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Sep 7, 201208:56 AMHomes & Gardens

All things home and garden

The Plant Doctor Goes XXX

Sep 7, 2012 - 08:56 AM
The Plant Doctor Goes XXX

Photo by Jadrian Klinger

If longevity as a popular entertainer is a requisite, then you might just see Noel Falk, the Plant Doctor, among a new batch of judges for American Idol, a show that eats up judges and talent alike. 

But if he did make it to the judges’ chair, he might just become Idol’s Dick Clark. Like Steven Tyler, Cher or David Bowie, all of whom could have been his classmates, and with whom he shares some notoriety for his coiffure, the ever-durable Plant Doctor defies changing fads and the passing of time on the ever-more-confusing stage of radio “edutainment”.

The Plant Doctor celebrated 30 years (that’s XXX in Roman numerals) earlier this year.  Longevity like that evokes the memory of folks like Paul Harvey, Walter Cronkite, Larry King or Johnny Carson.  There’s no such thing as tenure or seniority in broadcasting, so Falk’s secret, if bottled and labeled, would command some big bucks among aspiring radio talent.

The Plant Doctor didn’t begin with a plan, nor was it born on radio.  Debuting as the guy giving advice on TV, promoting the Country Market retail nursery in Mechanicsburg, Falk claims to have simply recognized an opportunity and followed the current through television, radio, newspapers and books.

Like it or not, the Plant Doctor is a creature of central Pa., and is regarded as their property, which probably suites Falk just fine.

Though recognized today as a foundational Saturday-morning program at Harrisburg’s 5,000-watt WHP Talk Radio 580 AM, Falk’s Plant Doctor has dispensed advice to central Pa. listeners from other radio stations, notably WKBO.  There’s never been a time when he wasn’t on the air in the past 30 years.

Helping educate and encourage budding horticulturalists and hobby gardeners seems like a natural extension of his 30-year career in teaching. Messiah College in Grantham is where Falk taught, and it is  also where he guided the fabulous Oakes Museum, a world-class collection on a bucolic rural college campus. The Plant Doctor Show was a weekend gig during those teaching years. After retiring from academia, Falk took the helm of Dauphin County’s Park and Recreation Department until his recent second retirement.

It strains credulity to think that the “rest of the story” about the Plant Doctor isn’t punctuated with the backstage drama that is part of the story of most other persistent personalities.  Similarly, it seems like a lost opportunity not to have syndicated a show that is so obviously popular in its home market.

Loyal listeners and advertisers who’ve never unhooked their wagon from the Plant Doctor brand are Falk’s simple insight on continued success.

Arguably, being a personality who lives, works and has taught in the area, his show has benefits that are hard to ignore, and that may be hard to replicate elsewhere. Like it or not, the Plant Doctor is a creature of central Pa., and is regarded as their property, which probably suites Falk just fine.

Central Pa. owns, but doesn’t imprison, the Plant Doctor, and his loyal listeners will follow him to the ends of the earth on boats, planes and trains when he plays host with themed excursions where plants and food play a lead role.  Compass Points Travel is the passport for Falk and his posse of experienced and novice world wanderers. It has even been said that Noel plays with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra each fall during their Christmas tour.

At his website, noelfalk.com, the self-supplied bio is remarkably modest, or maybe just concise, the way a former academic might write. But drill down into the projects and enterprises Noel’s had his hand in, and you will see that a lot of central Pa. landscape and culture has his imprint.

Not obvious from the bio is Falk’s affinity for the outdoors and wild places. 

Many listeners know of his frequent visits to Newfoundland, but only a few may be aware of his involvement with wild places closer to home.

The Ned Smith Center for Nature and the Arts in Millersburg, for example, has Falk’s fingerprints all over it, and his name-plate is on the men’s restroom at the visitors’ center.

So with 30 years of winning hands, do you scoop up your chips and cash in?  Does wine get better as it matures?

With the relatively recent establishment of a website; new destinations to explore with listeners; and a whole call-screen of curious and perplexed gardeners, it’s no time to be bugging out for the Plant Doctor.

As king of the radio mountain, are there challenges from younger, hipper, brasher aspirants?  Maybe, but no worries. After all, who says “pleasant gardening” more effectively than the Plant Doctor?

Bob Carey is not only Harrisburg Magazine's Resident Hortaculturalist, but also hosts his own radio program, Garden Talk, heard each Sunday morning at 11:30-12:30 on WIOO AM Radio.