HGTV visits the Gold Country |

HGTV visits the Gold Country

The Union StaffStephanie Locher, field producer for Home and Garden Television, checks a camera during filming
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Camera! Action!

The Scene: Foothill

Cottage Gardens in

Grass Valley.

The Story: “How to

garden in rocky soils.”

The Star: Cool-as-a-cucumber Carolyn Singer.

cucumber Carolyn Singer.

And that’s the way it was last week on a sunny morning before the rainstorms brought blessed relief to the parched California hills.

Summoned to the foothills by an Internet search for techniques to grow plants in rocky soils, the four-person Home and Garden Television crew was all around the Grass Valley nurserywoman.

And Singer handled it like this is an everyday occurrence. No jitters. No retakes. Smooth as silk.

Heading the Home and Garden Television (HGTV) expeditionary force was Stephanie Locher, the field producer (heading a team of people she smilingly describes as, “Grip, lighting guy and shooter chick.”) who is asking questions that will eventually be mouthed by Paul James, host of “Gardening by the Yard,” even though he’s never been to the garden and has never met our gal Carolyn.

Hey, this is Hollywood, OK?

Locher laughs, “People watching the program will think Paul was out here chatting it up with you guys and having a good time, and he is, in spirit.”

It makes you wonder if they REALLY went to the moon, doesn’t it?

No matter. The important thing is that the word is getting out about the bad and good things about having rocky soil in the garden and how best to cope with the problems this planting medium presents.

Singer is dressed in denim overalls and a burnt-orange pastel turtleneck that look GREAT on the video monitor. She’s wearing dark, nondescript shoes. We learn that editors back at HGTV would tear their hair out if she were wearing Nikes with the label showing. They’re so product-conscious that even a bag of fertilizer showing the manufacturer’s name is an absolute no-no.

Except for wearing sunglasses while the lighting technician is test-reflecting sunlight into her face, Singer is completely at ease with the camera and crew.

Her assistant, Cathy Boyle-Dowd, is a little more tentative. When it comes her turn to get on camera, Singer asks, “Where’s Cathy?” then laughs when she sees her quietly standing behind me. Once she gets into her routine of demonstrating soil improvement, however, Boyle-Dowd loosens up, and the television audience will never know of her apprehension. “I should have brought my electric shovel!” she says.

A tool I’m not familiar with, Boyle-Dowd says it’s available through hardware stores like The Home Depot and is very useful for jobs like digging postholes for fencing. “It’s amazing,” she says, “and it’s fun. I can work with it for hours.”

Then Singer is back on camera, explaining how having rocks in the mound at the entrance to Foothill Cottage Gardens creates “micro-climates” for surrounding plants, reflecting light at the sun lovers and providing critical shade for those less tolerant of our long, hot summers.

If you’ve never witnessed a “shoot,” it’s an education in how the people who do the lighting set up reflecting screens to make a scene appear natural by taking away distracting shadows and in how sensitive the camera person must be to extraneous noises such as a plane flying overhead, a car passing by, the noise of the shutter on MY camera (sorry).

When you and I are watching a program like this, we’re unaware that these normal sounds are missing, but it definitely would be a distraction if they were present.

Now Singer is going into the creation of soil through sheet composting with layers of ordinary clay, plant material and manure.

“The advantage of sheet composting is that there’s no need to turn it,” she explains, noting that one area of the garden has been sheet composted for nearly six years to get it “absolutely perfect,” but the process would normally run about two years. “If you dig your hand in a few inches and it’s quite warm, that’s too rich for most plants.”

And unlike urban composters, Singer doesn’t include kitchen scraps in her compost because of the damage to garden beds done by hungry raccoons and a bear.

“A bear?” asks Locher, glancing nervously.

“Yes, we’ve met face-to-face,” Singer nods. “One day, I opened the back door of the kitchen and there he was about five feet away, rummaging through the garbage cans. We were only separated by the screen door, and I was completely in awe!

“He smelled TERRIBLE,” she laughs, making a face.

The shooting winds up around noon, and Locher promises to return someday soon to film another segment on “Gardening on Slopes.” Exactly when this session will appear on HGTV is undetermined as yet, Locher said, “but when it does, it will run several times so your friends will all have a chance to see it.”

Along with a lot of other people. Currently, HGTV claims to have a potential audience of 100 million viewers.

Dick Tracy is an award-winning garden writer and photographer, Master Gardener and former president of the Foothills Horticulture Society. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.

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