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Into the Garden: Garden show host entertains conventioneers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Joe Lamp'l broke a branch off one of his mother's shrubs. Fearing Mama's wrath, he stuck it in the ground and ran. When he went back several weeks later, it had rooted. His love of gardening began.

Lamp'l has been the host of "Fresh from the Garden" on the DIY Network and "GardenSMART" on PBS. He's a frequent guest expert on shows such as "Today," "Good Morning America" and "The Victory Garden." He spoke recently at the International Master Gardeners Convention in Charleston.

He told the story of his early years as a gardener, jokingly describing himself as "smart, but not smart enough." He raised staghorn ferns, and he made a deal with his mother for one of the plants.

"I wrote a contract and had my mom sign it. It licensed the fern to her for 100 years for $10. I was so proud, because I still owned it." He realized that he needed to add a major in business to his horticulture major in college.

Lamp'l described the production of his show, "Fresh from the Garden," that ran for 52 shows and was based in his own 40- by 60-foot plot.

"We ran out of new things -- we really exploited the tomatoes," he said. "Because it was television, it had to be perfect. But as real gardeners, we learn from our mistakes."

Now, he's producing shows seen on public television and on the Internet: "Growing a Greener World with joe gardener" at www.growingagreenerworld.com. He described his earlier television work as being a hired gun, a talking head. With "Greener World," he's talking about his own ideas.

Lamp'l talked about his favorite episodes of his current show. Greensgrow Farms, in Philadelphia, has been providing restaurants and people with fresh vegetables for more than 10 years -- from a former galvanized steel plant that was eventually abandoned as an industrial brownfield. The co-founder of the 1-acre lot, Mary Seaton Corboy, had a vision for the spot tucked within densely packed rowhouses about three miles north of the downtown skyscrapers. The site has become the national model of urban farming.

He spoke of Ros Creasy, the edible landscape expert, and Graham Kerr, formerly "the Galloping Gourmet" and now building community through gardening. Lamp'l described Serenbe Farms, a 1,000-acre subdivision south of Atlanta.

"The wildlife habitats, the 350 vegetables in six organic acres, are a bigger draw than swimming and tennis," he said of the property.

I enjoyed learning about Will Allen, a former professional basketball player whose parents were sharecroppers in South Carolina. Allen left a profitable career at Proctor & Gamble to purchase Growing Power, a derelict plant nursery that was in foreclosure on the north side of Milwaukee.

Now a mature urban farming project, Growing Power is a national nonprofit organization and land trust supporting people from diverse backgrounds, and the environments in which they live, by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities.

Growing Power implements this mission by providing hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstration, outreach and technical assistance through the development of community food systems that help people grow, process, market and distribute food in a sustainable manner.

Allen has received a Ford Foundation leadership grant, the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, and a Kellogg Foundation grant to create jobs in urban agriculture.

There were many more gardening success stories, but Lamp'l's biggest laugh from the audience of gardeners came when he showed a slide of a young vermiculturalist. His T-shirt read, "I Got Worms." Vermiculture uses various species of worms to aid in the decomposition of food waste, the castings later used as compost in the garden.

"The average age of conventional farmers is pushing 60," Lamp'l said. The new wave of organic, urban, vertical and small farm owners is typically young and less tied to the old ways of gardening. They are much more aware of the environment.

"Landfills are the largest source of methane gas, and 65 percent of what's there doesn't need to be -- it can be composted, recycled. It has to happen," Lamp'l said.

Monrovia catalog

Monrovia sent an email recently with a link to download its new catalog. It's 104 pages of beautiful plants, interesting stories and some predictions about what plants will be hot next year. While they are a wholesaler, many of their plants can be found in local garden centers.

Monrovia faced trying times last year during the economic downturn, and they have adjusted their plant mix to reflect market conditions by offering more easy-to-grow edibles and water-wise succulents, and they are offering an array of beautiful flowering shrubs that are co-branded with Proven Winners.

I love the Dan Hinkley Plant Collection from Monrovia -- it contains plants that are interesting but also reliable. There's the lovely hardy, deciduous shrub Chinese snow flower (Deutzia setchuenensis var. corymbiflora) and a red-leafed Mukdenia (Mukdenia rossii 'Crimson Fans') that's just beautiful in the collection -- leaves emerge bright green and gradually change to bronze-green with touches of bright red.

There is a line of peonies named for Toichi Itoh, who was the first to successfully cross a tree peony with a garden peony. The hybrid that resulted features the colorful and exotic flowers of tree peonies with the perennial growing cycle of herbaceous peonies.

I'm hoping to find a Dwarf Bearss seedless lime (Citrus aurantifolia 'Dwarf Bearss Seedless') somewhere in the future. The Monrovia catalog says it's a heavy bearer of juicy, lemon-sized fruit in winter to early spring. It grows into a rounded, densely branched, dwarf form and is an excellent container plant for indoors in cold areas like ours. It's evergreen and grows to 6 to 8 feet tall and wide. I might have to prune it!

Founded in 1926, Monrovia is a leading grower of ornamental and edible plants, with more than 2,500 varieties. From its five eco-friendly nurseries in Visalia and Venice Hills, Calif., Dayton, Ore., LaGrange, N.C., and Cairo, Ga., Monrovia distributes its plants through independent garden centers and rewholesalers nationwide. The company remains a family-owned entity. Visit www.monrovia.com.

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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