Long-Time Plant Trials Manager Jim Nau Receives Liberty Hyde Bailey Award

Jim Nau

Jim Nau; Photo: All-America Selections

The American Horticultural Society’s (AHS) highest award, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Award, is given to an individual who has made significant lifetime contributions to at least three of the following horticultural fields: teaching, research, communications, plant exploration, administration, art, business, and leadership.

This year’s winner of the AHS’s highest honor is the late Jim Nau, who served as the greenhouse, gardens, and trials manager at Ball Horticultural Company for 37 years.

Nau was a plant expert, an accomplished writer, a sought-after speaker, a historian, an All-America Selections (AAS) judge, former AAS President and a garden designer. Nau, an industry icon, passed away in June 2023.

Jim Nau’s journey in the horticultural field began when he completed a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture from Iowa State University in 1982. Directly after graduation, he joined the Ball Horticultural Company, to which he dedicated his entire career. Through his work at Ball, Nau became a leading researcher in plant variety trialing, with the goal of recommending the best varieties to North American growers.

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Nau is also credited with helping to identify Wave petunias while they were in the AAS Trials. Waves are considered a breeding breakthrough in the bedding plant standards, developed by Kirin and PanAmerican Seed.

In 2003, Nau was recognized with the Perennial Plant Association’s Garden Media Promoter Award, which distinguishes a nominee representing media such as radio, television, newspaper, book publishing, magazine, photography, etc., whose educational and promotional efforts result in heightened public awareness of the work done by the perennial plant industry.

Nau was a sought-after speaker on topics such as new varieties, perennials, and garden design, and he shared his passion for plants at many conferences and grower open houses. Most of his work was in North America, but in the 1980s, Nau traveled throughout South Korea giving lectures to vegetable growers on how to grow flowers and played an instrumental role in establishing floriculture in advance of that country hosting the Olympic Games.

During his long and distinguished career, Nau led several professional organizations in the horticultural field. He served as the president of All-America Selections, an independent non-profit organization that tests new, never-before-sold varieties for the home gardener. He also served as president of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers and as a leader for the Perennial Plant Association.

As a leader, Nau understood the importance of mentoring emerging horticulturists. He was an avid supporter and mentor to over 100 interns during his career, passing on his love for gardening and his commitment to excellence. One of his greatest legacies will be the knowledge and passion he instilled in future generations of horticulturists.

Above all, Jim Nau is remembered by horticultural colleagues for his collaborative attitude.

“Jim’s personality and his incredible knowledge set him apart and make him unique. He was a kind, generous friend to so many in the industry. His contribution to horticulture is huge,” says Anna Ball.

This fondness and affirmation of Nau’s impact was echoed through support for Nau’s award nomination from leaders at the Ball Horticultural Company, All-America Selections, Longwood Gardens, the North Carolina Farm Bureau, and many nurseries and seed companies.

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