Host of ‘Making It Grow’ talks.
Story by Robyn Passante + Photos by Arno Dimmling
For Amanda McNulty, a successful day at the office is when she creates a motorcycle helmet out of a watermelon and wears it on her head on live TV.
“Those are great fun, the watermelon hats. And we’re promoting South Carolina produce!” says McNulty, longtime host of “Making It Grow” on SCETV.
The 68-year-old Columbia native took a horticulture class at Clemson on a whim when she and her husband moved there in her late 20s, and that whim turned into a serious interest and a degree in horticulture. McNulty then spent several years as a stay-at-home mom to their three kids in tiny St. Matthews in Calhoun County, where she served on St. Matthews Town Council for a dozen years and did some work as a private gardener and wedding florist before returning to school for her master’s degree in education. That led her to be tapped as a consumer horticulture agent in Clemson’s Sumter County Cooperative Extension Office.
But most know her as the affable, energetic host of “Making It Grow,” a weekly live call-in program on ETV. We caught up with McNulty, who was recently on Hilton Head filming an episode, to talk about her love of nature and those wacky homemade hats she wears on TV.
[LOCAL Life] How did the outdoors play a role in your growing-up years? [Amanda McNulty] Oh, dramatically. First of all, my parents were getting a little bit older. My mother was 37 or so when I was born. And I was the first child [of three]. And we moved to the suburbs in Columbia, and there was a lot of open space around us, and we were allowed to stay outside till 11 o’clock at night, just wandering. There were creeks near us and trees to climb. We caught birds. My brother was a giant snake collector. We could be gone all day long exploring nature, and it was absolute heaven. They didn’t worry one bit about us. We didn’t garden or anything, but we were outdoors all the time.
[LL] These days you write radio horticultural tips for the SCETV radio stations, and a column for “South Carolina Wildlife” magazine. But you’ve been a writer for a long time, right? [AM] I used to write fiction, now I write nonfiction. I wrote a funny story called “Picnics and Sex,” and when I moved to St. Matthews, the garden clubs asked me to speak to them. But they said, ‘We’re too old to garden.’ So I said maybe I’ll read them one of my stories. I didn’t read them the name of the story, I just read part of the story. My mother said, ‘I wouldn’t tell them you wrote a story called ‘Picnics and Sex.’”
I think picnics are a great time to have sex, don’t you think?
[LL] Uh, was it about picnics and sex? [AM] Yeah. I mean, I think picnics are a great time to have sex, don’t you think? I mean if you’re young. C’mon, you know. It was fiction.
[LL] What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned about being a TV host? [AM] The hardest thing for me is not to interrupt, and I don’t think I’m a rude person but I get so excited that I want to jump in. People will leave comments and say what a horrible host I am because I interrupt. And I’m not trying to be rude, I’m just excited!
[LL] Do you feel any pressure on your shoulders to keep people tuning in week after week? [AM] A lot of people, other agents, have told me in the past that you don’t have to be entertaining to be educational. But I have found that I think people … I mean nobody’s watching my show and taking notes to try to get into law school or medical school. So I do feel like there’s so much variety out there of what people can watch, that if we don’t try to be somewhat personality-driven, that people will say ‘Well this is kinda boring. I would like to know more about tomatoes, but I’ve been at work all day and I wanna relax a little bit.’ [Extension Agent] Tony Melton, who’s the person who’s on with me the most, is just this remarkably fun and delightful person. He has more knowledge than anybody in the world, but has such fun ways of telling us about it.
[LL] Is that where the idea behind the hats came from? [AM] When my children were young and outside we were always doing things with flowers. We didn’t have a TV forever and ever. So we just had to think of things to do. So I guess since I didn’t know very much when I came over [to the show] — I’d been out of school for a long time, and these other people who were coming on the show knew a whole lot — so I just thought ‘Well, I guess I need a shtick.’ So I started making hats. And as I’ve said, if I knew 18 years ago that every Monday I’d have to lie in bed at 2 in the morning and think ‘What in the name of God am I gonna put in my hair tomorrow?’ I probably wouldn’t have started it. But it’s fun.
[LL] So you create them yourself? [AM] One time these people came on who were visitors and said, ‘You make your own hat?’ and I said, ‘Well, who do you think makes them?’ And they said, ‘The art department.’ [laughing] I said, ‘The art department?? We’ve got five volunteers every night putting this show on. There’s no art department. This is not Stephen Colbert.’
[LL] Do you have a favorite thing to put in them? [AM] There’s a certain time of year when there’s a plant that’s called Farewell to Summer comes in. It’s in the buckwheat family. It grows on real sandy soils, and when it’s coming in, since we don’t have A/C — well we have a window unit now, but our house was built in 1880, so having summer over is just like, ‘Oh please Lord Jesus let summer be over.’ And so I’m so happy when that comes in. Because, ya know, farewell to summer. What could be more marvelous?
[LL] Is it fun or nerve-wracking being on a live TV show? [AM] Oh it’s great fun. We get to put makeup on guys who drive tractors. Everyone gets makeup, because the lights are so very, very bright. And so Pat McDaniel, who is the manager of our office, is in charge of makeup, so she comes over and makes everybody up. And we have to put eyebrows on everybody, because our makeup person, the lady who came to teach us about it, said eyebrows are the most important thing. So it’s funny to have these agronomy agents who spend all their time telling people how to inseminate bulls sitting there getting makeup put all over their bald heads. We think it’s kind of a hoot.
Watch her show
What: Making It Grow When: 7 p.m., Tuesdays
Channel: SCETV The Skinny: A live, interactive call-in program produced by ETV and Clemson University. Host Amanda McNulty and fellow Clemson Extension agent Terasa Lott feature horticulturists and cover garden topics while highlighting interesting places and products from around South Carolina.
Watch online: video.scetv.org
[LL] What can someone who’s not a horticulture expert do to foster a greater appreciation for and knowledge about plants? [AM] I feel like a lot of people don’t go out and look at plants and look at what’s on them. If people would just spend a half-hour going out and looking at what’s happening in their yard, especially on Hilton Head where it’s warm … you could start to develop an appreciation of your yard being not just a green blob.
People like to collect seashells. Well, this is way beyond that. So instead of walking up the beach collecting seashells, get a pair of extremely close-focusing binoculars, and start collecting pictures in your mind of things that are in your yard that you never bothered to see. And once you do that you start to give personality and individualize things (in your yard) and give them a sense of place in the world. They do have a place in the world, that’s not just there for us to ride by at 30 mph.
Behind the Scenes Videos
Host of ‘Making It Grow’, Amanda McNulty, visited Hudson’s Seafood House On The Docks and interviewed Andrew Carmines about our local oysters. View two behind the scenes clips below and catch the full episode on video.scetv.org.