Before the turn of the century, America was engaged in a building boom that transformed much of our natural landscape into strip malls, parking lots and a growing suburbia. The move out of the city led to new interest in the land, and Americans rediscovered gardening. Not only gardens to make their new properties more attractive; they also began to investigate growing their own vegetables as a way to save money and promote healthful eating habits.
Gardening books were hot items in the bookstores. New residents of the Southern states wanted to learn what plants would grow and survive the extreme heat of the summer months, which was often accompanied by a dry spell.
Beyond the bookstores, South Carolina residents also could turn to their televisions at 7 p.m. Tuesdays to watch "Making It Grow" on ETV, with co-hosts Rowland Alston and Amanda McNulty, to learn about the vast number of plants that the state's climate allows us to grow.
Unfortunately for us, Alston will host his last "Making It Grow" this Tuesday. As Linda O'Bryon, president of ETV says, "We will miss Alston's innate ability to entertain and educate viewers with his downhome humor and vast knowledge of horticulture."
"Making it Grow" will continue its run with McNulty, while Alston will continue contributing to the programs' field segments each month.
Last week, I talked to Alston about his retirement:
Question. Rowland, I caught your show Tuesday before I knew you were retiring. You don't seem to be near retirement age. What gives?
Answer. I thought we'd be on for about three or four years before we ran out of things to talk about. But over 18 years, 500 live episodes, six regional Emmys and nine Telly awards later, the program shows no signs of stopping.
Q. How did you come by all of this agricultural knowledge?
A. I wanted to follow in my father's footsteps. He worked at Clemson University. It was World War II, and he was to go into the service but died at 42. I was 2 years old. I graduated from Clemson, where I'd worked with the county agriculture agent.
I was appointed country agent of Suffolk County, though it was unusual to be given agent of your home county.
Q. So you started "Making It Grow" in 1993. How did it go?
A. The first three to four years we were on a shoestring. We began to get listeners involved with calling in questions. In no time we learned how to interact with them: You've got to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. This seemed to work. We make people a part of our program, a positive force for S.C.
Q. How will you spend your time after retirement?
A. Good question. I just voted and a lady there asked me the same thing. I'd like to travel the South. South Carolina is going from a farm state to an urban state. Especially in Piedmont. The lower part of the state is closer to me because of the traditions that are kept alive -- like the Gullah culture. There's a wealth of stuff to be done down in Beaufort and Hilton Head Island. I'd like to add that as a public servant I'm grateful to the taxpayers for giving me this awardable enjoyment time.