Michelle Scherer’s 6-year-old son, Matthew, didn’t like apples until he ate one right off of a tree growing in Monty Schwartz’s yard, located in a subdivision in the outskirts of Mount Pleasant.

“Now he (Matthew) wants an apple tree,” says Scherer.

That convert is exactly the aim of Schwartz, a 72-year-old retired pharmacist, master gardener and an active volunteer at the city of Charleston’s greenhouse at Hampton Park.

Schwartz is hoping to spread the joy of gardening, particularly for fresh fruits and vegetables, in suburbia, where manicured grass lawns, crape myrtles and other commonplace landscaping dominates and is often dictated by homeowners associations.

He’s doing it with a novel idea: He holds free plant giveaways.

Plant ambassador

“What I am doing is not magic. This is an activity anybody can do,” says Schwartz, who propagates plants from seeds and cuttings in reused plant trays and pots. “It’s a great way to get young people involved in gardening.”

He lets the neighborhood, Lieben Park, know in advance of the giveaway. At 3 p.m. on a Friday, as the kids are dropped off by school buses, he has plants out on a table for anyone to come and get. He stays around for a while to answer any questions but then just goes inside.

Schwartz started the effort with tomato plants last year and now has expanded it to other vegetables and flowers. His last giveaway on May 13 was a success. All but the most “scraggly” plants were taken. And now he’s planning on another giveaway later this month.

Another attempt by Schwartz to encourage more neighbors to garden is his backyard, which he has turned into a small farm, minus the livestock and poultry. His backyard has raised beds, containers and a compost pile.

Schwartz’s disdain for cookie-cutter yards is obvious.

“I hate grass. Capital letters. Hate it. I don’t get pleasure tending grass. It takes a tremendous about of time. It costs money to fertilize. It uses far too much water. We should be ashamed of ourselves for watering grass,” says Schwartz.

“But the backyard is mine. Even with a lot of shade back there, I can still grow plenty.”

Schwartz also hopes that the giveaways and his backyard demonstration builds interest in the neighborhood to have a community garden in its common area.

“It brings people together. They are happy. They spend time together. It forms neighborhood bonds. The kids get enthused. I volunteer at Hampton Park. I have taken the master gardener program in Florida and South Carolina.”

Fruits of labor

Neighbor Avery Edwards already is a supporter and she, like many who dropped by the plant giveaway, applaud Schwartz’s goodwill.

“When he did this (giveaway) with tomatoes last year, the kids were so excited about planting them,” she says, adding that many who got the tomatoes would have never thought to buy some at the store and plant them.

In doing so, Schwartz is dispelling the notion that people “don’t have a green thumb,” as Laura Gluvna thinks.

Gluvna sought Schwartz’s advice in growing tomatoes last year and is expanding to basil, mint, irises and “a lot of other stuff I don’t know” this year. She says her 5-year-son Hayden is enjoying working in the yard.

Many neighbors attested to Schwartz’s help in giving advice on plants and planting.

“He has such of love for this,” says Michelle Scherer. “He shares plants. He offers advice on where to put plants. It’s so nice.”

Call for volunteers

In addition to Schwartz’s efforts in his neighborhood, he also trumpets the value of volunteering in the greater community.

He is among 30 active volunteers that help the Charleston’s horticulture program produce about 40,000 plants twice a year, for about two dozen gardens. The volunteers meet 9 a.m.-noon Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at The City Greenhouse, next to the horse stables at Hampton Park.

John Wakefield, the horticulture program coordinator, says he needs another 30 active volunteers and that hands-on training is provided in propagation, pruning and caring in the production of plants.

“It’s really a fun opportunity for people to learn,” says Wakefield, who has a degree in horticulture and has taught the subject at Trident Tech. “I’m always looking for volunteers to help out.”