A man holds a shovel while standing in a garden.

Q&A: Ben Futa, host of ‘Let’s Grow Stuff,’ talks Garden & Landscape Expo

February 1, 2021 Alyssa Beno Leave a Comment

Gardeners looking for a respite from Wisconsin’s winter will find it online Feb. 20-21 with PBS Wisconsin’s Virtual Garden & Landscape Expo.

Part of that experience will be educational presentations with live Q&As with horticulture experts, moderated by Ben Futa, longtime Expo presenter and host of PBS Wisconsin’s new digital gardening series Let’s Grow Stuff.

We caught up with Futa to talk about his new role at Garden & Landscape Expo and what’s to come in the second season of Let’s Grow Stuff.

PBS Wisconsin: What are you most excited about with the virtual Garden & Landscape Expo?

Ben Futa: To be able to go back and rewatch or reference something is going to be really valuable for a lot of people, especially in gardening where the seasonality of everything is so important. We are doing Expo in February, but we won’t start growing outdoors for a couple more months probably.

PBS Wisconsin: Why do you think Garden & Landscape Expo is such a popular event?

Futa: From the volunteers I’ve worked with and the attendees I’ve talked with over the years, it’s hope, which is also even more appropriate now. The idea that ‘This too shall pass,’ and usually we’re referring to just winter in that context, but it’s more loaded now. The idea of getting inspired. It’s basically a pep rally for the season ahead.

PBS Wisconsin: Many people turned to gardening in 2020 for a bit of relief from the pandemic and lockdown. How did you engage with gardening differently last year?

Futa: Certainly earlier in the year when I was still in Wisconsin,  the challenge for us [at Allen Centennial Garden] was how do we bring a public garden, a public space to people when people couldn’t come to us? That was a lot of photography, sometimes videos, Facebook Lives; for something that’s usually so immersive as a garden, it was really interesting. We would post little sound clips even – here’s the sound of the waterfall for 10 seconds. We were connecting with the garden in new ways because we were trying to figure out how to bring other people to it when they couldn’t be where we were standing.

PBS Wisconsin: You also became the host of PBS Wisconsin’s new, digital series, Let’s Grow Stuff. What was your experience like as a first-time host?

Futa: The first episode or two I was really in my head – I need to nail this line! I had to do five takes on this line. That’s just kind of how it goes. The crew was so gracious and was like, whatever, just do it again. We have time. We’re here. Once that pressure came off, and I relaxed into it, it was really enjoyable, which is why I’m happy to do it again. Something we want to do more of this coming year is find ways to engage with people more directly whether it’s a live Q&A or having more of that back-and-forth presence.

PBS Wisconsin: What can you tell us about season 2?

Futa: The first season we really focused on productive growing, so food, herbs, things like that. But, we really saw the things that were solutions-focused were the most well received. We’re also going to branch out beyond just productive growing. One thing that I pitched to the production team are dog-friendly gardens and thinking about how to design enriching outdoor spaces for our animals, not just ourselves. There are a lot of ways to enrich their outdoor experience beyond just having a yard.

PBS Wisconsin: What do you hope viewers take away from Let’s Grow Stuff?

Futa: I hope it is useful for people. We’re doing this because so many people came to gardening this year, but now the challenge before us is how do we sustain these people? Some people may have dove headfirst into it when we were all locked down and realized they’d bitten off more than they can chew. So, how do we keep them grounded and not have them give up? How do we keep them inspired and hooked on this thing? Because gardening is so powerful, and we hope that everyone found it as rewarding as so many of us do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *