By Gregory D. Cook
Environmental horticulture professor Lindsay Ono is the new chair of the Agriculture Department at Bakersfield College. He is a Bakersfield native and BC and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo graduate.
Known as the “plant professor,” Ono is a co-host of The Country Garden, a radio talk show on Kern Radio, Newstalk 1180 AM and a regular lecturer at home and garden shows and garden club events. Bakersfield Life sat down with Ono to learn about his passion for plants.
Could you tell us what environmental horticulture actually is?
Environmental horticulture is the art and science of plants and landscapes, especially in the urban setting. If it’s growing around your house, or if it’s growing inside your house, that's environmental horticulture.
So, when did you first become interested in horticulture?
Oh, I was raised at the nursery. As a little kid, I would play among the bags of Kellogg GroMulch. That was the family business. My father owned Evergreen Nursery here in town, and I worked for him growing up. Eventually, I got into it in college, and I’ve been doing the plant thing ever since.
What do find the most fascinating about horticulture?
Actually, what I like is landscape and design. The neat thing is that you can take an empty yard or space and turn it into a thing of real beauty. I love learning about the little nuances like taking a 1,000-pound boulder and changing its position just a few inches or burying half of it because that’s how it would look in nature to recreate that natural appearance that makes people go, “Wow.”
You mentioned growing up in a nursery, but did you ever want to be anything else when you grew up?
Well, just before I started college, I wanted to be a forest ranger. But everybody was saying that there were no jobs in forestry, so here I am.
What’s your favorite plant?
My favorite plant is the azalea. That’s what we used to grow at Evergreen Nursery. We raised more than 120 varieties of azalea there. They actually adapt very well to Bakersfield if you have them in the right location and the right soil condition. They are extremely gratifying and beautiful plants, with lots of colors and different varieties to choose from. They can be used in almost any location in the yard.
You also host a radio program that focuses on horticulture. How did you get involved with that?
Yes, the Country Garden. It’s a radio program every Saturday morning from 8 to 10 a.m. on Kern Radio, Newstalk 1180 AM. My co-host, Dale Edwards (from Old River Sod), and I have been doing the program for about 10 years now. We have listeners from all over Central California, from Modesto down to Los Angeles and California City over to the Pacific Ocean. We use it as an outreach to promote environmental horticulture to the public.
What are some of other jobs you have had?
Well, of course, I worked for my father at Evergreen Nursery and some other nurseries. There was a farm and home store called Fisco, and I got a lot experience working with farm implements and animals with them. I’ve also worked for the Bear Creek Corporation, working with roses out in Wasco, and the Taft Correctional Institution before I came to Bakersfield College about eight years ago.
What did you do out at the Taft Correctional Institution?
I was a horticulture supervisor and instructor there. I taught their horticulture classes. Bakersfield College had some classes out there, and I took over teaching them. We would do jobs in Taft and around that portion of the valley and go out with work crews to grow things. The program developed nicely.
Do you have other hobbies outside of horticulture?
Well, I play Caribbean steel drums and trumpet. I like playing music, but lately I just haven't had time to do my favorite thing, which is fishing.
What is the best piece of advice you could give someone just getting into gardening?
Plan before you plant. If you have an understanding of what your purpose is, and you have the knowledge of where it’s going to grow, well, if you plan, then you won’t have to dig it up again, chop it down or have frustrations about planting something that’s not going to grow well here. We see that a lot in the industry when people plant stuff that’s just not designed to grow here, especially when they go to places where they're not informed properly.