After growing up in a house where the radio was rarely off, I can’t repot a houseplant or weed a border without the gentle burble of human voices to keep me company. I used to laboriously tune in a bashed-up little transistor radio to carry around the garden, but these days I press play on a podcast and tuck my smartphone into my pocket as I work, or more often than not prop it up against a pot. Not surprisingly every crack and crevice is ingrained with dirt as a result.
My favorite gardening podcasts (including the one I host) feel like a conversation you might have when sitting down for coffee with a well-traveled, erudite friend, or walking around a garden with the head gardener, teasing out her secrets and begging a cutting or two.
Podcasting is still a land grab, so I hope that in time, there will be podcasts for different horticultural tribes: for the moment, pickings are thinner but there are shafts of light in the gloom. In the meantime, I am addicted to five plant-based podcasts worth hitting subscribe for. Read on for a list of favorites (plus five episodes of non-gardening podcasts that take on a horticultural theme):
Photography by Mimi Giboin for Gardenista.
My First Podcast
If you’re into sports, there are myriad shows that cater for you: series for fans of a particular sport, or sporting event, and even individual teams. Likewise the political junkies, the true-crime fanatics and the foodies all have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to podcast listening pleasure. But for plant fans? Not so much.
It irked me enough to launch two gardening podcasts of my own— first came Sow, Grow, Repeat, which I hosted with Alys Fowler for the Guardian. Then, after Sow, Grow, Repeat ended and I realized just how much I loved making podcasts as well as listening to them, I started an indoor gardening podcast called On The Ledge.
5 Favorite Garden Podcasts
Dublin-based garden designer Peter Donegan has attracted a raft of big names to appear on his interview-based podcast over the years; fellow designers, head gardeners, nurserymen and women. I am not sure if it is his beguiling Irish accent, his uncanny ability to put guests at ease or the fact that he’s part of the industry himself, but Donegan always manages to draw the best out of his guests, delving into the origins of their plant obsessions and finding out what makes them tick. A live show in Salt Lake City’s Thyme and Place earlier this year further cemented The SodShow’s credentials, making it a must-listen if you are interested in personalities as well as plants.
A Way to Garden
Margaret Roach’s show goes out on public-radio show, from Connecticut-based Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station in the US, but it’s a podcast too. A Way to Garden has been going for eight years, so Roach really knows her stuff, bringing insights from her own garden in New York’s Hudson Valley and an array of excellent guests gleaned from 25 years as a garden writer: from plantsman Dan Hinkley on hydrangeas to landscape architect Thomas Rainer on sustainable design.
This show works because every episode is inspired by Roach’s own garden exploits, disasters, and adventures: as a listener you feel you’re learning alongside her rather than being preached at.
This Week in the Garden with Peter Seabrook
The Sun, a British tabloid newspaper, followed in the Guardian’s footsteps by launching its own gardening show in December last year. This Week in the Garden is presented by the paper’s gardening editor, the spritely octogenarian Peter Seabrook, who is rightly described as British gardening royalty. US readers may remember him from the PBS show The Victory Garden, and he was also a presenter on UK TV’s flagship horticulture show Gardeners’ World in the 1980s. Brace yourself for the opening theme music, which is downright odd—a bit like a choral stress dream about people who know more plant names than you. But after you’ve got past that, Seabrook’s voice is like listening to a beloved grandad talking to you about his veg patch. With decades of gardening experience under his belt, including many years working with schoolchildren, he really knows his stuff. This one should appeal to anyone who likes a nostalgic slice of the British gardening scene.
In Defense of Plants
This weekly podcast is full of stories about plants and how they influence our lives, with a strong slant towards science: if you’re a plant geek, or want to become one, In Defense of Plants is the place to start, with episodes tackling issues as diverse as why the pesky mosquito is an important plant pollinator to the wild world of moss sex. My favorite episodes, though, are the ones where the plant obsessive host Matt takes the listener on a tour of his own plant collection. Technically it’s a little rough around the edges, but Matt’s enthusiasm and knowledge shines through. The accompanying blog is a great read too.
After listening to a few episodes of Plantrama, I wanted nothing more than to make friends with hosts CL Fornari and Ellen Zachos, visit their gardens, and quaff a cocktail or two by their fire pit. Their show’s catchline—“science, art, and dinner”—indicates the holistic approach taken by the hosts, who move seamlessly from talking about growing basil for pesto to foraging hedge garlic. Both are garden writers, but they have very different gardens ( Zachos in New Mexico, Fornari in Cape Cod) and very different approaches. They tease each other, sometimes agree to disagree, but always make entertaining and informative podcasts.
And the one that got away …
I thought I’d hit paydirt when I stumbled somehow across Fine Gardening magazine’s podcast Garden Confidential presented by Andrew Keysand dating back to 2010, before most of us knew what a podcast even was. The catchline was “stories at the intersection of people and plants,” and it delivered everything I’d hoped for: it was smart, and funny, and treated gardening as if it was about more than tips for amending soil pH or pruning roses (let’s just say you could tell Andrew was a fan of NPR stalwart This American Life). One episode about invasive plants included a “dramatic reading” of blog comments from gardeners getting all steamed up about Japanese knotweed, for instance.
But I shouldn’t big up Garden Confidential any further, because sadly this podcast is no longer available online, aside from some tantalizing episode outlines. Fine Gardening’s new podcast, Let’s Argue About Plants, came out this year, and it’s good, but doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, which set the bar ridiculously high.
Podcast Episodes for Garden Lovers
· Here Be Monsters—Roman Slug Death Orgy
Anyone who has wrestled—metaphorically or literally—with a slug infestation in the garden will be equally horrified and fascinated by this episode about the strange world of mollusc reproduction. Not for the squeamish.
· Criminal—Dropping Like Flies
This episode is fascinating insight into a Venus flytrap crime ring in rural North Carolina.
· 99% Invisible—Palm Reading
This episode delves into that symbol of California living, the palm tree, particularly the spectacular and valuable canary date palm.
· Every Little Thing—The Hide Rug of the Plant World
A chance discovery of office plants dumped in an alley provides an insight into the hidden world of interior landscaping in this episode.
· Babbage—What Can Science Do for My Garden?
The Economist magazine’s technology and science podcast teams up with Royal Botanic Gardens Kew to take a look at how scientific breakthroughs influence the plants we buy.
N.B.: More easy listening: Tune In: The 8 Best Garden Podcasts to Listen to Now.