Howard Garrett was green before it was cool.
He’s not a man from Mars; he just believes that gardening and everything else in life can be done with minimal chemicals and harm to the environment.
Garrett, who has lived in Lakewood since 1973, is the Dirt Doctor of radio. The Dirt Doctor show, which became syndicated about three years ago, is broadcast in more than 100 markets nationwide. And now Garrett has a new program, the Green Living show, which is part of a partnership with the Green Living store in Lakewood Shopping Center.
Garrett was a landscape artist and gardener when his daughter, Logan, was born in 1985. When she started putting things in her mouth, the way babies do once they figure out their fingers, Garrett started thinking about doing things in a more natural way.
“It just hit me upside the head that we shouldn’t be putting anything toxic into the earth,” he says. “I had no idea what organic gardening was. I had heard the term.”
He did some research, and by 1988 he was perfecting organic gardening and landscaping techniques. He modified organic farming and ranching techniques, and wrote manuals on organic landscaping methods for commercial projects, including golf courses.
“I was so naïve that I thought I could convince the whole world that this was the way to go,” he says.
It’s taken longer than Garrett expected, but organic gardening is gaining in popularity. And that’s part of what brought the Green Living store into play.
Garrett says his listeners “would get mad at me” because he touted products that they couldn’t find. So he started a mail-order business to sell organic gardening stuff, including his own Garrett Juice fertilizer.
And the new Green Living show combines information and communication with retail through the Green Living store at Gaston and Abrams, which carries all of the gardening aids that Garrett recommends. Some of the retailers that advertise during Garrett’s show don’t even do that.
The store has shifted focus since specialty retail veteran Tom Bazzone took over as president and chief executive officer about two years ago. The previous owners had focused a lot on apparel. But now the store carries more things like home décor, bedding and paint for example. And gardening is a growth category, Bazzone says.
The little store doesn’t give shoppers a lot of choices. Its buyers pick the very best products they can find, and instead of offering five similar products, they carry the one that they consider the best. For example, the store carries one brand of hose — Water Right — because it’s the only hose Garrett could find that doesn’t kink or contain heavy metals that can come out in the water.
Once people get into organic gardening, they see results quickly, Garrett says.
“The percentage of people who practice organic gardening are still a minority, but it’s growing exponentially,” he says.
Organic gardening is, after all, the original way of doing things. Gardening with chemicals has come into practice only since about World War I. But it can be hard to convince people that organic is the way to go. Part of that is due to marketing.
The largest organic gardening company in the United States spends less than $1 million a year on advertising, and the largest provider of chemical fertilizer, Scotts Lawn Care, spends upward of $1 billion on advertising.
But organic products have come a long way, Garrett says.
“When I started doing this, you would go buy some smelly, messy concoction that came in a brown paper bag,” he says. “The quality of products has gone up. The packaging is attractive and user friendly.”
In Garrett’s mission to keep chemicals out of the earth, converts are important. The Green Living show is another way for him to reach new audiences.
And it could be working. In June, Green Living shipped orders to 28 states and Europe.
“We have the ability to expand beyond this little store in Lakewood,” Bazzone says.
Howard Garrett is on the radio with the Green Living show Saturdays from 9-11 a.m., and the Dirt Doctor show Sundays from 8-11 a.m. on KSKY 660 AM. Learn more about him at dirtdoctor.com.
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