Roger Swain
Roger Swain (Courtesy Photo/Townsend Public Library)
TOWNSEND - A myriad of labels can be applied to Roger Swain: television host, scientist, gardener, editor, writer, lecturer. But before Swain is anything else, he is an entertainer.

"It's entertaining; that's why I do it," said Swain of his lectures. "I don't call it a lecture, I call it entertainment and maybe you pick up some things along the way."

Swain, who is nearly as famous for his cherry suspenders as he is for being the longtime host of "Victory Garden" on PBS, will be guest speaker at the Townsend Public Library on Jan. 13 at 2 p.m. and will lecture about backyard vegetable gardening. And attendees should expect to laugh as much as they learn.

"We have a lot of fun. I try to be humorous, but my lectures are based on almost 50 years of personal experience, so I've got a few tricks and I'm happy to share," said Swain. "That's the way most of us learned gardening is through other gardeners."

Backyard gardening has been around since about 1944, said Swain; at the time, 44 percent of vegetables in the United States were being grown by amateur gardeners.

"That wasn't even just backyard gardeners. That was front yard, side yard, city parks, city gardens," he said.

The reason for the boom at the time can likely be attributed to World War II, said Swain. People would grow food to eat themselves, which in turn freed up rations to be sent overseas.

Now, victory gardens are once again coming back in style.


"I've been talking about this for 45 years and all of sudden it gets trendy," said Swain. "Everybody's doing it, now I'm just encouraging everyone."

Swain, who has been backyard gardening since he was 15, said the benefits are innumerable. First and foremost, you're eating fresh, clean vegetables and you know where they came from. It's good for the planet and cuts down on the miles that food travels.

Additionally, the hard work and exertion involved provides great physical exercise.

"You don't need to go to the gym if you have a garden," said Swain.

Gardening also provides better understanding and awareness of global warming.

"You have your finger on the pulse of nature," said Swain.

And farmers markets are a great way to build up the community, he said.

"Being a gardener is so easy; it makes you generous and it makes you a lot of friends," he said.

Whenever he can, Swain said if there's something he needs, he prefers to buy it at farmers markets. Still, he goes to the grocery store just like anybody else.

"It would be a very boring diet; I would be eating cabbage all winter long," he said.

Swain spent 15 years hosting 500 episodes of "Victory Garden," the longest running gardening television show and a sister show to "This Old House"; Swain and host Norm Abram worked on the same property for their shows.

With each episode, the main message Swain wanted to impart was this: "You can do it."

"You don't have to pull up your whole yard. A single whiskey barrel gets you in the game," he said. "I would rather have you grow a small garden and do it well than grow a large garden full of weeds."

The best part of hosting the show, said Swain, was interacting with his viewers on the streets. As a lecturer, he gets to revisit this particular aspect.

"It's talking to real people," he said. "On set, you're looking at 3.5 inch lump of glass trying to imagine millions of people out there in San Francisco and Tampa."

Although Swain never gives exactly the same lecture twice, he said, he always tries to make it interactive and enjoyable.

"In a good lecture you start talking and you can guess the response from the audience. Then you know you're on the same page and you're going to have a good time," he said. "When you start seeing people taking notes, you know it's going to be a long hour."

In addition to the show, Swain was also the science editor of "Horticulture Magazine" for 30 years, he authored several books and essays and he has instructed courses with the master gardeners program with the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. That's how he became acquainted with

Susan McNally and Carolyn Sellars, the two Townsend residents and members of the library's gardening club who recruited him for the lecture.

"He likes to share what he knows and he likes people, he likes to talk to them," said McNally. "He's so entertaining, it's fun to listen to him even if you're not gardener."

The cost is being paid for by local groups, namely the Friends of the Townsend Library and the Amanda Dwight Entertainment Fund.

"I think it'll be a great thing for the community," said Library Director Stacy Schuttler.