Mike Raley, who was a senior at N.C. State when he got his first gig at WPTF, celebrated his 40th anniversary with the station in April and is its longest-running announcer.
He wasn’t much of a gardener when he was asked to take over the station’s gardening show in 1985; his main experience was in childhood, pulling weeds for his mother. But with the new job, “I started doing a little studying,” he said, and he has soaked in a lot from the expert gardeners who have appeared on the show over the years.
Now he enjoys gardening for the exercise it provides and the pride in a home and yard well kept.
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“It gives me great pleasure to be able to grow something that my neighbors enjoy, people walking by my house might enjoy, and something I can look out on every day,” he said. Plants, he’s found, “become a part of you.”
Anne Clapp, who learned gardening alongside her mother and grandmother growing up, has a doctorate in textile chemistry and taught at N.C. State for 30 years. Her building was next to the horticulture department, and students and faculty from the two programs often ended up mingling in the Shuttle Inn café.
“The technicians over there were having trouble with stains in some of their lab coats and they were having to replace them,” Clapp said. “So they came over to talk to me, and I ran a deal with them: If they gave me plants, I’d get the stains out of their lab coats.”
After Clapp retired, she became a master gardener, a program that offers intense training in return for later service to the gardening community. She joined “The Weekend Gardener” as a host in 1992. In addition to that gig, she enjoys flower arranging and serves as a judge for Camellia Society and Rose Society shows. Since the mid-1980s, she’s been the lead volunteer in caring for the roses at JC Raulston Arboretum.
“I like the plants,” she said in a straightforward manner the show’s listeners know and love, “and just the joy of seeing them bloom.”
Rufus Edmisten grew up on a farm outside Boone with three older brothers.
“You grow up and you learn a lot of things naturally, what’ll grow and what won’t grow,” he said. “You know that weeds are your biggest enemy.”
You also know that working the fertile bottomland with your father is tough.
“I had to figure out a way to get out of that,” Edmisten recalled. “Mama always had a flower garden and a vegetable garden. I would convince her to intervene with my daddy to get me to help her.”
When he worked in Washington, D.C., as a staffer for Sen. Sam Ervin, he lived in an apartment – a far cry from that farm.
“I was psychologically starved because the only thing I had was a couple little pots hanging on an outside terrace,” he said, “and I said, ‘I’m just not going to live this way.’ Gardening never leaves you once it’s in your DNA.”
Back in North Carolina, he found solace in nature amid the hard knocks of political life.
“When I was running for governor in 1984, I would be to the point of a nervous breakdown,” he said. He’d ditch his security detail, announcing: “I’m going on a little trip.
“And that trip would be around the Raulston Arboretum. When I’d been called something extremely ugly by somebody or something like that, I’d just forget about it at the Raulston Arboretum.”
Now strolling his own garden in Raleigh is a daily routine for Edmisten, who nowadays is known on “Weekend Gardener” and beyond as the “Secretary General of Gardening.” A walk in his 2 1/2 acres is a North Carolina tour in miniature, with plants from every part of the state that he’s collected from friends, acquaintances and strangers.
“My joy is every morning that I’m there, one way or another, I’m going to be out there with my dog, Jasper, walking around seeing what has happened from one day to the next,” Edmisten said. “And everybody who’s a real gardener will tell you that every day has something new about it.”