Ed Hume, the award-winning host of a nationally broadcast TV gardening show that aired for over 50 years, is alive and well and living in Olympia. At 91, he is currently working four days a week at the family seed company, located in Puyallup. He carpools with his son.
In addition to being a beloved, down-to-earth gardening speaker, writer, TV host, and tour guide to gardens in over 70 countries, he’s a great storyteller and lunch companion.
He says his interest in gardening came from his parents, who were both raised on wheat farms. They moved to Seattle, where they grew fruit and nut trees, and vegetables and flowers. They also kept bees, chickens, rabbits, ducks and a couple of goats. His dad grew the vegetables, and his mom focused on roses and other flowering plants.
During World War Two, Ed’s dad – who had a full-time job – also rented five acres, and he, Ed, and one of his sisters grew beans, corn and other vegetables, which they sold at a roadside stand to defense workers from the Sandpoint Naval Air Station, which is now Magnuson Park.
Ed took botany in high school and spent two summers working for the University Flower and Bulb company, which grew irises and gladiolus. When he graduated from high school, his parents gave him a suit, thinking he might become a banker like his older brother. He got a job at a nursery instead.
He recounts how, when he was a young employee at Malmo Nursery, he was called on to inventory the plants. “That was before the advent of growing plants in pots, so everything was grown in the ground. They had about one million plants, all labeled by botanical names. It was December – cold, rainy and miserable. At first, I was with an old-time nurseryman, but he quit after a few days, so I had to finish the job by myself. Well, needless to say, one learns plants and botanical names in a hurry under those conditions.”
“And by the way, University Village is now where that nursery used to be.”
By the age of 22, he was a manager at Wight’s Nursery. But his career was interrupted by the draft in 1952. As he was filling out military paperwork, he was asked what kind of job he had. They didn’t have a category for nursery management, so they wrote “landscaping.”
Halfway through basic training, he says, he was called to the battalion commander’s office. Fearful of what to expect, he was relieved when the commander asked if he could landscape the grounds around the battalion headquarters. He could and did, and the commander was pleased.
Two days later, he was taken to the office of the general who was the base commander. He liked what he had seen at the battalion headquarters and offered Ed the services of a crew to help beautify the base headquarters’ grounds. The two commanders decreed that he should stay and tend those gardens rather than be sent to serve in the Korean War.
That story provides a lot to think about: the counterpoint between a brutal war and gardens for soldiers, the many ways to serve one’s country, and the longing of military men for the peace of plants and flowers.
But once his military service was over, Ed was back in Seattle, working in the nursery business. He became a frequent guest on a garden show, and when its host retired, he stepped in. The show went national. Asked how he managed to provide gardening advice to people in such a diverse array of climates, he says, “Most of gardening is based on universal principles,” including careful planning, choosing the right plants, learning what they need and providing it.
For a couple of years, his show was also carried on television in Japan, with his voice dubbed in Japanese. “Once, when I was on an airplane, a stewardess – that’s what they were called then – said she was so surprised to see the show on Japanese TV. ‘I didn’t know you spoke Japanese,’ she said.” That still makes him chuckle.
In 1977, he and his wife Myrna started the Ed Hume Seed Company, which specializes in untreated, non-GMO seeds chosen to thrive in the Pacific Northwest’s relatively short growing season.
The company, now owned by his eldest son and three of his grandchildren, is headquartered in Puyallup, where a series of demonstration gardens host tours and activities for both kids and adults. If you time your visit right, Ed Hume will be there leading the tour. (For reservations, call 800 383-4863.)
The gardens are wonderful, and the building where they pack the seeds is also a special treat; all those little packets you see on the Ed Hume seed racks are packed by machines dating from the 19th century, whose only upgrade has been the addition of electricity.
Hume is also the author of Gardening with Ed Hume, a delightful read with frank advice on what to do and what not to do. It should be required reading for beginning gardeners, and for those of us who always want to know more.
Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers, and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at jill@theJOLTnews.com
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