This year marks the end of an era for American horticulture, as our own Dr. Jim Alston, Director of Research Emeritus, retires with 43 years of service at Park Seed. The All-America Selections organization is recognizing his achievements with the prestigious Medallion of Honor, awarded to only a select few who have demonstrated "a lifelong dedication to advancement in the field of horticulture." 'Doc' Alston is in good company with this award: previous recipients include George B. Park, William John Park, Klaus Neubner, and Jim W. Wilson.
You may not know Doc personally, but you might have grown one of the seed varieties he developed. And if you've ever attended Flower Day at Park Seed, chances are you met the friendly man in baseball cap and suspenders as he discussed exciting new plants in his Texas twang.
Jim Alston was educated at Texas A&M University, receiving his PhD in plant breeding in 1968. Soon thereafter he accepted the job at Park Seed, beginning a career that would include developing new varieties of Begonia, Brugmansia, Capsicum, Coleus, Lantana, Mandevilla, Rosa, Salvia, and X Pardancanda. His Candy Lily mix remains one of the most popular seed varieties at Park, and such favorites as Lantana Summer Popsicles, Brugmansia Cassie's Curls, and Mandevilla Janell are available every year here at Park.
But Doc's career at Park Seed encompassed much more than plant breeding. As director of our laboratories, he supervised our seed quality control program, evaluated new methods for optimal storage, trialed new seeds and plants, performed ongoing germination testing, and continuously problem solved. The level of quality Doc demanded never wavered, nor did his cheerful attention to the myriad details of everyday work. All of us at Park Seed respected Doc's expertise, but what we really loved was how easy and pleasant he was to work with.
During the course of his long career, Doc participated in the Seeds in Space program with NASA, serving as Principal Investigator for the ionizing radiation experiment in the 1990s and as consultant on the SEEDS project. One of his proudest moments occurred in 1997, when the NASA shuttle Atlantis launched with 20 pounds of tomato seed on board.
Doc also served as an All-America Selections judge and as a FloraStar trial judge. Always happy to share his knowledge of plant behavior with other horticulturists as well as home gardeners, he mentored countless Park Seed employees over the years, launching many productive and fulfilling careers.
As part of the celebrations surrounding the Medallion of Honor, the All-America Selections committee presented Doc Alston with an object symbolic of his presence for nearly half a century in the forefront of American horticulture: a pair of red, white, and blue suspenders, which we know he will wear proudly in his retirement!
Thank you, Doc, for sharing your time with us.