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‘You Bet Your Garden’ Host Digs Into Gardening

Radio host Mike McGrath gives guests at a recent fundraiser insights into gardening.

The master of gardeners, Mike McGrath, is known for his witty commentary and tricks in the yard on his nationally syndicated public radio show “You Bet Your Garden.”

McGrath’s show is designed to be funny and is very lighthearted. Callers ask questions on a variety of gardening topics, from how to deal with moles, to growing moss, to prohibiting pests or keeping flowers blooming.

McGrath is passionate about not using chemicals in the garden … so all his tips are organic.

“If I manage to get one person to turn their back on chemicals, then that’s why I’m still here,” he said with his well-known chuckle.

McGrath was editor-in-chief of Organic Gardening magazine from 1991 through 1997, and he is the author of many gardening books, according to www.WHYY.org.

Guests at a recent WHYY fundraiser gathered by the dozen to ask McGrath specific questions about roses and tomatoes, and he expounded on the subjects, offering advice, history on the varietal, scientific names and much more from the top of his head.

When asked what he’s growing in his personal garden, McGrath was taken aback. He grows nearly everything.

“My favorite crop is garlic. It grows itself,” he said.

McGrath showed off some of his garlic scapes, harvested fresh that morning from his garden, displayed in a recycled plastic takeout container.

“You stir fry up 20 to 30, however many you have, for about five minutes in olive, and they’re delicious. Not too garlicy, very mild,” he said.

Or, he suggested eating garlic scapes raw, as he bit into the tip of one.

“They’re a bit peppery,” he said.

In about three weeks, McGrath will harvest his garlic while it’s still young, but mature enough to enjoy. That frees up some extra space in his garden bed, so he said he plans to put in more of another of his favorites—tomatoes.

He also brought his first red, ripe tomato from his garden—a little grape tomato —that sat by itself on the table.

His book, You Bet Your Tomato is a full guide on growing the summer fruit with no chemicals; it’s what many gardeners would call a difficult task. It’s worth the extra steps, he said, because the fruit tastes better, and it’s safer.

McGrath also had miniature pansies, fresh from his garden, presented in a recycled hummus container.

“These taste great. Why not toss a few in your salad or put them on a dessert?” he said.

McGrath identifies with his audience with his down-to-earth sensibility and by making gardening more approachable. The group gathered to buy books and to get his signature at the WHYY fundraiser.

McGrath did not set out to become a nationally syndicated public radio host, but was always a leader and adventurer. He attended Temple University in Philadelphia. When asked about his “Temple Days” by a fellow alumnus, McGrath recounted a story of stopping a tuition hike in the 1970s by digging up school records that itemized expenditures, including expensive repairs to the president’s bathroom.

“We showed up to the meeting with a paper shopping bag full or highlighted paper, and I started reading from it,” McGrath said.

Only a few minutes later, the leader of the meeting asked him to stop, but to leave the paper bag, McGrath said, and tuition remained the same that year.

He also related to several British fans in the audience—he asked exactly from which shire they hailed.

McGrath spent time in Britain after college when he was “in the rock and roll business.” He took a pilgrimage to England, as did many others in the 70s; he didn’t go straight to Abbey Road, McGrath said. He was looking for more independent music roots as he sought to write rock and roll lyrics.

Eventually, one thing led to another, and he worked in organic magazines, and got his show, which because syndicated.

When not on the radio, McGrath said he spends a lot of time sleuthing around the garden and looking for the next “great garden.”

“My father was a homicide detective, and I learned a lot about paying attention to small details and putting them together. That really came in handy as a parent,” McGrath said with a chuckle.

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