Bryce Lane has tended the same garden plot for 33 years.
The professor emeritus at N.C. State University’s Department of Horticultural Science even had his own public television show for a time, “In the Garden with Bryce Lane.” Yet for his decades’ experience and horticultural expertise, he insists there’s not as much difference between him and someone fresh to gardening as it would seem. It’s a process, he says, and a journey. For one, he believes a garden is never complete. For another, Lane says he’s just as prone to mistakes as anyone. He knows the science, sure, but sometimes his emotions lead him to iffy horticultural decisions.
“The only difference between me and somebody three days in is I’ve got 30 years of trial and error, for lack of a better term,” Lane says.
Starting Feb. 6 and then every Monday evening through March 27, Lane leads a gardening basics course at Raleigh’s JC Raulston Arboretum.
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The idea is to impart a scientific foundation to people who are new to the area, who are new to gardening or who simply want to understand more of what is going on in their plots. Until a few years ago, Lane says, JCRA’s classes tended to cater to plant geeks, as he puts it. That’s a niche he appreciates and understands, but now JCRA also has more mainstream courses for everyday gardeners, people who are interested in the plant world and would like an in.
“My goal for my entire career is to take complicated, hard things and explain them in ways that are easy so you won’t be afraid of them and you’ll be able to actually use the knowledge,” Lane says. “As a teacher, I think that is our job.”
His approach won’t be too different from how he taught entry-level botanical classes at N.C. State: in his university courses, he taught non-horticulture majors about the basic scientific principles of gardening. And if one understands basic gardening science, as his mantra goes, then the mistakes they make will be less severe and they will have more frequent successes. Most gardening failures, he continues, come from poor understanding of how soil and light influence growth.
“People plant plants in places they have no business being planted in and they wonder why plants fail, or why they don’t look the way they do on the tag,” he says.
When it comes to gardening, the Triangle is rich with experts like Lane; many are also good communicators, thanks to N.C. State’s horticultural science department.
This started in the late ’70s, he says: gardening became increasingly popular, the school’s undergraduate enrollment jumped and it needed more faculty. Between 1975 and 1985, Lane explains, this push brought instructors like permaculture expert Will Hooker and arboretum namesake J.C. Raulston to N.C. State. Lane himself started in 1981. “We all fed off each other,” Lane says. “Everyone had a place.”
What this faculty fed, too, was students who went on to excel in the field. Lane mentions Tony Avent, who runs Raleigh’s Plant Delights Nursery, and can remember a young, pony-tailed Richard Olsen walking into his office to say he might want to pursue landscaping. Today Olsen is director of the United States National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.
Over and over again, Lane says, he sees former students distinguishing themselves in the field. On top of N.C. State’s impact, add the experts at Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham and the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, he notes, and you find remarkable depth and breadth of plant knowledge.
Just because Lane is retired doesn’t mean he’s slowed down, either. He simply loves talking to people about plants.
“My intent was not at all to ever stop working and stop doing these things,” Lane says. “My first love is teaching.”
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What: Gardening Basics: Using Science to Grow Better Plants
When: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Mondays, Feb. 6-March 27
Where: JC Raulston Arboretum. 4415 Beryl Road, Raleigh
How much: $200 for members, $250 for nonmembers. Individual memberships cost $50.