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VNLA announces awards

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The Virginia association named its environmental steward and professional of the year at its annual meeting.

| February 14, 2010

The Virginia Nursery & Landscape Association recently held its annual meeting in Baltimore, and announced awards for environmental steward and professional of the year, as well as honored its executive director for 25 years of service. 
 
Dr. Laurie Fox wins 2009 Environmental Steward of the Year Award
 
Dr. Laurie Fox is the recipient of the 2009 Environmental Steward of the Year Award. Fox’s work as a Horticulture Associate at the Virginia Tech Hampton Roads Agricultural Research & Extension Center (HRAREC) reflects the VNLA’s objectives of promoting the adoption of best management practices and following horticulture standards that cause the minimal negative impact on our environment.
 
Having received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in horticulture from North Carolina State University with emphasis on landscape design, ornamental plant production and weed science, Laurie became a Cooperative Extension Service Agent for three years in North Carolina. She then accepted the opportunity to return to her native Virginia to be a weed scientist at Virginia Tech’s HRAREC. In 1997 she moved into the horticulture associate position and began her water quality work. In 2009, Fox completed her doctorate at Wageningen University in the Netherlands after studying phytoremediation – cleaning polluted stormwater runoff with aquatic plants.
 
Fox’s work focus has been on developing resources for the green industry and the public, including Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) publications on urban water quality management, presentations, workshops and tours. She is the publisher and a co-author on the book “Best Plants for Hampton Roads: a Landscape and Garden Companion.” 
 
Her most successful projects involve creating demonstration landscape areas where industry and the public can see and learn about the principles and practices of landscaping that improve water quality and sustain the environment. Fox accomplished these projects through strong partnerships and community support. Two of those projects include: 
  • The BayScape Garden is based on the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s BayScaping principles which promote low maintenance, environmentally-sound landscape management practices. The garden displays 90 native plants suitable for shoreline habitats. It was created through a partnership with the City of Virginia Beach, and is maintained by the Virginia Beach Master Gardener volunteers.
  • The Buffer, Rain and Sustainable Landscape Practices Gardens promote stormwater runoff management through landscape design and plant selection, and support the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act recommendations. These gardens display more than 225 species, and manage runoff around the HRAREC’s irrigation pond and main building in addition to being demonstration gardens. The sustainable garden also displays 30 different sustainable landscape practices and numerous recycled and environmentally friendly products. The gardens were created through partnerships with the City of Virginia Beach, the VCE, the Virginia Department of Forestry and local green industry businesses. They are maintained by the Virginia Beach Master Gardener Water Steward volunteers.
Fox has received a total of $39,470 in grants and $6,870 from donations, and has accumulated more than 12,000 volunteer hours through her work. While these figures are significant, the biggest positive environmental impact has been the local, regional and national attention the gardens have received. Her demonstration gardens have put Virginia Tech’s HRAREC on the environmental education map. People can see, learn, then take home and implement sound landscape practices and become good environmental stewards. 
 
Professional of the Year Award presented to Dr. Robert D. Wright
 
Dr. Robert Wright’s research activities have focused on developing nursery/greenhouse production practices which maximize plant growth and minimize costly inputs (e.g., fertilizer, container substrates). Since 1975 to the present, he has published 85 refereed journal articles. His research findings have greatly impacted not only the Virginia nursery/greenhouse industry but the U.S. industry as well. His research achievements have resulted in a stellar national and international recognition and reputation.
 
In 1998, Wright was the first recipient of the American Society of Horticultural Science’s Outstanding Achievement in Nursery Crops. He was also the recipient of the Southern Nursery Association’s Heneger Memorial Research Award (1983). 
 
In addition to these accolades, Wright serves as a manuscript reviewer for the Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science, HortScience, HortTechnology and Journal of Environmental Science (Editorial Board), and served as the chief science adviser to the executive committee and on the grant review board for the Horticultural Research Institute. 
 
Wright has two main areas of research: container plant fertilization and development of pine tree substrate.
 
The majority of landscape plants and all ornamental greenhouse crops are produced in containers. Container-grown plants are grown in a soilless substrate such as a peat moss or milled pine bark. 
His numerous research findings are the basis for current day fertilization recommendations for container-grown plants throughout the world.
 
After applying fertilizer to a container, growers must monitor the container substrate fertilizer level over time to maximize growth and minimize fertilizer input as well as to manage future fertilizer applications. Wright has developed the Virginia Tech Pour-Through Extraction Method (VTEM) of extracting the substrate solution from containers. The VTEM has revolutionized fertilizer practices for container-grown plants by allowing growers to easily, reliably and quickly extract a sample of the substrate solution, which then is analyzed for fertilizer level. 
 
Wright has also developed the methodology for extracting the substrate solution from large containers (≥15 gal.) using a suction cup lysimeter, a significant advance due to a trend in large containers use.
 
The cost of conventional container substrates (e.g., peat moss and pine bark) is rising rapidly due to the high transportation costs and reduced availability. To address this problem, Wright has pioneered the development of a new container substrate called pine tree substrate (PTS) which is produced by grinding pine logs into chips and then milling chips into specifically sized fragments. 
 
A large greenhouse grower in Virginia estimated that switching from a peat-based substrate to PTS will save his company $250,000 per year. Since 2005, Wright has published 9 PTS-related refereed journal articles (at least five others are in the submission process), and has amassed $354,000 for PTS research. He also holds a U.S. patent on PTS. 
 
Wright has also developed a device for root study called a Horhizotron which allows researchers to study the influence of different substrates on root growth. His Horhizotron research has resulted in significantly revising planting recommendation for ericaceous species (e.g., mountain laurel, azalea).
Although he is officially retired, he will continue to work on his research on a part-time basis.
 
Wright’s research efforts, guided by his insights and experiences, have greatly assisted nursery and greenhouse growers in Virginia and throughout the U.S. 
 
VNLA executive director recognized for 25 years of service
 
Jeff Miller, VNLA Executive Director since 1985, was recognized for his 25 years of service to the VNLA as executive director. He started as the executive director on a part-time basis and went to full-time in 2001. Prior to that, Jeff had served on the VNLA board (then the Virginia Nurserymen’s Association) and as VNA President in 1983.
 
He is one of the authors of the original VNLA Certification manual and was one of the original founders of the VNA Horticulture Research Foundation when five board members (Ennion Williams, Jeff Miller, Michael Ferrara, Bob Papetti and John Machen Sr.) each contributed $200 to start the permanent research endowment.
 
His first year as executive director, Miller worked with Wayne Sawyer to setup the first summer trade which was held at the Virginia Beach Convention Center with 96 exhibitors.
 
Jeff’s association philosophy is that “individuals and companies can get a lot more accomplished effectively when they pool their resources and knowledge to work on common goals and issues,” he says. 

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