ENCINITAS — Fans of Nan Sterman’s popular gardening show, “A Growing Passion,” can look forward to its return on San Diego’s KPBS in January.
The new season will explore a broad range of subjects from the history of San Diego’s wineries to more controversial issues such food justice which views healthy food as a right rather than a privilege.
Sterman said she began gardening as a child and continued as a teenager in the 1970s when she was part of the back-to-the-land movement which promoted composting, organic gardening and raising food. She earned a bachelor’s degree in botany from Duke University and a master’s degree in biology from UC Santa Barbara.
In 1986, Sterman and her husband, Curt Wittenberg, moved from Santa Barbara to Olivenhain when he was offered a post doctoral position at Scripps Research Institute.
“We thought we’d be here for two years,” she recalled. “The property we bought was a huge lot that nobody had worked on. I was able to start landscaping using a blank palette which enabled me to grow what I wanted.”
Sterman planned to pursue a career in science education at SeaWorld or the San Diego Zoo. Instead, she was hired to open a volunteer program at the Chula Vista Nature Center located at the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. She did this while earning a masters in instructional design from San Diego State University which she subsequently used to create media discs and work with media companies. A turning point came when she became involved in developing garden design software.
This eventually led to becoming garden editor of San Diego Home Garden magazine and other writing opportunities for The San Diego Union-Tribune.
“It was a perfect wedding of plants, gardening and communicating technical information in a way that people understood,” she remembered.
“After writing about gardens for San Diego Home Garden Magazine for a year it struck me that I was writing about people. Everyone’s garden is a reflection of who they are. I found that the best way to tell people’s stories is to let them do it themselves on video where you can hear, and see, how they are.”
Sterman pitched the idea to Keith York, program director at KPBS, but was met with a lack of enthusiasm. She asked him to give her three days to allow her to take him to some local gardens. By the end of the first day he was sold.
“It was about 2002 and KPBS was not doing original programming,” she recalled. “He connected me to Marianne Gerdes and her husband, Michael, who was a videographer for KPBS and had his own business on the side. We started talking and have been working together ever since.”
In 2005, Sterman and Marianne Gerdes produced the first two episodes of A Growing Passion, a television show about “ordinary people who are extraordinary gardeners.” The emphasis was on low water, green gardens. Other episodes in the pilot series followed in 2007.
Last fall, Sterman and Gerdes received funding from KPBS to produce six episodes for season one through an RFP under an initiative called Explore San Diego which called for shows that expose viewers to people, places, businesses and events that they would not otherwise have learned about. The six episodes began airing in May and included topics such as The Business of Blooms, California Native Grown, Waterwise and Wonderful, Growing Your Own, Cycle and Recycle, and Garden in a Pot.
Today, the shows can be seen at 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays and 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Episodes can also be accessed on-line at kpbs.org.
“We want to take everything we’ve learned here in San Diego and tell it to a broader audience and geographical range,” she said. “Everything we do has a take-home message.”
Sterman’s two books, California Gardener’s Guide and Water-Wise Plants for the Southwest can be purchased on Amazon.com.
Her new book, Hot Colors, Dry Garden which discusses beautiful, colorful, low-water gardens will be published by Timber Press in 2014.
Currently, Nan Sterman is leading a garden tour of England until July 11. For more information, visit plantsoup.com.