February 15, 2016
Tony DiGiovanni CHT
LO Executive Director

Just after Christmas last year, I was very saddened to receive the news that long-time LO member and industry pioneer John Putzer passed away. He was 91. Since John had such an influence on where we are today, it is my honour to share his accomplishments in my space here.  

John started out as a landscape contractor and in 1959 he was one of the original founders of the Ontario Landscape Contractors Association (OLCA), which eventually became Landscape Ontario. John served as president of that group in 1966. It was the beginning of a lifetime of service to the industry he loved.

One of the goals of OLCA was to promote excellence and professionalism within the profession. Striving for excellence, elevating standards and doing things right was very important to John. In 1960, full-colour brochures for residential landscape sales were made available through the association and it was John’s volunteer job to distribute folders to architects and contractors. He also helped to prepare articles publicizing OLCA members in Canadian Architect magazine, Daily Commercial News and Toronto Telegram. John was also the first chairman of the OLCA annual convention, which was held in 1961 at the King Edward Hotel.   

Under John’s watch the association also prepared the very first Landscape Specifications and promoted them to landscape architects and municipalities. OLCA was also the driving force behind horticultural education and they participated in the effort that gave birth to the Apprenticeship Program as well as the Humber College and Algonquin College Horticultural Programs. John was heavily involved in this pioneering work. Many of us have benefited from it, including me.    

It is a sobering thought that one person can change and inspire the lives of so many people in the future. This is, in fact, one of John’s legacies. He helped change the industry for the better.   
John left the landscape contracting business to start a nursery in Milton. It soon became one of the leading nurseries in Canada. It is also sobering to think that the plants and trees originating from that nursery have benefitted so many. This too is one of John’s legacies.    

I first met John in 1989 when I started with LO. His passion for excellence never waned, nor his support for association activities. He was part of a special committee of pioneers that developed the Landscape Ontario Guide to Planting Standards. I loved attending those meetings. They were much longer than they needed to be, because they always included discussions about the early days of the industry and debates about how to do things properly.   

John was also a long time member of the LO Building Committee. He brought a conservative and cautious perspective to committee work. It was his contribution and gift to that committee.   

When Landscape Ontario purchased the property in Milton, John was our “go-to” person on numerous occasions. When we needed a tree to commemorate our first Open House, John supplied the tree. When we needed equipment and expertise to move trees being forced for Canada Blooms, we called on John. When plants were required for the certification programs we asked John for them.  When we needed extra help with material handling, John was our man. When we got behind in weeding the trial gardens, more than once John saved us. And it was always without complaint and without charge. I wonder if John ever lamented the fact that the Landscape Ontario office was so close. If he did, he certainly did not let on.   

In fact the opposite was true. I think John was proud of the fact that Landscape Ontario was so close. After all we are the collective representation of the industry he helped to shape.     

A few years after we moved in, it was time to landscape the entrance. As part of the building committee John was privy to the design. One day, John, his son Bill, and a number of Putzer employees showed up with a crane truck and many trees. The alley of beautiful ornamental pears at the entrance of the LO home office was planted by Putzer Nurseries. This is another of John’s legacies and gifts to the industry. Doing a job properly was important to John.  

Last year, we lost two other industry pioneers, John Wright and Peter Olsen. I called Bill Putzer to see if we could purchase some large trees to plant as memorials to these wonderful industry contributors. Bill immediately said he would supply the trees, at no charge, however, because memorial trees were priceless.   

Landscape Ontario looks forward to planting another priceless memorial tree to celebrate John’s legacy. Thank you John
Tony DiGiovanni may be reached at tony@landscapeontario.com.

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