6+ decades of gardening

Story and Photo by Jennifer Williams

If you have been a gardener in the Shreveport-Bossier City area in the last 30 or so years, you have probably heard of Dr. Joe White. The gold standard in gardening for the northwest Louisiana community, Dr. White has a long and varied history in the horticulture industry. While this long-time gardener is known for his almost 29 years of service for the LSU AgCenter and as a writer for both this magazine and The Shreveport Times, his passion for teaching the public about gardening wasn’t always his true love.

From the age of 6 years old, Dr. Joe White regularly helped his family with the vegetable gardens and cherry trees, as well as general landscape. When Dr. White went off to college, horticulture was not his only dream – he spent his undergraduate degree equally focused on animal science and horticulture. It wasn’t until he was offered a scholarship in animal science that he realized where his true passion lay. After six months in a disappointing research project, Dr. White left North Carolina State University and headed home to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he completed his master’s degree in only four quarters at the University of Tennessee.   

Immediately following the marriage to his bride of now more than 59 years, Dr. White enlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent to Fort Meade, just outside of Washington D.C. Interestingly enough, the word about this newly enlisted soldier’s love of gardening got around, and he was quickly assigned to manage the Fort Meade greenhouses and to grow flowers for the base flower shop. This short stint as an “army horticulturist” (not an actual title, but it should be!) Dr. White returned to Tennessee and began his work in extension services after a briefly holding a research position at the University of Tennessee. He started out as a 4-H agent with UT Extension and after several years, his horticultural career truly began when he was called in to fill in for a professor that was working on his Ph.D. This led to his fellowship in Philosophy of Horticulture at LSU, and then on to become the first area horticulture agent, where he worked with the community and began the local LSU AgCenter Master Gardener Program. 

As with any avid gardener, narrowing down a favorite plant can be quite a chore. Dr. White says, “I don’t really have a favorite plant, but if it was in the garden, it would be a tomato; if it was the orchard, satsuma; if it was in the vineyard, ‘Concord’ grape; if it was in the landscape, Japanese maple.” 

While his garden is not as expansive as in years past, Dr. White still has a plethora of tips to share with Louisiana gardeners:
• Grow the vegetables that you and your family enjoy eating, but trying something new is good too.
• Keep your garden a size that you can properly care for that still meets your needs.
• Always control pests, including weeds, insects, and diseases.  
• Supply supplemental water whenever natural rainfall is not adequate.

Dr. Joe White’s career has spanned nearly six decades in the horticulture field. His work helping both farmers and homeowners succeed in their horticultural pursuits has made him a leader in his field – as a teacher, writer, and pillar of the northwest Louisiana gardening community.

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