Ann Rhoads (Class of ’76) named inaugural recipient of Rutgers Gardens’ Hamilton Award


 Rutgers Gardens, a public botanical garden in New Brunswick anchored to the university’s George H. Cook campus, has named plant pathologist Ann F. Rhoads, a recently retired associate of the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, as the inaugural recipient of its Hamilton Award.
Named for and inspired by former Rutgers professor and Gardens director Bruce “Doc” Hamilton, this new national honor recognizing “an unsung hero, a quiet leader, or patient mentor in the field of horticulture,” will be unveiled at the Rutgers Gardens Party on September 22.
Bob Lyons, chair of the Rutgers Gardens Advisory Board since 2014, hailed Rhoads for her quiet but dedicated service to the field of horticulture, following her 36-year career at the Morris Arboretum, the official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
“The selection committee was delighted with the outstanding credentials of all the nominees but Dr. Rhoads fit the intent and spirit of this new award perfectly,” says Lyons, a professor emeritus of plant and soil sciences at the University of Delaware.
Rhoads, who was appointed a plant pathologist at the Morris Arboretum soon after earning a doctoral degree in plant pathology from Rutgers in 1976, made an immediate impact at the arboretum, developing a comprehensive database of state plants that is a model for other states and introducing Integrated Pest Management (IPM), at that time a new concept, to the arboretum community and the entire Delaware Valley.
“I am honored to have been selected to receive the Hamilton Award,” say Rhoads.
Rhoads has served over the years as the Chair of Botany and Director of the Pennsylvania Flora Project, and the Senior Botanist at the arboretum. She retired in 2013 but remains a key part of the arboretum’s team of botanists focused on identifying and documenting the plant communities of counties, state parks, and innumerable lakes and streams in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
“Since receiving my doctoral degree at Rutgers I have had the pleasure of pursuing a career in botany and plant pathology with all the challenges and rewards that a career that you love affords. It has been a constant growth process that my professors at Rutgers prepared me to embrace,” adds Rhoads.
Presenting the Hamilton Award to Rhoads will be Ari Novy, executive director of the United States Botanic Garden since 2014 and the co-chair of the Gardens Party. Novy graduated with a doctorate degree in plant biology from Rutgers in 2012 and was a protégé of “Doc” Hamilton who, for decades, made an indelible impression on countless generations of horticulture students at the university and helped to shape the future of the Rutgers Gardens.
“I couldn’t possibly be more honored to present Ann Rhoads with the first annual Hamilton Award. Both Ann Rhoads and Doc Hamilton are two of my horticultural heroes,” says Novy.
According to Novy, Rhoads’ amazing work at the Morris Arboretum and, in particular, her exemplary contributions to making the plants of Pennsylvania accessible to generations of botanical scholars and enthusiasts, perfectly embody the educational character of Doc Hamilton.
“Both have strived and succeeded in making the subject matter of plants accessible and fun. Ann is a giant in the world of plants who has championed plant education in the Mid-Atlantic, and it is most fitting that she receives an award named for another giant, Doc Hamilton, who had no greater goal than to educate people about the wonder of plants.”
It’s significant that the Hamilton Award is being unveiled during the centennial anniversary year of the Gardens, says Bruce Crawford, director of the Rutgers Gardens since 2005.
“The Gardens Party is an important event for generating operating revenue and we felt that this milestone year was an opportune time to expand the award and the awareness of the Gardens to a national presence,” he explains.
Recently designated a Horticultural Landmark by the American Society for Horticultural Science, the Gardens is poised to join the prestigious ranks of the New York Botanical Garden, the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., and Monticello, President Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia.
The Gardens, which boasts the one of the largest collection of American hollies, is open 365 days a year and is one of the few botanical gardens in the country that does not charge an entrance fee. It hosts a wide range of public activities to help provide support for the care of over 180 acres of both maintained and natural areas, and is currently developing a master plan that will assure its ongoing development as a leading public garden in New Jersey and the region.