“Almanac Gardener” stays evergreen

For “Almanac Gardener,” the questions keep coming: How do I get rid of moles and voles? Which grasses are the best for lawns around here? How can I avoid blossom end rot on my tomatoes? …

Over the 32 years that UNC-TV and Cooperative Extension at NC State University have worked together to produce the 30-minute how-to horticulture show, viewers have posed literally thousands of questions. …

Do I really need to take a soil sample? Will animal hair keep deer out of my garden? …

While the questions run the gamut, the answers, says show host Mike Gray, all come down to one thing: research.

To help people protect their landscape and gardening investment and keep North Carolina’s environment green and healthy, Gray says, “‘Almanac Gardener’ gives viewers answers that they can count on – answers that are based on research.”

And a recent online audience survey showed that gardeners are pleased with the science-based information they are getting from the show: 98 percent of respondents said they were better able to select plants suitable to locations, and about 80 percent said they’d changed the way they control pests, apply fertilizers and manage water in their landscapes based on what they’d learned.

Findings like those, plus viewer mail that includes words such as “informative,” “captivating” and “useful,” make Gray proud.

Gray has been with “Almanac Gardener” for longer than there’s been an actual “Almanac Gardener” – so long, in fact, that some people call him The Almanac Gardener. Gray joined Cooperative Extension in 1974, back when the 5-year-old show was known as “Backyard Gardener.”

The name change came in 1983, but the show’s formula has remained basically the same: Short feature stories take viewers out across North Carolina to see and hear about some of the latest trends in gardening and landscaping: For example, upcoming features cover moss gardening, growing medicinal herbs and a method of design known as pattern language.

Each show also includes a panel discussion among Cooperative Extension horticulture experts. Two of the most familiar faces on the panel are Bill Lord, area environmental education agent based in Franklin County, and Karen Neill, horticulture agent in Guilford County. Both have been with the show for decades.

Other regulars include Dr. Lucy Bradley, of NC State’s horticultural science department, and agents Jeana Myers of Wake County, Charlotte Glen of Chatham County, Amy-Lynn Albertson of Davison County; Scott Welborn of Forsyth County and Stephen Greer of Moore County.

Although they stay behind the scenes, show researcher Carolyn Alvarado, from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ communications unit, and director Thomas Todd and the production crew from UNC-TV are important contributors, Gray says.

The years have been kind to “Almanac Gardener” – it’s not only a local favorite, it’s the longest-running series on UNC-TV, appealing both to long-time gardening aficionados as well as area newcomers who want to know what works in the local environment.

Staying fresh, for “Almanac Gardener” has in part meant staying true to tradition – in this case, Cooperative Extension’s 100-year tradition of embracing communications technology to reach the people of North Carolina with helpful information.

“Almanac Gardener” is not only available to viewers on UNC-TV each week from April through September, episodes are now available on the Internet: At http://www.unctv.org/content/gardener, you can view past features and get a glimpse of what’s ahead for this season. There are also lots of links to online publications where visitors can find answers – research-based, of course – to many gardening questions.

– D. Shore