COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Steven Still was "green" before green was cool.
Nearly four decades ago, Still earned his doctorate at the University of Illinois by examining if waste hardwood bark, instead of being burned or dumped by distilleries that use the wood for whiskey barrels, could be used as a growing medium.
"Since then, this has become a very common practice," Still says, proudly. And over the years, Still has continued to make his mark on the horticultural industry, teaching and advising students as well as writing a textbook that has become a standard in horticultural classrooms, "Manual of Herbaceous Ornamental Plants."
Still's lifetime of accomplishments will be recognized June 10 as the American Horticultural Society grants him its highest honor, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Award, at its annual Great American Gardeners Awards Ceremony in Alexandria, Va.
Bill Randle, chair of Ohio State University's Department of Horticulture and Crop Science, said the award is a reflection of Still's lifelong commitment to the ornamentals industry, "from the teaching, the research and scholarship he has done, to how he's communicated his knowledge with the community at large. It truly is a lifelong achievement honor."
Still said his interest in horticulture began in his parents' vegetable garden, where he earned national 4-H honors at the age of 14. He also enjoys remembering his time in his two-room grade school in Plainview, Illinois, his rural but active high school, and his undergraduate and graduate education at the University of Illinois.
Still began his Ohio State University career in 1979, after teaching for five years at Kansas State University. Now a professor emeritus, Still remains active advising students and serving as executive director of the 1,400-member international Perennial Plant Association, based in Hilliard, Ohio, which he helped form in 1984. Still has also served as a leader in many other organizations, including the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association, the Garden Writer's Association, the Eastern Region International Plant Propagators Society and the American Horticultural Society. In addition, Still was the first director of Ohio State's Chadwick Arboretum and Learning Gardens; in 2007, the Steven M. Still Garden in the arboretum was dedicated in his honor.
But Still says, in looking back over his career, he is most proud when he observes what his former students have accomplished, particularly in the publishing arena. Among them:
- Tracy DiSabato-Aust, who lives in nearby Sunbury, Ohio, is the author of the best-selling "The Well-Tended Perennial Garden" and several other books, and speaks internationally on garden topics.
- Debra Knapke has co-written several books on gardening in Ohio and the Midwest, including "Perennials for Ohio."
- Denise Adams, who earned her Ph.D. under Still, has become a widely known ornamental plant historian and wrote, "Restoring American Gardens: An Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants, 1640-1940."
Other students have also have taken the academic route, presenting papers at conferences and teaching at various institutions. "In one recent symposium, I counted 25 attendees who were current or former students," Still said.
One of his former students, Laura Deeter, is an assistant professor at Ohio State's Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster. In 2006, she received the university's Distinguished Teaching Award. "Certainly, that reflects on the educational aspect that we're all about," he said.
Still is currently revising his own textbook for its fifth edition. In the meantime, he is grateful for the recognition from the society.
"I'm very pleased to be recognized with such an award," he said, "especially knowing that so many others who have received it are people I've admired through the years."
Randle said that Still's commitment to the industry and the honor he is receiving is an illustration of one way his department and the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences connects to the every-day person. "Gardening is the No. 1 hobby in the world," Randle said.
And he's proud that Still is receiving the credit he deserves. "What better way to be recognized than by a group of your peers?"
The Liberty Hyde Bailey Award is one of 12 awards to be bestowed on June 10. For more information, see the society's web site at http://www.ahs.org.
Still and his wife, Carolyn, live in Hilliard, Ohio. Their four children are all graduates of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at Ohio State.
Caption: Steven Still, in the Steven M. Still Garden at Ohio State's Chadwick Arboretum and Learning Gardens.