Podcasts have become a bit of an obsession for me in the past 12 months. I spend long hours alone in the greenhouse sowing seed trays, dividing crowns, and potting up plants. I used to listen to music with an occasional audiobook to keep my sanity, but even 10,000 songs on shuffle got old eventually. In the course of looking for something to entertain and, hopefully, enrich my mind I have stumbled upon a number of podcasts that are now a part of my daily routine. If you are already familiar with podcasts and how to get them, feel free to skip to the bullet points for my favorites. If you haven’t ventured into the world of podcasts just yet a short introduction follows.
First: what is a podcast? It’s a pre-recorded audio production (‘radio show’) that you download or stream and listen to on your phone/computer/internet-connected device. Most of the shows NPR produces are also available as podcasts, so that should give you a basic idea of the format. Unlike NPR or radio, pretty much anyone can make a podcast, which means there is a lot a variability and people trying new things. The upside is that increased access lends itself to a wide variety of shows about specialized and often esoteric subject matter (like native plants). The only downside I’ve encountered is that sometimes the quality can be lacking for the more specialized subjects (like native plants), but better shows are coming out all the time. Fortunately, most podcasts are completely free to the listener, and there are ratings and reviews that can guide you to good quality productions.
Now, where to get these podcasts? If you are into Apple products and/or use iTunes, that will be your best bet. They did invent the podcast, so I’ll give them credit for that and say that most podcasts are available there first. If you don’t use iTunes, then there are a few other ways to listen. There are a number of apps, often referred to as ‘podcatchers’ available for free in whatever app store you use. Download the app, open it up and start browsing for episodes. I am using Podcast Republic at the moment and I would say it works quite well for me. The advantage of installing the app is that you can download the episodes for offline listening. This is especially great for listening in the car or in areas that have poor cell/wi-fi coverage (like the greenhouse) where streaming is not an option. If you aren’t into the apps and downloads then you can always just listen through your regular web browser on whatever device you use to internet.
Now that the podcast basics are covered, here are the shows that I enjoy and recommend:
- The Native Plant Podcast – This is a recent find, but has quickly become one of my favorites. I think I might have met the hosts, Mike and John, at the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference back in 2013. They are both entertaining, knowledgeable guys that run businesses growing and installing native plants in Tennessee and Virginia respectively. They bring on a guest each week to interview and discuss various aspects of plants, ecology, horticulture, and the nursery industry. They also end each show by telling short stories about their dogs and having a toast with their guest, usually involving dark beers. Native plants, dogs and beers: I’m sold. This episode with Dr. Doug Tallamy is a great introduction to him and his work, and also has some good new info for those already familiar with him. A quote from this episode with Dale Hendricks that made me feel better about some of my nursery failures was:“You find a professional grower and you find a person that, for better or for worse, has killed a lot of plants.” It also has a lot of more positive talk about biochar, his role in founding North Creek Nurseries, his new found interest in permaculture, and Paw paws.
- Plants: From Roots to Riches was a BBC radio program, and is now available as a podcast. It’s a good overview of the history of botanical studies, the people that made went exploring all over the globe and the plants they found, collected, studied and grew. The host, Prof. Kathy Willis is the director of science at Kew Gardens, one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world and a key institution in the development of botany as a proper science. She enlists her numerous colleagues at Kew and abroad to explain how empire, industry, and agriculture fueled the need for botanical expertise. The episodes are pretty short (about 14 min. each), so the series of 25 went pretty quickly for me. It’s a very well produced, accessible, narrative of the past 300 years and the revolutions in scientific studies that have changed the ways we view and interact with plants.
- In Defense of Plants – This one has been around a few years, and is hosted by one guy, Matt, who is currently in grad school for Botany. He interviews people about plants, ecology, research, and other aspects of the botanical research world. It’s a bit less polished than some other podcasts, but still quite good and informative. This episode from way back in 2015 about American Ginseng really intrigued me because it’s an almost mythical plant that is attributed all sorts of powers that might not be true! Here he interviews Matt Richards at Atlanta Botanical Garden about his efforts to conserve and propagate native Southeastern orchids. Finally, here he explores an ecosystem near and dear to my heart, the Longleaf Pine Savanna, but unless you have some knowledge of the plants he’s describing it does kind of demonstrate the limits of a non-visual medium.
- In Our Time – Now, we’re getting away from strictly plant based podcasts, but this one has something for everyone. It’s from the BBC, and the host Melvyn Bragg moderates a panel of experts on a given topic each week and they discuss the history of said topic. It is often a work of art, a scientific theory or invention, or a social phenomenon. This episode about Photosynthesis really helped me to visualize the inner workings of plant cells as they make their make their food and breathe. This episode about the structure of the cell is also fascinating, as are any of the many episodes about astronomy, geology, physics and paleontology. Tons of episodes all chock full of people that have devoted their lives to studying a subject explaining it to a genial British man in fairly simple terms. You’re bound to learn something new.
Those are all for the plant enthusiast, but others that I regularly enjoy and recommend are: This American Life, Nerdist, WTF with Marc Maron, Talking Simpsons, You Must Remember This, Radiolab, Invisibilia, Longform, and Snap Judgement.
Happy listening, and if you know of any other good (native) plant-related podcasts recommend it in the comments!