From childhood and education in Illinois to an assistant/associate professorship in Kansas – and ultimately to The Ohio State University – Dr. Steven Still has absorbed and taught and lived horticulture nearly all his life. A botanist. A scientist. A teacher and author. Executive director. He has authored and contributed to must-have books for professionals and home gardeners, and his photographs have appeared in countless books and other publications. He has presented professional papers to International Plant Propagators Society and American Society for Horticultural Science colleagues, as well as given speeches and colorfully illustrated talks to hort industry professionals and at flower and garden shows.
Still sat on faculty boards and committees and advised both undergrad and graduate students during his academic career, spanning 31 years from 1974 to 2005, when he became Professor Emeritus of Landscape Horticulture in OSU’s Department of Horticulture and Crop Science.
He has traveled around the world to collect plants, take photographs and connect with nursery professionals far and wide.
Still has served on the boards of several esteemed organizations, including (among others) the American Horticultural Society, the Eastern Region of the International Plant Propagators Society, the American Society of Horticultural Science, the Garden Writers Association and, of course, the Perennial Plant Association.
This fall, after 35 years at the helm of the PPA, Dr. Steven Still is stepping down from the position of Executive Director and setting his sights on new ventures. Still cofounded the organization back in 1983, when he and a select group of colleagues determined that perennial plants were just not getting the attention they deserved – in nursery production, in the market or in home gardens. He has functioned as the PPA’s Executive Director ever since.
PPA president Janet Draper says that she was introduced to what she calls the “PPA tribe” in 1986, while she worked as an intern at Kurt Bluemel’s nursery. “From my first meeting I was hooked,” she recalls. “These were my people. I was able to meet people I had only read about, or I’d read books written by them, and one of those people I first knew of through his book was Dr. Steven Still. It was the perseverance of Dr. Still, and his wife Carolyn, that brought us all together year after year. He was the tribal chief.”
Draper, now horticulturist for the Smithsonian’s Mary Livingston Ripley Garden, adds that she owes “so much of my growth as a horticulturist to the PPA; I also am a richer person thanks to all of the friends from around the globe I have met through my connections with the PPA. And it is all thanks to Dr. Steven Still keeping the PPA bus on the road for 35 years!”
If you’re involved in any way in the commercial horticulture industry, you know Steven Still. But as he leaves his very public position, we asked him for a bit of insight into his career – and what’s next.
What do you see as your greatest accomplishment?
Having the foresight to realize the herbaceous perennial industry was a sleeping giant with great potential. The organization of the first Perennial Plant Symposium pulled together the iconic perennial growers and retailers. From this program, the Perennial Plant Association was formed with a committee of Pierre Bennerup of Sunny Border Nurseries in Connecticut, Jim Beam of Sunbeam Gardens in Ohio, Ainie Busse of Busse Gardens in Minnesota and Jim Kyle of Spring Hill Nursery in Ohio. The PPA became the educational and marketing leader of the perennial industry.
What has been the most significant change in the perennial industry in the past 15 years?
The most significant change in the perennial industry production was the introduction of plug production and bare root cuttings. Quality, uniformity and availability of plugs reduced the need for a grower to allocate resources to stock block plants. Additionally, this reduced the need for every grower to own propagation greenhouses and maintain a full propagation crew.
What will you miss most?
The relationships of recent and long-time perennial friends will be greatly missed. As PPA members often mention, the PPA and especially the Perennial Plant Symposium is a grand meeting of the “perennial family.” The 35 years of relationships will be greatly missed.
Do you plan to remain active in the industry; if so, how?
Plans continue to evolve, but I will continue to share my passion for horticulture, particularly the perennial industry. I plan to continue in a leadership and advisory role with the Perennial Plant Association Foundation. The Foundation is so important in providing funding for six students to attend the Perennial Plant Symposium and receive a $1,000 scholarship. I’d like to work closely with the Chadwick Arboretum at the Ohio State University to continue an advisory role of the Steven M. Still Perennial Garden and Endowment. I also plan a revision of the “Manual of Herbaceous Ornamental Plants.”
Awards and honors
- American Horticultural Society – Liberty Hyde Bailey Award for outstanding contributions to horticulture; 2010
- Garden Club of America Medal of Honor for outstanding service to horticulture; 2008
- Ohio Nursery & Landscape Association – Teacher/Public Service Award for
outstanding service to the green industry; 2006
- L.C. Chadwick Award by the American Nursery & Landscape Association for superior teaching, guidance and motivation of students in the nursery and landscape arts and sciences; 2004
- Perennial Plant Association Award of Merit for outstanding contributions to the perennial industry; 1999
- Garden Club of Ohio citation for teaching and research of plant material; 1999
- Massachusetts Horticulture Society Gold Medal for teaching and service in
herbaceous perennials; 1995
- American Horticultural Society Medal for teaching; 1994