Must-seed TV: Frischkorn + Rainey = flower power

Every time you turn on the TV, something new has sprouted. From BBC's Ground Force to PBS's The Victory Garden, garden shows are spreading like crabgrass, rife with advice about how to transform your weedy backyard into a shady Shangri-la.

But how do gardens transform us? That's the question Rebecca Frischkorn wants to dig into as she hosts a 13-episode video series, GardenStory. A self-taught landscape designer, 50-year-old Frischkorn, all bobbed hair and good posture, presents quite a contrast to Charlie, the frowsy, braless Brit of Ground Force, who's down in the dirt every week.

The seed for Frischkorn's project took root in 2000 while she was walking with a friend through a garden in England. "You should be the Sister Wendy of gardening!" her companion exclaimed, referring to the homespun nun who became a PBS cult figure with her ardent insights into art history.

Although Firschkorn knew nothing about television production, she hired Bill Reifenberger of Rubicon Productions to shoot a demo tape of her wandering and discussing the Ladew Topiary Garden in Monkton, Maryland. She was dissatisfied with her first effort. "Frankly, it was full of flaws," she says, shaking her head.

Enter Reuben Rainey, a renowned professor of landscape architecture at UVA. Frischkorn had heard that Rainey, 65, shared her vision of gardens' transformative powers and, more importantly, that he used self-produced videotapes in his courses. A mutual friend introduced them.

"I think it started with a cup of tea," Frischkorn recalls, laughing, "but I'm sure we were drinking wine when I took them upstairs to show them the Ladew video."

Rainey offered several suggestions and soon began collaborating with Frischkorn on scripts, re-envisioning the series to explore not just beautiful– but purpose-driven– landscapes. One half-hour episode might focus on an urban community plot; another would examine a hospital's healing garden.

"What attracted me to this project originally," Rainey explains, "was I understood the potential of it– to reach lots of people to discuss in depth what I've been teaching all these years."

With a letter of encouragement from American Public Television, Frischkorn and Rainey's first joint effort examined the creative garden of Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer in Lynchburg. To complement the video, they co-authored Half My World: The Garden of Anne Spencer, A History and Guide, which recently won a 2004 Award of Honor from the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Frischkorn and Rainey also plan to publish a book to accompany GardenStory. Although time constraints and fund-raising are constant thorns, they now have four half-hour episodes finished, and they expect to complete the series for broadcast by 2007.

Digging deeper than the what-and-when-to-plant approach, Rainey explains, "What we're trying to convey is a passion for a connection with the land."

Rebecca Frischkorn and Reuben Rainey

Video production for a future episode gets underway at a UVA pavilion.