I think most of us remember writing the infamous “My Hero” essay in the first grade. If I recall correctly, about ¾ of my class – myself included – wrote about Mom. Even now, my mom still makes the top of my list. But when it comes to “Gardening Hero,” I’ve got a different chart-topper: Not only does Bryce Lane win my vote as a gardening hero, he wins my heart as my dad – and he continues to influence my life both in and out of the garden.

Bryce and Sue Lane

In addition to his many teaching accomplishments, Bryce and his wife Sue have shared the most impressive one together: 30 years of marriage.

Photo Credit: Lee Ivy

Bryce Lane backyard

You’ll find Bryce many a weekend in his gorgeous back yard, doing one of his favorite hobbies – digging in the dirt.

Photo Credit: Bryce H. Lane

Bryce Lane and Lane Ivy

Bryce (also known as “Poppy”) loves spending time with his grandson Lane – and can’t wait to teach him all about plants!

Photo Credit: Sue Lane

Although Bryce has been teaching horticulture for nearly three decades, his passion for plants really started when he was a boy. He recalls lying in the snow underneath white pine trees in western Massachusetts, listening in wonderment as the wind blew through the needles. He jokes that the joy of that moment back then wasn’t spoiled by the facts he now knows about plants. (Today it’s hard for him to look at a white pine without thinking, “white pine, Pinus strobus, five needles per fascicle, white stripe down needle…”)

But lying in the snow didn’t last long for Bryce. As his teenage years approached, it was time to get a job. Since his options were either fast food or pal around with plants, he opted for working at Hadley Garden Center in Hadley, MA. Working his way up from “car loader” to “nursery sales” were just some of his “growing” accomplishments back in his garden center glory days.

With a passion for plants and a little encouragement from a college professor, Bryce ended up pursuing his love of horticulture. He majored in the subject at the University of Massachusetts and earned his BS, then attended The Ohio State University for an MS in ornamental horticulture. With new degree, his wife Sue and daughter (yours truly) in tow, Bryce left Ohio and headed south for North Carolina State University.

In his 27 years of teaching at NCSU, Bryce’s accolades as an award-winning instructor and undergraduate teaching coordinator are impressive and well deserved. He truly has the unique ability to communicate his love for plants with contagious enthusiasm. (Both horticulture majors and nonmajors alike would agree.) I’ve even experienced his enthusiastic teaching style firsthand: As a horticulture student at NCSU, I had the pleasure (and challenge) of being in his class. (Let’s just say we both made it through with minimal casualties!)

In addition to teaching at the university, Bryce also hosts a gardening program called “In the Garden with Bryce Lane,” which airs on UNC-TV. (Although the show may be taken as a 1- credit-hour course through distance education, my son only knows that “Poppy’s on television” Saturday mornings!)

Much of the filming for the show takes place in Bryce’s home landscape. I’m always impressed by his ability to maintain a dynamic garden in such a small space. It’s 24 years old and has undergone some dramatic changes over the years: It started as a ¼ acre in full shade, but after Hurricane Fran and the loss of a giant oak tree in 1996, the garden entered the category of “full sun.” Most would have seen this disaster as a gardening nightmare. But Bryce’s response was excitement – because he now had the opportunity to plant sun-loving varieties! Since he has such a small area to work with and so many plants to choose from, the garden is constantly changing. (Seriously – it never looks the same!)

Droughts can be pretty nasty here in North Carolina. Bryce has been doing some public speaking on “water wise landscaping” and has applied most of the strategies he recommends to his own garden as well. Rain barrels (used as garden art, of course), container gardens on the patio and turf elimination are just a few strategies he’s adopted – and encourages others to try.

For as long as I can remember, most of our front yard has been an ornamental plant bed, but Dad always maintained a small (I’d say, “patch”) of fescue to include a little turf in the mix. That little patch took a lot of time and effort – not to mention water. So to practice what he preaches, Bryce recently eliminated the fescue and planted a perennial groundcover instead (Ajuga reptans, a.k.a. carpet bugle). So now there’s no more mowing and no extra watering beyond what it takes to establish the new plants!

Another water wise tip Bryce shares is to select “the right plant for the right place.” (And that’s an important horticultural concept whether you’re in a drought or not!) In a nutshell, plant plants in the part of your garden that suits their needs best (considering sun, shade, soil and water requirements, etc.). If a plant is planted in ideal conditions from the start with plenty of room to grow, it won’t need as much assistance from you later (i.e. water).

Great concept, yes – but I think my dad struggles with this one the most. He only has a ¼ acre to work with, so he often finds himself buying new and exciting plants first, then finding a spot for them later. I guess this is the beauty of his garden – it’s like a revolving door for plants! Even though he’s got some “oldie goldies” growing, it’s always fun to find what new plants have made the cut for “Lane Arboretum.” (Just another good reason for me to come on over!)

I have fond memories of learning plant names as a child (Latin, of course), hauling loads of mulch up the driveway to help spruce up the garden on Saturday afternoons and graduating from college in the very same department my dad teaches in. I’m very thankful for him – and proud to call Bryce Lane my “Gardening Hero!”