Published in the Toronto Star November 5, 2016
“If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” ~Toni Morrison
Last month a few hundred ‘garden writers’ met in Atlanta to learn more about their passion and to network. These are the people who bring you messages about gardening in newspapers like this (Sonia Day is one of them), in broadcast, books and electronic media. None of us do it for the money, though there is some money to be made: we do it because we love it.
Meetings like the Garden Writers annual symposium have been going on for some time. The passing of one of our own, Anstace Esmonde-White, reminded me of the many people who came before us. She and her husband Larry hosted a TV show on PBS for 17 years. It was broadcast across the continent and featured adventures in their own garden in the Ottawa Valley. They wrote books and gardening columns as well, but mostly they were known for their work in TV.
Awards were heaped on the Esmonde-Whites. Anstace had just received a citation from the Government of Canada in 2006 for her “outstanding contributions to the gardening world” when a letter from the President of Ireland arrived lauding her for a lifetime of achievement in gardening. She was 86 at the time.
When we reach 86, people are allowed to thank us for ‘a lifetime of achievement’. Most of us have thrown in the trowel long before then. The Esmonde-Whites spread the gardening message most effectively for over 70 years. Their combined contribution equalled over 110 years of ‘communications’.
And who else ruled the airwaves and print media in their time? Here is a short list:
- John Bradshaw. John Bradshaw was a hero in my books. He owned the airwaves every Saturday on Toronto’s CFRB (now Newstalk 1010) for over 20 years. I remember my Dad showed me a graph of Toronto radio listening habits in 1976 that indicated that Mr Bradshaw had a commanding 27% of all radio listeners tuned in. Can you imagine owning ¼ of the entire radio audience at one time?
- Fred Dale. Toronto Star. Mr. Dale answered gardening questions each Friday and wrote editorial gardening columns. He was known to be truthful, highly informed and forthright. I started to read his columns when I was 20 years old: I had to, as customers at our retail garden centre Weall and Cullen Nurseries (where I was working) would come in quoting him on Saturday mornings. If you didn’t know what Fred said, you looked like a dummy.
- Lois Hole. My favourite of them all was the late Lois Hole from St Albert Alberta. She was a cracker jack. We co-presented at many events in Alberta in the 80’s and early 90’s and always had great fun. Lois was the first true multi-media star in the business. She could write, broadcast and speak publicly like no other. Even non-gardeners loved to hear her message. Her voice is inside my head today. I can hear her imploring me, “Mark, whatever you do tell people to sow their carrot seeds in April!” I am sure that the King of Spain was as emphatic when he sent Columbus over the ocean blue.
My favourite story of Lois’ was about the time that she was cutting up hot chilli peppers to preserve. Her husband Ted, a big, muscular guy came into the kitchen and offered to help. “Sure” said Lois. “Put on some rubber gloves and get chopping.”
Ted, being a ‘Man’s Man’ would not use the sissy gloves and chopped away. Which was all fine until he disappeared into the washroom. Once he had relieved himself there was this blood curdling shout from his direction, ‘Loooooiiiissss!!!’ And that is the end of the story.
Today we continue to tell our stories, while remembering those who told stories before us. Ross Hawthorne, Bill Hartnoll, and many more, cut a wide garden path that many Canadians followed willingly. As a result, we have learned how to garden successfully using methods, tried and true, recommended by the best of communicators. The sports, weather, ‘news’ and automotive genres all have their heroes from the past. We have ours.
Which brings me to the point of this message.
With myriad of changes in the communications field there are more opportunities for us to connect with Canadians and inspire them to pick up the trowel and get gardening. For those who garden, to encourage them to garden more.
And our message is now expanded into areas that touch on the environment, food, ‘off the ground’ gardening and birding.
If this is a topic that interests you, I would be delighted to share my own thoughts on the subject. Feel free to connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/MarkCullenGardening/. Or visit the Garden Writers website for more details at https://gardenwriters.org/.
It is a new day in the garden communications field.