Former HGTV personality still ‘in his element’
Story by Susan Albert
Those learning how to garden in the late 90s more than likely watched HGTV’s Gardening By the Yard, featuring Paul James, a Tulsa master gardener.
The tell-it-like-it-is, quirky gardening show was born out of James’ own initiative. He pitched the idea for the show to HGTV after learning about the new television network. As host, writer, and senior producer, he covered topics such as organic gardening, lawn care, veggies, and ornamentals from 1996 to 2009.
The show’s popularity led to other national appearances, including a frequent stint as commentator for the Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena, California.
Raised in Tulsa, James “fell in love” with gardening as a child while spending time on his grandparents’ farm in southern Arkansas. “They grew a tremendous variety of vegetables organically because they couldn’t afford to buy fertilizers or pesticides.” He said they couldn’t afford much farm equipment either, so they used a horse named Maude to plow the fields – and supply free fertilizer.
“I occasionally still do personal appearances across the country and media events, but these days I’d much rather be home than on the road.”
Today he enjoys all kinds of gardening. He considers himself a “conifer freak” and appreciates the diversity of the underused evergreens. He also enjoys bonsai and boasts about 40 plants, including several gorgeous specimens, but, he says, “… At the end of the day, I’m first and foremost a veggie gardener, because if I’m going to spend time and effort growing something, I’d just as soon eat it.”
When asked what advice he had for Oklahoma Gardener readers, he said he truly believes the most important time a person can spend in the garden is the time spent “not gardening.” “Put down the trowel and the pruners, and spend time merely observing the world around you – the plants, the insects, the birds, and so on. Do that, and you’ll establish a kinship that can be deeply calming and satisfying. Do that with an ice-cold martini, and it’ll be even more satisfying.”
That advice coincides perfectly with a favorite place in James’ yard, the covered patio, where his wife, Carrie, and three dogs join him for quality time. The Jameses have three grown children and two grandchildren.
In 2013 he began working for Southwood Landscape and Garden Center in Tulsa, producing radio and television commercials and buying media. He also hosts seminars at the nursery and writes a blog, “It’s Just Gardening,” for southwoodgardencenter.com. “It’s a wonderful place to work, and I’m definitely in my element as I’m surrounded by plants and fellow plant geeks,” he said.
For more of James’ down-to-earth advice, catch him in a weekly television segment for KJRH Tulsa called “In the Garden” that airs on Saturday mornings. Or check out his many YouTube videos.
Paul James’ Must-Have Plants
• Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) – They’re drop-dead gorgeous and you really can’t go wrong with whichever one you choose.
• Oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia) – It’s a tough-as-nails native that’s easy to grow, tolerates a lot more sun, and is less finicky than most other hydrangeas. It also produces beautiful white flowers and great fall color.
• Chaste tree or vitex (V. agnus-castus) – It’s hands down the best pollinator magnet ever. And even better, dwarf varieties are now available.
• Evergreen conifers – In the dead of winter it’s nice to have something green in the garden.
• Ferns – The woodland look and feel they create is enchanting.
Photo: Paul James, former host of HGTV’s Gardening By the Yard samples tomatoes in his garden. Photo courtesy of Paul James.