March 7, 2016
John Putzer was an industry pioneer whose influence will continue well after his death on December 25, 2015.

Putzer was born on November 8, 1924, into a family steeped in the knowledge of horticulture. At the age of 28, he and his wife Maria began their voyage from the port of LeHavre, in northern France's Upper Normandy region, for a new life in Canada.

After arriving in Canada by boat in 1952, Putzer began work as a gardener for Sheridan Nurseries. In 1954, he began a landscape construction and maintenance business, which flourished over a short period of time.

The business became so successful that his customers included the prestigious clients such as the home of Howard and Lorrie Dunington-Grubb, founders of Sheridan Nurseries; the Eaton Estate; the entrance to Sick Kids Hospital; McMaster University and Coca-Cola.

Putzer was becoming frustrated with the problem of finding plants that were suitable for his landscaping company. To solve the issue, Putzer and his wife, along with son and daughter, Bill and Heidi, started a nursery in the early 1960s, in the Stouffville area.

The problem with the site was a lack of water for irrigation on the nursery’s property. In 1966, the family purchased a 100 acre farm in Hornby, just outside of Milton. This location had a creek running through it, which provided ample water for the plants.

Today, Putzer Hornby Nursery has expanded to 450 acres.

In 1952, John and Maria disembark from the boat which brought them to their new home in Canada.

While working to build his nursery business, John Putzer also realized that in order for his business to thrive, the industry also needed to grow.

He was one of the original founders of the Ontario Landscape Contractors Association (OLCA), which eventually was one of the associations to merge into Landscape Ontario. Putzer served as president of the OLCA in 1966. He was also the first chairman of the OLCA annual convention, which was held in 1961 at the King Edward Hotel in Toronto.

Throughout his life, he dedicated his life to serve the industry he loved. In his eulogy at John Putzer’s funeral, Landscape Ontario executive director Tony DiGiovanni stated, “John was dedicated and committed to his profession. His sense of duty, and responsibility for his industry has inspired many others to contribute to building a strong and prosperous industry.”

Putzer worked through the OLCA to promote excellence and professionalism by working to elevate industry standards.

Son Bill remembers first-hand his father’s high standards. “If you didn’t do it right the first time, you were sent back to perform the task correctly. You didn’t make the same mistake a second time.” John Putzer continued his influence at the nursery well into his 80s.

DiGiovanni gives an example of John Putzer’s work to promote the industry back in the 1960s through full colour brochures for residential landscape sales. “The brochures were made available through the association. It was John’s volunteer job to distribute folders to architects and contractors. He also helped to prepare articles publicizing OLCA members in the Canadian Architect magazine, Daily Commercial News and Toronto Telegram,” says DiGiovanni.

Putzer also worked with the OLCA to prepare the first Landscape Specifications. OLCA was also the driving force behind horticultural education. “John participated in the energy and effort that gave birth to the apprenticeship program, as well as Humber and Algonquin College horticultural programs,” says DiGiovanni. “John was heavily involved in all this pioneering work. Many of us have benefited from it, including me. He helped change the industry for the better.”
                                                                        
Maria with daughter Heidi in John H. Putzer Landscape truck. 

Throughout the years, Putzer received a number of honours for his work. He won a heritage award, conservation award, landscape awards and certificate of appreciation from deaf school for taking on co-op students.

DiGiovanni remembers first meeting John Putzer in 1989 when he started as executive director at Landscape Ontario. “His passion for excellence never waned, nor his support for association activities.

Putzer was part of a special committee made up of pioneers who were working to develop the Landscape Ontario Guide to Planting Standards. “The meetings were much longer than they needed to be, because there were always discussions about the early days of the industry and debates about how to do things properly,” remembers DiGiovanni.

A go-to person

When Landscape Ontario purchased the property on which the home office sits today near Milton, John Putzer became the go-to person. “We were needy neighbours,” remembers DiGiovanni. “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 of the trial garden because the open house was coming up in a day, more than once John saved us. And it was always without complaint and without charge.”

John Putzer also stepped up after Landscape Ontario opened its offices. A landscaped entrance was required, resulting in John, Bill and a number of Putzer employees showing 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,” says DiGiovanni.

On early Christmas morning, 2015, John Putzer, with his son Bill by his side, peacefully passed away.
His In-Memoriam may be found here.


 

Maria and John enjoy one of the Ontario Landscape Contractors Association’s conventions.


 

John Putzer supervise one of his company’s many major landscape projects.


 

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