Spreading native plant wisdom the way bees spread pollen, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is now answering tough gardening questions as Mr. Smarty Plants hits the radio waves.
Radio host Tom Spencer has hosted an hour-long gardening program on the KLBJ station for 27 years—he is also the host of KLRU’s Central Texas Gardener. In September of 2009, he started focusing the show on native plant gardening with input from the Wildflower Center. Now named the “Wildflower Hour,” Spencer’s program discusses local gardening techniques and problems at 8 a.m. every Saturday on News Radio 590 AM.
“My passion has always been native plants, so I wanted the show to focus on that. And I wanted to help the Center out-- it’s an institution that I support. It’s a great combination, talking about my favorite gardening topic and supporting something I really believe in,” said Spencer.
Every other week, Spencer features a native plant selected by Center staff, one that is a good selection for this region and this season. On some Saturdays, a Center staff member is on-air to talk about the plant. On alternative weeks, Mr. Smarty Plants dispenses sage wisdom over the air, answering real questions submitted to the Center. Mr. Smarty Plants has been answering questions since 1982, first over snail mail before going online in 2003. Starting off as an “Ask the Expert” feature, a brainstorming session in 2005 remodeled the expert to create Mr. Smarty Plants, the green guru, with his own “snazzier” logo. In 28 years of advice giving, over 5,220 questions have been answered nationwide, with the last 4,000 being sent in during the last 3 years. While Mr. Plants may seem to have taken on a masculine persona, don’t let the “Mr.” fool you – he actually represents a team of volunteers of both genders that researches topics and answers for confused gardeners.
“I think people are enjoying the segment very much. So far there’s been good feedback,” Spencer said.
This beacon of gardening reason is voiced by Barbra Medford, who aims to bring practical advice and a bit of humor to Mr. Smarty Plants’ segment. Answering questions like “When is the best time to plant wildflower seeds in central Texas?” she dishes out information and laughs with answers like “You can plant the seeds whenever you want. Can I guarantee they’ll grow? Well, no.” “I’m addicted to it. My computer calls me every morning to see if someone has answered something or sent in another question,” Medford said. “And I do it for fun. I try to insert humor in to everything that I do.”
Anyone can submit questions to Mr. Smarty Plants by accessing the Center’s website on www.wildflower.org and clicking on the “Mr. Smarty Plants” link on the “Explore Plants” drop down menu.
Gardeners of all shapes and sizes can tune in for valuable information about the plants sprouting around them and hear advice on how to grow their own gardens every Saturday from 8 to 9 a.m. on station KLBJ 590 AM. With the team of Spencer and Mr. Smarty Plants on the job, every native plant problem should be solved—or nearly.
“I’ve learned more than anyone else doing this,” Medford said. “We do research, sometimes we make mistakes, but we keep on helping people however we can.”