The first job Thomas G. Southard, of Hammonton, got as a plant consultant in television was for a Benadryl commercial in the 1980s, he said.

“I loaded my truck with poison ivy and ragweed — anything allergic,” he said. “I looked like the Grapes of Wrath driving into New York through the Lincoln Tunnel. But it worked.”

Southard provided the design and plant material — mostly tall grasses from South Jersey — to make New York City look like it had been abandoned for years in the 2007 Will Smith movie, “I Am Legend.”

He also has had steady work making realistic-looking outdoor scenes on the sets of daytime soap operas.

The Vietnam-era veteran started out as a performing arts major on the G.I. Bill at the University of Montana in 1977. But when he wrote a paper on how to use natural plants on stage, his acting coach recommended he switch to design.

Southard grew up in Nesco in Mullica Township, and from age 13 had a job helping a relative collect cattails, wild grasses and wildflowers for a family of botanists.

Now he provides natural materials and designs made of vines, dried lichens and other materials to museums and other artists. He harvests lightly and with permission of landowners, he stressed. He also builds naturalistic furniture, wedding canopies and huppas for party rentals, he said.

With the help of employee Carmen Villani, of Hammonton, and about 20 volunteers, he also runs Operation Good Scents every December. This year, his group made and delivered more than 600 evergreen and dried berry arrangements for residents in veterans homes and nursing homes.

Cape’s first baby of 2013

Ashlyn and John Meek, of Cape May, welcomed Maci Ann, the first baby of the New Year born at Cape Regional Medical Center in Cape May Court House, at 12:14 a.m. Jan. 1.

Maci Ann, who joins big sister Jaden Rose, weighed 7 pounds, 8 ounces, was 20 inches long, and was delivered by Dr. Richard Michner.

Middle baby born on all 12s

Yam Ping and Jing Chen’s first son was born Dec. 12, 2012. After the birth, the staff realized that the time of birth was 12:12 p.m., a spokesperson said.

The Chens, of Rio Grande, Middle Township, also have two daughters. They named the baby Ken.

Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:

609-272-7219