2021 HLA Distinguished Alumni Award winners announced

The Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Distinguished Alumni awards honor outstanding HLA alumni who have made important impacts in the horticulture and landscape architecture communities in Colorado and around the world. An Honor Alumnus is a graduate of CSU’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture who has a distinguished career and service to the profession and has brought honor to themselves and their chosen field. The 2021 recipients were recognized at a virtual awards ceremony on Wednesday, April 21.

Environmental Horticulture – Larry Vickerman

Larry Vickerman obtained a B.S. from Colorado State University in landscape horticulture in 1990 and an M.S. in not-for-profit management from the University of Washington in 1993. He was a Horticulture Agent and then County Director for CSU Extension in El Paso County, Colorado, for five years, 2000-2005.

For the past 16 years Larry Vickerman has served as Director of Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Farms, a 700-acre farm and public garden in Littleton, Colorado. He has been the visionary that DBG Chatfield Farms needed to turn this peri-urban gem into a thriving and financially successful botanic garden location.

His professional background includes more than 40 years in farming/ranching, landscape/production horticulture, prairie restoration and consulting. He has worked in Washington, Kansas, Colorado, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Larry serves on the United Nations’ WASAG, The Global Framework for Water Scarcity in Agriculture Committee. He is co-author of Steppes: The plants and ecology of the world’s semi-arid regions. The last 25 years, he has researched and developed seeding techniques for riparian and prairie habitat restoration to support a wide array of pollinators, beneficial insects, and wildlife. He currently serves as President of the San Isabel Land Protection Trust, based in Westcliffe, Colorado. He is a fourth-generation Coloradoan, having growing up on a large cattle ranch in the Wet Mountain Valley.

Landscape Architecture – Jana McKenzie

Jana McKenzie received her bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from Colorado State University in 1985. Jana has brought a high quality of design standards to her work as well as a versatile skillset that serves a wide range of clientele and place types such as natural areas, streetscapes, restoration, interpretation, and architecture. She has a national reputation in park and park systems design and is dedicated to mentorship and advancement of students and young professionals. She is a vivacious supporter of CSU’s Landscape Architecture program and has left an indelible imprint on the Northern Colorado built environment. She is a leader of nationally-significant projects, including innovative flood management and restoration strategies as well as design of a major venue at the SLC Winter Olympics and has been a leading advocate for sustainable design and early member of ASLA sustainability committee for SITES. She is the Chair of Colorado ASLA Licensure Board.

Jana is a Principal Landscape Architect and one of the owners of Logan Simpson, which is a multi-discipline firm of approximately 100 professionals, with offices in: Fort Collins, CO; Tempe, Tucson and Flagstaff, AZ; Salt Lake City, UT; and Reno, NV. The firm employs landscape architects, community and environmental planners, cultural/historic resources specialists, biologists, and community involvement specialists. She has worked in Fort Collins for her entire career, starting after graduation with EDAW, a national firm that grew to be the largest planning and design firm in the world. Her mentors and partners in that firm continue to be some of her best friends.

Jana’s passion for sustainability was ignited in the 1980’s, when she designed the second Xeriscape garden in Colorado, at the Fort Collins City Hall, which has endured throughout her career. She was one of the five originators of the Sustainable Sites Initiative, which has become a nationally recognized design tool and rating system with the US Green Building Council, and was one of the first LEED accredited landscape architects in the nation, giving her a lifetime status of LEED-AP.

She was recognized by the American Society of Landscape Architects for her projects’ contribution to excellence in the profession by receiving the title of “Fellow”. During her 35-year career, Jana has led teams to design more than 75 parks, open space, trails, and public building sites, as well as streetscapes and alleys. Current projects include designing a visitor center site at Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area in Henderson, NV; renovating the amphitheater at Colorado National Monument, and master planning improvements to the Runyon Sports Field Complex in Pueblo, CO. She led the team to design the 2002 Olympics Cross-Country/Biathlon Venue, and also the iconic America The Beautiful Park in Colorado Springs. Some Fort Collins and Loveland projects that people may be familiar with include:

  • Viestenz-Smith Mountain Park (on the Big Thompson River), Mehaffey Park, Centennial Park Ballfields, and River’s Edge Natural Area in Loveland
  • Fossil Creek Reservoir Natural Area
  • Trimble and Tenney Court downtown alleys
  • Museum of Discovery and the Aztlan Center
  • Larimer County’s downtown offices and Justice Center with its Civic Center Park
  • New City of Fort Collins Utilities Administration Building on LaPorte, which is LEED Platinum
  • CSU’s bike/pedestrian underpass at Centre Avenue and Prospect
  • CSU’s new Heritage Garden and football practice fields at Canvas Stadium
  • Mason Corridor Trails
  • 5 neighborhood parks (Troutman, Rossborough, English Ranch, Greenbriar, and Eastside)

Jana has also led planning projects, including parks, recreation, trails and open space plans for Larimer County, Estes Park, Greeley, Timnath, Delta, Craig, Steamboat Springs, and 20 other communities. She continues to serve and promote the profession by employing student interns, serving as Chair of the State Board of Landscape Architects, teaching at Southwest Training Institutes’ Park Planning and Maintenance Academy, and occasionally speaking at conferences.

Her greatest passions are mentoring others, learning new things, spending time with family and friends, laughing, cooking, skiing, hiking, traveling, and gardening.

Horticulture – Carl Marino and Karen Weiss

A Brief History of the Horticultural Careers of Karen Weiss and Carl Marino (written by Karen Weiss) 

Carl Marino and I met during our last two years at CSU as horticulture majors. Carl was in the Landscape and Nursery Management program while I had chosen Floriculture as my area of concentration. Upon our graduation in December of 1976, we then decided to become business partners.

Like many newly graduated students with all the motivation and energy of youth, we set out to change some of the age-old ways in which the floral industry operated. We wanted to create a different approach to how fresh cut flowers were bought and sold. Ultimately our goal was to grow the untapped U.S. market potential by giving consumers a fresher product that would enhance both the aesthetic appeal and perceived value of fresh cut flowers.

Within two weeks after graduating, we made up a joint resume, drove to Hollywood, Florida and passed them out to every exhibitor at the annual Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition. Our goal was to land a job as a team, requesting an annual salary of $15,000 each. We had several offers but the one we chose was a position as managers of an absentee owner’s 20-acre mismanaged greenhouse in Apopka, Florida. Our task was to take over the operation and increase production to meet the huge demand. The operation produced a number of different products. The major product was acres of pothos plants grown from rooted cuttings that were harvested from mother plant beds. The nursery also produced areca palm plants from seed. Within 7 months we turned the nursery into a very profitable business.

Having both grown up in the Northeast, we then decided to relocate to Springfield, MA where we founded Springfield Flower Company in August of 1977. A small downtown retail space was rented in a historic landmark building featuring a high-end artist co-op and antique gallery catering to wealthy clientele. Not only could we use the entire basement as our workspace and warehouse, but also displayed our plants throughout the gallery. Coincidentally a nearby florist was closing his business and sold us his old wooden flower cooler that we resurrected in our basement warehouse.

Now with a location and ample space to work from, we began bringing up truckloads of foliage plants from landscape nurseries in Florida. We acclimated them for indoor use under a florescent lighting system. This allowed us not only to sell a large number of plants in our retail gallery space, but more importantly this also attracted the attention of interior designers who frequented the shop. The word of mouth this generated opened up the opportunity to expand into the world of both residential and commercial interior plantscaping.

That fall, Carl designed and installed an incredibly intricate landscape/hardscape on a newly built home in Connecticut with the help of his brother, Peter Marino, who just graduated from the University of Missouri with a horticulture degree. We welcomed him into our business as a 3rd partner. Peddler’s licenses were soon procured and a vacant half acre lot in a high traffic area of West Springfield was leased.

On this location we set up a fresh cut flower open air market easily accessible from five surrounding streets. Our flowers were purchased in Manhattan’s West 28th Street flower district, bringing the freshest assortment available, selling them to the public at double our cost. Business was booming despite encountering a great deal of opposition from retail florists. We felt unstoppable!

Our next strategy was to begin producing and marketing handmade Dutch style bouquets and then we approached a local super market chain. We offered them something they had neither done nor even considered: starting a floral program. The produce buyer allowed us to set up our handmade bouquet and foliage plant stands on a guaranteed sales basis. It was a great success and they were amazed by the dollars/sq.ft. of return.

Seeking more challenges (and feeling more than a bit homesick), we turned the company over to Carl’s brother and headed back to Colorado. Needing to raise more funds, Carl became sales manager for Anthony Euser Greenhouses of Brighton, CO. Meanwhile, I took on a project in the greenhouse of Colorado carnation producer Bud Brinkert, converting his greenhouse into a retail florist operation called Washington Park Florists. It took a year of saving all the money we possibly could, and combined with our previous business profits, and in May of 1979 we opened up our own business in Denver: Great Plains Wholesale Florists, Inc.

By the late 1970s Colorado flower production was in decline due to the exorbitant cost of heating greenhouses. This forced rose and carnation producers to transition into traditional wholesale florist operations. As a result we faced heavy competition. Needing to find a niche we traveled to the Netherlands and established relations with a Dutch exporter. He procured our flower orders from the Westland Flower Auction. Compared to the Aalsmeer Auction, Westland auctioned off higher quality and more unusual specialty crops in a smaller supply.

We received our Dutch flowers directly via KLM Airlines. The Denver market had never before seen a Dutch flower. As word spread, every top floral designer in town was ripping open the boxes in a literal frenzy as we unloaded them off our truck and before I could even get the product priced. The quality was beyond comparison.

The other obstacle to overcome as wholesalers at the time was our inability to reliably purchase fresh flowers in the Miami importer brokerage market. We realized that we needed to establish direct relations with Colombian and Ecuadorian flower producers and bypass Miami altogether. Without speaking a word of Spanish, we headed first to Bogota’, then Medellin, and finally to Quito. We were met with so much enthusiasm. These growers welcomed us into their homes and their dinner tables. They treated us like royalty, proudly showing us their beautiful farms.

Most importantly, we listened to their needs, particularly their displeasure with the existing arrangement with the Miami flower brokerage system, a system that only accepted their product on a consignment basis. This left the growers with little to no profit, and they could never anticipate what their returns would be. We came away having established a new way to do business by offering to purchase their flowers at a mutually agreed upon price. We then hired an International Trade Attorney and $25,000 later we had our U.S. Customs Importer of Record license. This turned out to be the first “Fair Trade Practice” within the imported fresh cut flower industry.

As a result of these initiatives in Europe and South America, our company grew rapidly becoming a major player as a Denver based wholesale florist. The supermarkets approached us to produce bouquets, then arrangements. We grew into a 35,000 sq. ft. facility with over 50 employees, supplying over 400 supermarkets.

In 1997 we sold Great Plains to 1-800 Flowers and founded Tradewinds International LLC. It was a business model we designed to eliminate everything we disliked in our previous business: managing employees, physically handling the product, dealing with high credit risk retail florists and difficult super market buyers.

Tradewinds International is a membership organization. We invited wholesale florists from across the U.S. and Canada who were vetted and met our high standards for business ethics and credit worthiness. We also invited farms producing high quality flowers who were more than eager to join. The organization grew to 110 farm and 65 wholesale members, achieving a volume of $30 million in annual revenues.

We handled the accounting and collections for all 175 companies, as well as the logistics from point of origin to final wholesaler destination. We never bought or sold the flowers but rather, facilitated the process of importation, literally teaching wholesalers how to purchase flowers directly. Members were brought together every 2 years for a fun-filled 5 days of floral exhibition, dinners, and meetings.

In January 2020 Carl and I sold our shares of Tradewinds. We continue to operate Zoom-Bloom LLC, a small company we founded in 2013 that sources plants and flowers for large retailers and small wholesalers across the U.S.

On a personal level, I became a grandparent at the very beginning of the pandemic. I am thoroughly enjoying spending time with my family and experiencing the joy of retirement for the first time since I was 14 years old. Carl is managing Zoom-Bloom Floral and continuing to help companies procure and market high quality floral products.