flowering trees, shrubs and shade trees for the wholesale market. When South Forty closed VJ worked for a summer as a consulting arborist for an engineering firm that oversaw VTrans projects. The next three years VJ worked as an arborist representative for Bartlett Tree Experts managing residential and commercial properties throughout the state. Let’s just say VJ could get an award for the most miles driven in a 3 year period.
After leaving Bartlett, VJ became the City of Burlington Arborist. One of his first days on the job had him testifying past midnight before the City council regarding the City Hall Park renovation project, which was finally completed this past October. As city arborist, VJ and his crew are responsible for maintaining Burlington’s 8,500 trees, 3,100 park trees and 150 acres of forested parkland. They also have a vigorous tree planting schedule each spring.
VJ is a certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture and is Tree Risk Assessment Qualified through the ISA. VJ has contributed his time and experience to many groups over the years, all the while raising four children and two stepchildren along the way. VJ has been a long-time member of the VNLA and has served collectively on the board of directors for 16 years. His most recent stint serving as president for four years. He gets the award for the longest serving board member. VJ has also spent countless hours, over the past 25 plus years, working on and contributing to the success of the Vermont Flower Show. VJ is a former member of the VT Urban & Community Forestry Council, and has volunteered his time for the UVM Hort Farm and Branch Out Burlington. In his spare time he serves as a mentor for a young man in Burlington.
VJ’s generosity of his knowledge, his expertise, and his kindness have benefitted so many – on both a professional and personal level. It is safe to say that VJ has touched the lives of so many and we are all better for it. He is most deserving of this award. Congratulations!
Environmental Awareness Award
This award is given in recognition of an individual that has implemented an environmentally sound practice that contributes to the protection of our environment.
Miller Hill Farm, Nursery and Garden’s mission is to strice to use sustainable and earth healthy practices, to design ecologically friendly demonstration gardens and fields accessible to customers and visitors as models and to offer environmental awareness and educational programs for all ages. At the onset of each new season, they assess what more they can do to protect the environment in the face of climate change, water quality in the Lake Champlain watershed, habitat loss and intrusion of invasive species. Example of their environmentally sound practices are listed below:
Ecological and Sustainability Practices:
- Drip irrigation for water conservation
- Energy management for efficiency and to abate climate change
- Limit pesticide use with low impact and organics
- Recycle & reuse plastic pots retuned by customers and use expandable, root control pots for transplanting trees to minimize use of new pots
- Maintain pollinator and native plant demonstration gardens
- Sell native plants that we grow from local seed stock & cuttings (for homeowners’ landscaping and gardens and for large restoration projects)
Nature programs for adults, young adults and children –
- ‘Annual May Bird Walk” with birding aficionada Sue Wetmore
- “Tracks and Signs in Winter” with naturalist Alcott Smith
- “In and Out of the Garden” (5-10 year olds) with Ellyn Einhorn and Audubon
- “Tree Identification in Winter” Sudbury School 4th-5th graders & teachers with Nan & Carl
Environmental Projects on site at Miller Hill Farm, Nursery and Gardens:
- Protected 100.3 acres adjacent to the Otter Creek through a conservation easement
- Restored wetlands and established vernal pools and ponds for amphibians breeding
- Installed an Osprey nesting platform in partnership with USFW & Green Mountain Power
- Participating in Yellow-winged Warbler habitat restoration
- Cut hayfields after mid-August to protect nesting grassland birds (Bobolink and Meadowlark)
- Installed & maintain Bluebird and Tree Swallow nesting boxes
- Participate in VT Amphibian and Reptile Inventory
- Plant native trees and shrubs
- Remove invasive plants species
- Established a wildflower field for pollinators
- Maintain ~ 2 acre field in milkweed for Monarch Butterflies
Retailer of the Year Award
This award was established in 2012 and will be presented annually to a retail garden center or greenhouse operation that stands apart for their excellence in any or all of the following categories: customer service, quality of plant material, knowledge of staff, creativity and innovations in marketing and presentation of retail space, and overall customer experience and satisfaction.
Greenhaven Gardens & Nursery
New Haven, VT
This year’s recipient of the Retail of Year Award is awarded to Greenhaven Gardens and Nursery. I met Pete Norris back in 1989 when he stopped by the nursery and asked me what my thoughts were on opening a garden center. I told him that it was hard way of making a living.
Pete was very determined to start his garden center, so in 1991 they built their first greenhouse and they have never looked back since. Pete and his wife Daenen worked to build their business into what it is today. Over the years they added more greenhouses and the garden center was built from timber that was harvested from their property.
Jump forward to today, Greenhaven is a family-run operation with two full-service divisions: the retail division which offers annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs, bulk materials, and a variety of hard goods. The landscaping division undertakes independent residential and commercial landscaping projects and gives retail customers an installation option.
Peter and Daenen have begun the transfer of ownership of Garden Center to their daughter Danielle Norris and her partner Jack Gracie. The VNLA looks forward to seeing how the next generation takes the business forward and wishes them the best of luck and success. Congratulations! Submitted by: Ralph-FitzGerald.
VNLA Young Nursery Professional of the Year Award
The Young Nursery Professional of the Year award is an annual award established by the New England Nursery Association and has been adopted by the Vermont Nursery and Landscape Association in 2019. Its purpose is to reward, to honor, and to encourage participation, achievement and growth by an individual who is involved in a related horticultural industry and has not reached the age of 40 years, who has shown involvement in his or her state and/or regional nursery association, who has contributed to the growth and success of their company, and who has portrayed an image to the public of what our products and services can do for them.
** NOTE: This award recipient is selected in December of each year for next year’s award. All other VNLA/Green Works award nominees are selected by December of each year for the previous year. All recipients are honored at the VNLA/Green Works annual meeting held in February of each year.
David Berg applied to work at Horsford Gardens and Nursery in May of 2007 upon graduating UVM with a degree in Environmental Studies. From his first day that May, David has worked hard to do whatever task was assigned to him. Having some experience with plants through his summer work during high school at a family nursery, Dave took on learning everything he could about the landscape plants we grow and how to advise customers how to use them. He eventually was transferred from Retail to Wholesale, where he learned a great deal about growing trees and shrubs in containers.
Within a couple of years, Dave became wholesale manager. This position at Horsfords includes the growing of shrubs in containers as well as maintaining all of our shrubby plants and servicing our landscaper accounts. Dave has improved our growing operations every year, growing more and better shrubs each year and keeping a keen eye on the economics of this division. Through close attention to detail, Dave has made our above ground tree and shrub selection better each year. In addition, he has improved our service to landscapers each year – from timely communications to prompt customer service and his sage advice to those just getting into the business.
Dave has tackled Horsford’s watering regimes with care and consistency. Working closely with Ralph Fitz-Gerald, our field manager, Dave has reduced the amount of water we use by almost eliminating waste and by judicially giving the plants what they need, but no more. These conservation efforts have improved our grounds, our plants, and our stewardship of the resource.
During the past few years, Dave has broadened his scope to include assisting the retail division. During busy spring weekends, Dave will fill in to help retail with customer service. He has also become our go-to technological wizard, steering us through the difficulties of a new (to us) Point of Sale system. During his tenure at Horsfords, Dave has helped man our booths at VNLA/Green Works meetings. He has also volunteered his time to support the Flower Show. More recently, he has stepped up and helped out with the newer VNLA/Green Works initiative with the Habitat for Humanity projects.
Horsford Gardens and Nursery is proud to recognize the efforts of Dave Berg in keeping the nursery horticulturally on target and in his mentoring of younger employees and landscape customers. Submitted by: Charlie Proutt.
Allen B. Crane Horticultural Employee Acknowledgement Award
This award will be presented annually and is being sponsored by Claussen’s Florist & Greenhouse in honor of Allen B. Crane, head grower there for over 42 years. Allen was “a great friend, wonderful colleague and an incredible grower”. Allen passed away in 2013 after a yearlong battle with cancer. This award is being established in Allen’s honor to recognize the employees that make a difference in the horticultural industry. A cash prize will be awarded to the recipient in the amount of $275. Nominees must meet the following criteria: they should be an employee of a member business with a minimum of 5 years employment with that business; nominees must be employed in the horticultural industry, which could also include the field of education; and nominees should be exemplary leaders and display an ability to grow and excel in the workplace and beyond.
I would like to nominate our long-time employee Daedra (Daisy) Unsicker for the Employee Acknowledgement Award. Daisy has been working with us since she was 17 years old. She missed a couple of years at UVM when she stayed in Burlington but she is 44 now and we think she’s been involved with our garden center/farmstand for 25 years. She’s probably one of the best propagators in Vermont as she takes cuttings each year from our overwintered stock plants which include many hard to find fuchsias, salvias, coleus, succulents, etc. In an article about our farm in the The New York Times, there is a photo of her plants and a quote from me saying “Daisy could root a broomstick!” By herself, she pots up from her cuttings and bought-in cuttings, enough material to fill a 3,500 square foot gutter-connect and a 1,400 square foot hoop house of potted retail plants plus a few thousand hanging baskets.
Daisy is one of the best IPM scouts in the state having attended numerous Tri-State IPM conferences. Her knowledge (and keen eyesight!) has allowed us to reduce pesticide applications over the years by at least 80-90%. She scouts most of our 25 greenhouses and orders beneficials weekly almost every week of the year. She’s also a major player in the transitional plants for our farm. Her dedication to our operation and to horticulture is inspiring. I hope you’ll consider Daisy for this award. Submitted by: Jack Manix.
Student Merit Awards
This award is presented to college nominees for students who are pursuing education/careers in the horticulture related fields and have shown academic excellence. This is a $500 award.
University of Vermont – 2021
Eli Wilson, is a seventh generation Vermonter from Plainfield, Vermont. He graduated from Twinfield Union School in 2017. During high school, Eli took on a variety of landscaping jobs in addition to working at the Plainfield Hardware and General Store. Eli is currently a senior in Ecological Agriculture at UVM. He has served as a Teaching Assistant for several courses including: Weed Ecology and Management, Plant Propagation and Woody Landscape Plants. He has a special interest in grafting and last year he grafted over one hundred apple trees for research at the UVM Horticulture Research and Education Center under Dr. Terry Bradshaw’s supervision. Eli is interested in pursuing a career in pomology and/or propagation as well as furthering his education in the field of plant and soil science. Eli is currently the President of the UVM Horticulture Club and oversees the club’s monthly activities and events. His other extracurricular interests include: photography, fishing, and hiking. Submitted by: UVM Faculty.
Vermont Technical College – 2021
The Faculty at Vermont Tech’s Landscape Contracting Program are pleased to nominate Maria Potvin for the VNLA Student Merit Award. Maria is a senior in the Landscape Contracting Program, who is also earning an Associate of Applied Science degree in Forestry, and comes from Stamford, Vermont. Maria’s faculty note that she is consistently achieving high grades with attention to detail and thoughtfulness. Maria is a highly motivated student who works hard for her scholastic success. When she puts her mind to something it turns out well, both in the non-traditional zoom classroom setting and in our hands on labs. During the summer of 2020, she completed a successful internship at Nature Works Organic Land Care in Lee, Massachusetts. During this time, Maria became comfortable using large equipment and practiced working with stone; she also enjoyed learning how to establish strong relationships with clients and effective business management. While studying at VTC, Maria was on the cross-country running team and her hobbies include painting, traveling, and snowboarding in the winter. After graduation, Maria is planning to continue her education with a goal of earning her Bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture. She is an intelligent and hardworking young woman, who will go on to do great things in both the horticulture industry and in life. We look forward to seeing what she will accomplish. Submitted by: VTC Faculty.
Past Award Winners:
Horticultural Achievement Award
2019 Ralph Fitz-Gerald, Horsford Gardens & Nursery
2018 Ed Burke, Rocky Dale Gardens
2017 Joan Lynch, The Inner Garden
2016 Lori King, Claussen’s Florist, Greenhouse & Perennial Farm
2015 Paul Wieczoreck, Champlain Valley Landscaping/Lincoln Hill Nursery
2014 David Loysen, Shaw Hill Nursery
2013 Leo Roberts, Horsfords Garden & Nursery
2012 Don and Lela Avery, Cady’s Falls Nursery
2011 Charles Siegchrist – Barber Farm, Inc.
2010 Christopher Conant – Claussen’s Florist & Greenhouse
2009 Amy Rose-White, Rocky Dale Gardens
2008 Paul Sokal and Louise Giovanella, Addison Gardens
2007 John and Patti Padua, Cobble Creek Nursery
2006 Thomas F. Wright, Homestead Landscaping
2005 Dan G. Nash, Nash’s Treescape
2004 Leonard Perry, UVM
2003 Bill Countryman, Countryman Peony Farm
2002 Charlie Proutt, Horsford’s Nursery
2001 Holly Weir & Bill Pollard, Rocky Dale Gardens
2000 Greg Williams
1998 Joan Hulbert, Smallwood Nursery
1997 William Horsford
1996 Dennis Bruckel, Grand Isle Nursery
1995 Richard Salter
1994 Elmer Brown, The E.C. Brown Nursery
1993 Norman & Dorothy Pellett
1992 Lewis & Nancy Hill
1991 Richard Stevens, Sr.
Environmental Awareness Award
2019 David Fried, Elmore Roots Fruit Tree Nursery
2018 Dan Goossen & Jen Baer, Green Mountain Compost/Chittenden Solid Waste District
2017 Nate Carr, Churchill Landscapes, Inc.
2016 Dan Redondo, Vermont Wetland Plant Supply, Inc.
2015 Liz and Jake Guest, Killdeer Farm
2014 Rebecca Lindenmeyr, Linden L.A.N.D. Group
2013 Sarah Salatino, Full Circle Gardens
2012 Chris Conant, Claussen’s Florist & Greenhouse
2011 Sarah Holland – River’s Bend Garden Design
2009 Charlie Proutt and Eileen Schilling, Horsford Gardens & Nursery
2008 Tom Stearns, High Mowing Organic Seeds
2007 Karl Hammer, Vermont Compost Company
2006 Anne Mueller, Arcana Gardens and Greenhouses
2004 Common Ground Student Run Educational Farm
2002 Paul Sachs, North Country Organics
2001 Paul Sokal, Addison Gardens
2000 Adam Sherman
1997 Will & Judy Stevens
1996 Don Avery, Cady’s Falls Nursery
1995 SVCEC Horticulture Program
1994 Jim & Mary Musty, J. M. Landscaping
1993 Nancy Volatile Wood
1991 Andrea Morgante
Retailer of the Year Award
2019 Claussen’s Florist, Greenhouse & Perennial Farm
2018 Gardener’s Supply Company Garden Centers
2017 Eileen Schilling and Charlie Proutt, Horsford Gardens & Nursery
2016 Carol and Mike MacLeod, Evergreen Gardens
2015 Ed Burke, Rocky Dale Gardens
2014 Karen and Jack Manix, Walker Farm
2013 Tobi and Sally von Trapp, von Trapp Greenhouse
2012 Julie Rubaud, Red Wagon Plants
Young Nursery Professional of the Year Award*
2020 Michelle Blow, UVM Greenhouse Facilities
2019 Kristin Sprenkle, Horsford Gardens & Nursery
2018 Ashley Robinson, Landscape Designer
2017 David Burton, diStefano Landscaping, Inc.
2016 Hannah Decker, Fairfax Perennial Farm, Inc.
2015 Gabe Bushey, Crafted Landscapes, LLC
2014 Jason Koicuba, Cobble Creek Nursery
2013 Brian Vaughan, Vaughan Landscaping
2012 Nathaniel Carr, Church Hill Landscapes, LLC
2011 Claybrook Griffith, Long Leaf Landscaping, LLC
2010 Shannon Lee, Cobble Creek Nursery
2009 Rebecca Lindenmeyr, Linden Landscaping & Design, Inc.
2008 R. Andrew Burtt, Old Nash Farm & Landscaping
2006 Chris Thompson, White River Valley Gardens & Landscaping
2005 Mark Starrett, UVM
2002 Tim Parsons, Greenhaven Gardens & Nursery
2001 Charlie Plonski, Horsfords Gardens & Nursery/New England Nursery Sales
2000 Peter Norris, Greenhaven Gardens & Nursery
1998 Scott Pfister, Vermont Department of Agriculture
1997 Stephen Tworig, North Branch Landscape Co., Inc.
1996 Bill Pedi, Northern Nurseries
1995 Thamasin Sullivan
1994 VJ Comai, South Forty Nursery
1993 Chris Schlegel
1992 Ralph Fitzgerald, Horsford Gardens & Nursery
1991 Pat Seibel
* Formerly a New England Nursery Association Award
Past Recipients of the Allen B. Crane Employee Acknowledgement Award
2019 Lily Belisle, Red Wagon Plants
2018 Geoffrey Swanson, diStefano Landscaping, Inc.
2017 Amy Olmsted, Rocky Dale Gardens
2016 Matthew deWolf. Gardener’s Supply Company
2015 Sally Dunkleman, Cobble Creek Nursery
2014 Besty Gritman, Glebe Mountain Gardens & Landscaping
Past Recipients of Student Merit Awards
University of Vermont
2021 Josiah Gilbert
2019 Paul Saaman
2018 – Kaly Gonski
2017 – Rowan Payne-Meyer
2016 – Michael Murphy
2015 – Donald Keith, III
2014 – John Davis
2013 – John R. Bruce
2012 – Graham Glauber
2011 – Graham Glauber
2010 – Jesse Ackemann
2009 – Kaitlin May Harris and John F. Holcomb II
2007 – Cole Downing
2006 – Mark Finch
2005 – Kent Martin
2004 – Andrew Burtt
Vermont Technical College
2020 Kimberly Myers
2019 Hannah Kilburn
2018 – Ben Zaccarra
2017 – David Howes
2016- Lucas Buckley-Jamison
2015 – Oliver Zeichner
2014 – Kim Cayer
2013 – Kelly Pellegrino
2012 – Jackie Fontaine
2011 – Brittny Tyler
2010 – Lisa Hoare
2009 – Jonathan J. Becker
2008 – Lucy Thayer
2006 – Justin Filskov
2005 – Megan Hefner and Rob Moore
2004 – Mark Dumont
2002 – Jeremy Tinker