Native Plant Advocates Win Ellen Pickering Award

The native plant sale Scott Knudsen and Jennifer Pease started 21 years ago was April 27

It wasn’t ideal weather for a native plant sale, but the plants liked it. The founders of the plant sale, Scott Knuden and Jennifer Pease – her name tag identifies her as “The WIfe” -- were, as always, cheerful and prepared. They started the sale in 2003, when few people had heard of native plants. This year more than 550 people showed up on a rainy day to purchase natives. They were there “because we’ve come every year” or “we know Scott from church” or “we read about it in the local paper,” or “we follow the facebook site about native plants.”

A week earlier, on April 21, the City of Alexandria’s Environmental Policy Commission (EPC) and AlexRenew, Alexandria’s wastewater authority, presented the 2024 Ellen Pickering Environmental Excellence Award to Knudsen and Pease. The two are known for co-managing their biannual native plant sale and grassroots efforts to educate their community about sustainable landscaping. 

Knudsen began his interest in native planting as a member of the first Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria class. Part of the early training of a Tree Steward involves ripping out invasive plants that take over local woodlands, leaving no room for essential native plants and wildflowers. It was difficult to find quality native species to plant, and sustainable landscaping wasn’t as popular as it is now. So, he and his wife hosted their inaugural native plant sale in 2003 to provide native plant alternatives while educating neighbors about sustainable gardening. 

Since then, the sale has grown to include vendors from Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, as well as information tables staffed by local volunteers and experts from Tree Stewards and Virginia Master Naturalists who provide guidance on the use of native plants. 

Knudsen and Pease have not just made native plants more accessible to local gardeners, boosted demand for native plants in local nurseries, and increased local biodiversity by introducing native plants into more public and private outdoor spaces. They have made it fun, with their “plant taxis,” big smiles, free advice, and effective organizing of volunteers, many who come back each year to help, rain or shine. 

The Ellen Pickering Environmental Excellence Award recognizes Alexandria community members who demonstrate a commitment to protecting the environment and preserving local natural resources. The annual award honors the late Ellen Pickering and her lifelong dedication to preservation of green space throughout Alexandria. Nominations are accepted each year starting in February and awarded in April as part of the City’s Earth Month celebration. 

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