Germinating Entrepreneurial Journalism

anstace and larry

Sometimes journalistic inspiration comes from a very unexpected place – like a garden for instance.

My own interest in reporting and broadcasting actually started when I was 16 years old, working on “From a Country Garden”. Reruns of this popular PBS TV gardening show are still on the air – decades after they were filmed.

For Larry and Anstace Esmonde-White, inspiration bloomed on their farm near Kemptville, Ontario. This couple created From a Country Garden. As a neighbour, interested in gardening and TV, I was fortunate to work with them for three years. My graduation, then my wedding photos were taken amongst Larry and Anstace’s hedges and flowers.

If you watch PBS, you may have seen them – an older couple – he’s in a crumpled brown hat, she’s carefully articulating the right way to split irises or harvest Jerusalem artichokes. Back in the 1980s, when Larry and Anstace weren’t on PBS, they were offering their advice on CTV or CBC TV, or answering questions on CBC Radio or taking photos and writing books. (Those books are still available on Amazon by the way.)

This couple, originally from Ireland, took a circuitous route to “stardom” on a how-to show. Both served in World War II: in India and the Middle East. They were married in Iraq. After years in the military, with postings all over the world, the couple wanted to farm and garden. Then, in their “retirement”, they decided to become garden journalists (actually a niche area of journalism).

As a teenager, my job was to keep the garden tidy: plant, weed, kill the grubs and earwigs. But I always looked forward to the days the camera crews arrived and turned the acreage into a TV set. Larry and Anstace generously gave me small roles on the show – raking in the background, bringing over the wheelbarrow. I was impressed with how relaxed they were as they delivered their scripts – unscripted. Larry had a sharp wit and self-deprecating style. Anstace was a meticulous researcher and easy teacher.

This funny – yes, eccentric – old couple with their green thumbs and boundless energy were entrepreneurial journalists. In the 80s, the “how-to” TV phenomenon was in its infancy. They had a niche, saw a need and filled it. They had skills and honed them. They created a brand, sold their product, created a following and sold more product.

So I reacted with tears – but then a grin – when I found out Larry had died. He was 95 and had had a life full of challenge and adventure. Anstace is now 93 and still lives on the garden farm.  I’m so glad to have been witness to their journalism and inspired by their enterprise. Larry’s funeral is Saturday.

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