Three things you need to know from the "department of full disclosure" before I get into the nuts and bolts of this week's post.

  1. I used to work for The Department of Agricultural Communications for the (then) Agricultural Extension Service at Texas A&M University. Today, it's known as Texas AgriLife Extension.
  2. I got to work with all the agricultural and horticultural agents around the state in my radio and television work for the university.
  3. I'm pretty sure I helped give Robert Richter, horticultural agent for Harris County AgriLife Extension, his nickname "Skip."

So, let's go back in time to my communications job at A&M. It was obvious that some counties had good agents and some had not-so-good ones, measured by their communications and/or teaching abilities. And still today, some counties are simply much stronger than others in their educational efforts. Since I started hosting GardenLine for KTRH, I've tried to work closely with certain better county agents and Master Gardener programs. We are blessed locally with four counties that have horticultural programs. But, unfortunately, the biggest of the four has struggled to find the right person for the job for about a dozen years. Granted, that's just my opinion, but it's a conclusion based on being the "garden guy" on Houston radio for nearly two decades.

Fort Bend, Galveston, and Montgomery counties have been rockin' along for years. Their horticultural programs are successful because of their strong horticultural agents and, in some cases, the directors of the main county offices who back them up. (There are some horticultural agents in Texas who succeed in spite of their directors.)

Harris County used to be very strong back when Bill Adams ran its program, but since his retirement over 15 years ago, things have stumbled a bit. But not anymore, thanks to Harris County's new hort agent Robert "Skip" Richter (LEFT). He's not really "new" ... I actually knew Skip back when we were both students at A&M. Honestly, we didn't hang out, and I can't say we were really friends. Let's just say that in our dormitory everybody knew Skip! He was just that kind of genuine person.

Skip went on to become a horticultural agent in Montgomery and Travis counties for many years, and was named director of Travis County AgriLife Extension. Thankfully, he is now back doing what I believe he does best ... being a horticultural agent, and now for the Harris County AgriLife Extension.

And Skip ain't one to flounder. He is initiating a series of programs which I believe will become a template for all other Texas counties with strong horticultural programs. It's a monthly series to be known as Open Garden Days!

Maybe you're not sure what to plant in your yard. Maybe you want to learn how to plant and care for a vegetable garden. Or you may have questions about your existing plants? Or need a plant or insect identified. This new program will provide the perfect opportunity to talk with friendly and knowledgeable Master Gardeners and see planting solutions in person.

Skip has told me that visitors can also learn about ongoing research trials, composting, cylinder gardening for kids, container gardening, home fruit growing, and greenhouse projects. And, there are two locations to choose from, so you won't have to drive far to get free, friendly advice on gardening.

Open Garden Days at the Harris County Extension office, 3033 Bear Creek Drive, are held monthly 9-11:30 a.m. on the fourth Tuesday, January through November. Here's the day's schedule:
9-10 a.m. - Self-guided tours of the gardens
10-10:45 - Free adult workshop and Children's educational activities
10:45-11:30 - More self-guided garden tours

The Bear Creek Research and Demonstration gardens include raised vegetable beds, an herb garden, flower gardens, a butterfly garden, a fruit orchard, a meditation garden and a bog garden. Flower and perennial beds include Texas superstars, all-American selections, border plants, roses, shade plants, daylilies, drought-tolerant species and more. All are selected to show area residents which plants perform well in our area. Guided tours are available for groups of 10 or more with one week's notice. Contact Will at 832-264-3466 or email for more information.

Monthly topics scheduled for the Bear Creek Garden include:
January 28 - Soil and Composting
February 25 - Spring Vegetable Gardening
March 25 - Irrigation
April 22 - Landscape Maintenance and Lawns
May 27 - Insects in your Garden
June 24 - Herbs
July 22 - Fall Vegetable Gardening
August 26 - Water Star Gardens/Great Houston Plants
September 23 - Container Gardening
October 28 - Trees, Choice and Maintenance
November 25 - Protecting Plants in Winter

Gardeners in the southern and eastern parts of the county can take in Open Garden Day at the Genoa Friendship Gardens, 1202 Genoa Red Bluff Road. They are set for 8:30-11 a.m. once a month during the school year and twice monthly during the summer. That's the first and third Monday June-August and the third Monday September-May.

The Genoa Friendship Gardens include vegetable gardens, floral gardens, herbs, butterfly gardens, roses, fruit trees, a pond, and a wide variety of ornamental trees and shrubs. Open Garden Days educational sessions are available for adults and young people, so bring the kids for fun and education.

All Open Garden Days and their educational activities are free, as are advice and helpful publications. If you have questions about your home garden or landscape, it often helps to bring photos and/or samples in a zip-closure bag for examination.
In the meantime, you can check out updates on their Facebook pageor in their gardening blog.