2023 Jacquelyn K. Jones Guest Lecturer: Joe Lamp'l

Joe Lamp'l

One Saturday morning, Joe Lamp'l’s dad hired him out to a great uncle for a yard clean-up project.


Nothing Lamp'l imagined prepared him for what awaited him as he rode his bike to his dad’s brother’s home in Miami, Fla.


“He had staghorn ferns growing in baskets and on trees all over his front yard. I was mesmerized by them,” said the host of the popular PBS garden program, “Growing a Greener World®”.


Staghorn ferns are epiphytic, or air plants, absorbing moisture from the air and nutrients from falling foliage. They grow on tree trunks — as well as planted in growing medium on plaques and in baskets. These fern’s fleshy antler-shaped leaves can be spectacular — trophy-worthy if they were actual antlers. It’s easy to imagine their appeal to the weekend help. 


“He saw that I was fascinated by them,” Lamp'l said. “I helped him divide and replant them and he sent me home with a basket of peat moss and a ‘pup,’ as a staghorn start is known.”


Lamp'l said that experience — on top of a nascent interest in plant propagation initiated after an unfortunate incident with a bush in his parent’s yard — is what hooked him on horticulture. His parents were supportive of his botanical activities and furnished him with seeds.


“I planted a row of beans,” he said. “I’d never eaten anything homegrown. To this day, those were the best beans I’ve ever had.”


He started planting every seed he could get his hands on. He dug up day lilies and bought roses. 


“I was all over it,” he said. “I was so curious and excited about growing things — and I still am. I was made for gardening.”


Growing a greener career

These days, Lamp'l, a.k.a. joe gardener, is the creator, executive producer and host of the Emmy Award-winning PBS series Growing a Greener World® (GGW), distributed by American Public Television to PBS stations across the country. 


He said he always knew that someday he would be doing what he loved most but his path was a little circuitous. When he headed to college in 1983, his mother insisted he major in business — prescient advice.


Upon graduating, the 21-year-old took up accounting. 


“I wasn’t made for accounting,” Lamp'l said. “I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it. It did pay well.”


An early homeowner, Lamp'l couldn’t wait to leave work and get home to his gardens.


“I still had my passion,” he said. “I was doing horticulture and landscape design side gigs, getting my name out there. I became a Master Gardener. I wanted to submerge myself in it as much as possible.”


In 2002, a colleague received a mass email from HGTV announcing a search for a host for a DIY Network program to be called “Fresh from the Garden.” She shared it with Lamp'l who was able to land an interview.


“A week later they sent a script and asked me to do a screen test,” he said. “It was surreal. I’d never been in front of a camera, but I knew my subject matter and the camera didn’t intimidate me. I did it over and over — with no feedback.”


Unexpectedly, they also asked him to demonstrate how to do a soil test, after which they dismissed him. Two weeks later he was contacted with the news that he was their top male candidate, but they were still interviewing female candidates. Six more long weeks passed before they invited Lamp'l to be the program’s host.


“The stars aligned,” he said.


Originally intended as a one-year, 26-episode series, Lamp'l’s seed-to-harvest gardening demonstrations were so popular, his contract was extended to three years.


“It was very scripted, down to the second,” Lamp'l said of the experience. They contracted writers and filmed it at a private home south of Atlanta until the owners sold the house. The week before they moved out, I made a connection with a place that was only five miles from my house. 


“We were filming every day of the week. But after three years, we had demonstrated everything you could grow and eat, and the series ended.” 


Launched on the heels of that endeavor, Lamp'l hosted another PBS gardening show that featured visits to public gardens around the country.


“I loved it but got bored with it. We’d film three shows in one location, and nothing was different. At the end of three years, I felt the need to create my own content,” he said.


“Organic gardening and sustainability are my passion, so in 2009, I took a year off to shoot a pilot and by 2010, GGW was up and running,” he said. “We traveled the country talking to gardeners. There’s plenty to see and share and lots of great people.


“Some episodes were shot from my property. I have a very robust vegetable garden. During Covid, we shot a whole season there.”


In its 12th season, L Lamp'l’s GGW shares inspiring stories on topics of organic gardening, sustainability and green living, all presented by its energetic, engaging and knowledgeable host. DIY information for viewers is also part of the compelling programming. 


GGW airs weekly on KMOS PBS 6.1 Saturdays at noon 


Beyond the box with that business degree

“Television wasn’t going to put a lot of money in the bank,” Lamp'l said. “I kept my eyes and ears open and was presented with some unique opportunities. I was young and smart with business sense and I had a passion to teach. I’ve made a living out of what I love to do.” 


In addition to GGW, Lamp'l’s gardening-intensive website,, offers how-to videos, a podcast — with 10 million Apple downloads — online courses and blog posts on current and popular gardening topics — all produced by the grown up little boy who helped his great uncle with his staghorn fern collection. 


Lamp'l also maintains an active personal engagement schedule and in September, mid-Missourians will have a chance to engage in person with him as he shares his thirty-years of organic and sustainable gardening expertise. Lamp'l will be Mizzou Botanic Garden’s(MUBG) 2023 Jacquelyn K. Jones lecturer. 


On Thursday, Sept. 14, Lamp'l will present “Gardening as an Ecological Endeavor.” The lecture is free and open to the public and will be held beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Bond Life Sciences Center’s Monsanto Auditorium on the MU campus. His book, The Vegetable Gardening Book, will be available for purchase and signing at 6 p.m.


On Wednesday, Sept. 13, at 2 p.m., Lamp'l will host a free mini-master class, “Seed Starting Success,” at the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture (CCUA), MUBG’s cosponsor for Lamp'l’s visit. Visit CCUA’s website for required registration. Afterward, he will ring the bell to launch that afternoon’s Columbia Farmer’s Market and mingle with market goers.


Additionally, Lamp'l will engage with Mizzou students at MU’s Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center at 2:30 p.m. on September 14 to talk about his successful career and answer student career and horticulture questions.