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Gardeners & Homeowners

Tom Heitzman, Sweet Bay Nursery, Recipient of 2021 Mike Kenton Award

FANN’s 2021 Board of Directors has conferred the 2021 Mike Kenton Award to Tom Heitzman, owner of Sweet Bay Nursery in Parrish, Florida, just south of Tampa. The Mike Kenton Award is presented to a FANN member in recognition of significant career long value and service to the Florida native plant industry.

Tom started Sweet Bay Nursery in 1995 and soon thereafter joined FANN and has become one of our most consistent volunteers and supporters. Originally a specialty wholesale grower, Sweet Bay soon began offering limited retail service and landscape design. Today, the nursery continues to do some wholesale but is primarily known as a beloved retail outlet serving not only its home Manatee County, but native plant enthusiasts from throughout Florida.

Search “Sweet Bay Nursery” on Facebook and you’ll come across more than one post extolling the nursery’s selection and service as well and encouraging gardeners from all over to make the trip, as it is worth driving for hours. Sweet Bay is known for diversity and carrying especially interesting, often unknown and hard to find native species. Tom and partner Richard Beaupre are conservationists at heart and maintain a huge wall of educational flyers and project announcements at the nursery to inspire customers to be active. The nursery supports numerous educational workshops and plant sales benefitting the community throughout the year.

Tom has served as past president of the Serenoa Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society, past co-president and treasurer of FANN (more than ten years of service) and past president of Manatee County Audubon. He remains a board member or active volunteer with all of these organizations and also serves as treasurer of the Native Plant Horticulture Foundation. Tom’s horticulture roots run deep as he was taught to weed gardens by hand as a little boy and later studied horticulture and landscape design in college. He joined the Florida Native Plant Society in 1986, its “early days,” and has been a society leader and champion ever since, winning awards for both his native landscape designs and his volunteer service.

A gentle, humble soul, Tom is known as a wealth of energy and expertise for conservation and landscape education with native plants. FANN received more nominations for the Mike Kenton Award in 2021 than any prior year, all excellent and well deserved, but Tom is unique in having been nominated by colleagues within and outside FANN, by employees and even by a retail customer. One colleague, Sean Patton, credited Tom’s educational leadership for Sean’s entry into the industry, noting that Tom has helped many local plant and green businesses get started.

FANN members rock and Tom Heitzman is a rockstar.