The Sunday Magazine

Why I love Ed Lawrence - Michael's essay

Although Michael says his thumbs are as black as the ace of spades, he is a huge fan of CBC Radio's gardening expert, Ed Lawrence. Here's an excerpt: "As he speaks to each caller, he is also talking to us, the listener, in a very subdued, intimate way. If someone phones in with a no-hope problem, an expiring hydrangea for example, he is as gentle as your kindly old GP."
Cherry tomatoes are tender plants, susceptible to damage from frost. Like most warm season crops, they can be started indoors or protected by such season extending tools as cold frames, row covers or hoops until the threat of frigid weather has passed. Wait until soils have warmed to at least 55- or 60 degrees before transplanting. (Dean Fosdick/Associated Press)

I once tried to grow tomatoes in the tiny back yard of our house next to a steel factory. It was in a predominantly Italian neighborhood.

I used to watch in envy each fall as my neighbours prepared to put up tomato sauce for the winter. They seemed to have bushel baskets full of huge, ripe tomatoes.

I bought the seeds and read up about how to grow them in that part of the garden which got the most sunlight. The result was a handful of tiny, mushy turdlets which looked positively diseased.

I found out years later that my plants had fallen victim to either septoria leaf spot or early blight or perhaps the dreaded verticillium wilt.

The experience brought home again my utter ineptitude in dealing with flowers and growing things and the like. My thumbs were, and are, blacker than the ace of spades.

If I bought a poinsettia for Christmas, it was dead before I got it home.

I once bought a bunch of tulips for a girl, thinking they were roses. My Christmas trees start to shed in the trunk of the car.

If it weren't for the flag, I couldn't tell a maple tree from a cactus.

I grew up in the belly of a large city where the closest thing to raw nature was a tiny zoo. And the ravines which were full of trees of all kinds; each unnameable by me.

I have no interest in flowers, though mind you I do like neat lawns. Potted plants put me to sleep. Orchids look silly.

None of which serves to explain my deep fascination for the garden musings of Ed Lawrence. For decades, 30 or more years, Mr. Lawrence has been the gardening expert on CBC Radio's Ontario Today.

CBC Radio gardening columnist Ed Lawrence

Callers phone in to describe the problems they are having with their plants, shrubs, trees, anything green that's supposed to grow. In all the time I have listened to him, I have never once heard him say; "Gee I've no idea what your problem is, ma'am. That's a new one on me."

Young, old, men, women, jam the phone lines when he's on Ontario Today. And when he is on, audience numbers spike.

Rita Celli, the excellent program host, admits that much of what Mr. Lawrence has to say could be googled.

"But with Ed, having this intimate, special one-on-one with someone so smart and exceedingly friendly still flies in a Google-it world."

Part of his charm is of course, his encyclopaedic knowledge. But the rest is his presentation. He has a very soft, low-keyed voice which is impossible to ignore. As he speaks to each caller, he is also talking to us, the listener, in a very subdued, intimate way.

If someone phones in with a no-hope problem, an expiring hydrangea for example, he is as gentle as your kindly old GP.

Midges and moles! Extreme Spring Gardening with Ed Lawrence

He was born in Toronto and graduated from Humber College. He  took up an interest in gardening  shortly after his father died, when Mr. Lawrence was nine; gardening became a kind of retreat.

In the 70s, he was named chief horticulturist for the National Capital Commission in Ottawa. As such, he was responsible for the gardens  and greenhouses in and about the 85 acres of Rideau Hall, home of Canada's governors general.

Unsurprisingly, he is very much caught up in proper care of the ecology. He hates pesticides and herbicides.

His recipe for getting rid of aphids, earwigs, mites and thrips (whatever the hell thrips are) is the classic  "40-parts water to one-part soap." You wipe it on the leaves or something.

I've always liked listening to experts who are thoroughly engaged in their field and know how to talk about it. I've known cowboys like that.

Mr. Lawrence will never persuade me to take up gardening. Don't have the patience or the interest.

And while I couldn't care less about the problems he addresses every Monday on the show, I will continue to listen.

They should put the guy on a stamp.

Click the button above to hear Michael's essay. 


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