Three decades on Richmond radio apparently will come to an end for horticulturist Andre Viette — at least temporarily — on Saturday, when his “In the Garden” show concludes its run on WRVA-AM.
“Totally off-guard,” said Viette’s son, Mark, when asked about the station’s decision to pull the plug on the broadcast. “I am disappointed. It took us by surprise.”
The Viettes were informed by letter from WRVA in early June that the station would no longer carry the syndicated show. Mark Viette expects July 3 will be the last “In the Garden” program on the station. He was told the time slot — WRVA airs “In the Garden” from 8 to 10 a.m. on Saturday mornings, though the show runs until 11 a.m. — had been sold.
A station official did not respond to a request for comment about “In the Garden” or what will replace it.
Though the show will continue to be broadcast on stations across Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, Mark Viette said the loss of WRVA leaves a void for listeners across a wide swath of central Virginia. He’s pursuing the possibility of another Richmond-area station picking up the show. He also said plans are in the works for a revamped website (www.inthegardenradio.com) for streaming the show online.
“We’re looking for ideas and solutions for this,” Viette said in a phone interview from Fishersville, where the family lives and operates a small plant nursery that specializes in day lilies, hostas and peonies and has a series of gardens that visitors may enjoy. “I hope over the course of the next few weeks, we can somehow still bring our show to our loyal listeners in Richmond and surrounding areas.”
He said he has heard from many Richmond-area listeners, such as Gwen Moore, who emailed him about the “distressing” news.
“Through your broadcast, you’ve brought a sense of normalcy, especially in these chaotic and distressing times!” Moore wrote. “We need you here! The garden is more important than ever!!!”
Indeed, Viette said the pandemic seems to have inspired a renewed interest in gardening, which he believes was already “America’s favorite pastime.”
“We’ve had more calls than ever before on ‘In Your Garden,’ probably due to COVID with more people spending time at home,” he said.
Since the outset of the pandemic, the Viettes have broadcasted the show from Andre’s dining room, overlooking the family’s gardens, rather than the studio of flagship station WSSV-AM in Harrisonburg, where the show launched in 1990 and soon began spreading to other stations, including WRVA.
Before the pandemic, the Viettes alternated hosting the show, as Andre was often traveling, leading tours or visiting the family’s tropical gardens on St. Thomas. But since the pandemic, the Viettes have been co-hosting each week.
“Dad and I are a little different … and don’t always agree,” Viette said with a laugh. “I had a friend in York, Pa., say, ‘I love it when you guys argue.’”
Andre Viette moved to the Shenandoah Valley in 1976 from Long Island, N.Y., where he had followed in his father’s footsteps in the nursery business.
In Fishersville, he established Andre Viette Farm and Nursery and developed a public persona through his public programs and radio, where he answers calls about all sorts of other gardening and landscaping matters, such as tomato blight.
The Viettes have focused more and more on their public outreach in the last two decades — providing gardening information through radio, television and online — because of water problems at their farm. Dried-up wells and drought have greatly affected the way they do business, said Mark Viette.
“When my parents moved here, they did not plan on operating a growing facility and garden center,” he said. “That was not their goal, so they never really checked for water. If you go 5 miles toward Waynesboro, there is a huge underwater aquifer with unlimited water, but we don’t have that here.”
The Viettes have drilled multiple wells and built a cistern, but they no longer have access to enough water to adequately irrigate a major growing operation, he said.
Before the water problems, the Viettes supplied a wide variety of wholesale plants to retailers from Tennessee to Vermont, he said, but they’ve had to scale back their business model and “gone back to our roots,” meaning their specialties, Viette said.
They now concentrate on disseminating their knowledge through means such as informational videos, podcasts and their syndicated radio show, which at least for now will continue to broadcast from Andre’s dining room, with flowers and birds within view through the window and a library of gardening resource books within easy reach — though Mark also has his iPad close by to consult if needed.
“My dad is sort of old-fashioned,” Viette said with a laugh. “He does not use a computer. He has an old flip phone. He doesn’t have email. He doesn’t text people.”
Sometimes, listeners call with questions about plants or problems even the Viettes aren’t familiar with, sending them reaching for their books or iPad, which is fine by them.
“I love learning something new every day,” Mark Viette said. “We really love our listeners.”