Southern Nursery Association names 2019 award winners

Southern Nursery Association names 2019 award winners

Tony Avent, Jonathan Saperstein, Ted Bilderback and more will be honored at the 2019 SNA Conference.

December 21, 2018

Atlanta, Ga. – The Southern Nursery Association (SNA) has announced the recipients of the 2019 SNA Awards. The awards will be presented at the 120th Annual SNA Business Meeting, scheduled for Jan. 8, 2019, at the Baltimore Convention Center, Baltimore, Md., during The SNA Conference.

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 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.

This year’s recipient of the Slater Wight Memorial Award is Dr. Ted Bilderback of Raleigh, N.C. Dr. Bilderback retired as an Emeritus Professor & Director of the JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University July 1, 2014, after 37 years as a Horticulture Science faculty member at NC State. His career included responsibilities for teaching, extension and research. Ted’s research and extension programs focused on environmentally conscious cultural practices for growing nursery stock. Irrigation, horticultural container substrates and plant nutrition were an emphasis of his educational programs that included advising or co-advising 24 graduate students. His research, extension and popular articles numbered over 500 publications and his career external funding resulted in approximately $2.2 million.

Established in 1974 by David E. Laird, Jr., in memory of his father, SNA past president David E. Laird, Sr., the David E. Laird, Sr. Memorial 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.

This year’s recipient of the David E. Laird, Sr. Memorial Award is Jonathan Saperstein, current CEO of one of America’s largest nurseries, TreeTown USA. He began his career at TreeTown early in the company’s history working as part of the field crew before climbing the rungs of the corporate ladder; moving from field labor to farm maintenance and eventually working his way up to COO. While working at TreeTown, he attended the University of Texas at Austin. Saperstein was named a recipient of the Forbes 30 Under 30 award within the Manufacturing & Industry category in 2017. He was named 2018’s Gulf Coast Region EY Entrepreneur of the Year, and was a National Finalist for EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year award that same year. 

At the age of twenty-seven, Saperstein became CEO of TreeTown after leading a management buyout in January 2015, which was later awarded by the M&A Advisor as the 2015 “Agricultural Acquisition of the Year.” With Saperstein at the helm TreeTown strategically completed four additional acquisitions as well as the sale of one non-core business. Today TreeTown and its subsidiaries, Village Nurseries and Hines Growers, produce on over 6,000 acres split amongst 18 facilities located in Florida, Texas, California and Oregon and produces over 30 million plants a year.

Saperstein divides his time between TreeTown’s locations in addition to visiting customers to ensure that they are receiving the highest level of service. Saperstein firmly believes that employee, vendor, and customer relationships are the driving force of any successful business. This is evident by the numerous initiatives TreeTown has undertaken since Saperstein acquired the business. Since becoming CEO in 2015, Saperstein has grown TreeTown’s employee base to over 2,000.

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 Scott Martiniere, Southeastern sales director for Harrell’s. In 2003 Scott joined Harrell’s as sales manager. After building Harrell’s horticulture business from coast to coast and acquiring a soil plant in Fla., and making it a viable success, Scott was promoted to sales director for the Southeast. Along with nine sales associates, Scott continues to make a significant impact in the horticulture market.

In 1969, an Award of Merit was created to honor those individuals who have made outstanding contributions to ornamental horticultural research and, more speci?cally, 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). The recipient is selected annually by fellow research workers for his/her concern and work toward improving the nursery industry.

The recipient of the 2019 Porter Henegar Memorial Award is Dr. Allen Owings, Professor Emeritus, Horticulture, LSU AgCenter. Dr. Owings was born and raised in Hammond, LA. He holds a BS degree (plant science) from Southeastern Louisiana University, MS degree (Horticulture) from LSU and PhD (Horticulture) from Mississippi State University.

Dr. Owings provided statewide extension service programming for nursery growers, landscapers, garden centers and secondarily to master gardeners and home gardeners for 25 years. He coordinated the LSU AgCenter Louisiana Super Plant program and conducted research in the area of ornamental horticulture plant trials and evaluation programs. 

Since October 2017, Dr. Owings has been employed as senior horticulturist at Bracy’s Nursery in Amite, LA and horticulturist at Clegg’s Nursery in Baton Rouge, LA. In this role he works in the area of new plant recommendations, social media education, horticulture outreach and customer relations.
Dr. Owings has participated annually in the SNA research conference since 1987 and has published over 70 articles in the proceedings. He was an inaugural recipient of SNA’s Sidney B. Meadows Scholarship.

He is a life member of the Louisiana Nursery and Landscape Association (where he served as executive secretary for 13 years) and the Louisiana Society for Horticultural Research.

During his LSU AgCenter career he also wrote weekly landscape columns that were distributed statewide in Louisiana and also wrote for his hometown newspaper, the Hammond Star.

This year, one deserving industry member has been selected to receive a SNA Honorary Member Award: Donna Foster who served the South Carolina Green Industry Association (formerly the South Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association) as executive director for 22 years. Along with SCGIA she also was and continues to be the secretary/treasurer of the International Plant Propagators Society - Southern Region and the South Carolina Greenhouse Growers Association. 

The Don Shadow Award of Excellence, named for the first recipient, Don O. Shadow, Shadow Nursery, Winchester, Tenn., 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.

The 2019 recipient of the Don Shadow Award of Excellence is Tony Avent, horticulturist and proprietor, freelance garden writer, international garden lecturer, and plant auctioneer. He and his wife, Anita Avent, own Plant Delights Nursery and established Juniper Level Botanic Garden in Raleigh, North Carolina. In addition, Tony is a well-known plant explorer, author and public speaker. In 1988, he and his late wife Michelle established Plant Delights Nursery, a small, family owned, mail-order nursery, offering unique, rare, well-grown, and properly-named perennials to passionate gardeners around the world. 

Plant Delights Nursery/Juniper Level Botanic Garden has one of the most extensive perennial trialing programs in the country. Despite being best known as a mail-order nursery, they actually exist for their work as a private 28-acre botanical garden, spiritual retreat center and plant research facility focusing on ex-situ plant conservation, plant exploration, breeding, and propagation. They have had several new plant species named from their collections, and more in the pipeline.

Their horticultural educational efforts are visible in our catalog, our website, their presentations around the country, in public and scientific publications, and now on social media.

Tony’s plant explorations have led him to Argentina, Bosnia, China, Crete, Croatia, Korea, Mexico, Montenegro, Slovenia, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, plus 67 plant expeditions in the U.S.

Tony is a contributing editor to Fine Gardening Magazine (2017 to present). He has been featured in numerous media including HGTV Martha Stewart Living, The Winter Garden Series, The Secret Garden Series, and PBS Cultivating Life. He has also authored So You Want to Start a Nursery (Timber Press, 2003).

For a list of previous SNA award winners, visit the SNA website at