Time in the Garden - Carolina Country

Time in the Garden

Lucy Bradley build community through horticulture

By Margaret Buranen | Photos courtesy of Lucy Bradley

Time in the Garden

Horticulture wasn’t Lucy Bradley’s first career choice. A native Floridian, Lucy earned a master’s degree in organizational psychology from Purdue University. She and her husband, Robert, moved to Arizona when he was offered a job there. There, she accepted a position that involved getting various community groups to work together for common benefit.

In time she realized what brought the groups together best: gardening. She became a Master Gardener volunteer in Phoenix and started taking horticultural classes, which eventually led to earning a master’s degree in botany and a doctorate in plant biology from Arizona State University.

She switched to a job that included directing the Master Gardeners program. Thirteen years later she moved to North Carolina and joined NC State University, where she serves as Consumer and Community Horticulture Professor and Extension Specialist.

Lucy loves her job. She sees gardens, and talks with Master Gardeners and others who are passionate about gardening. NC’s three distinct regions and different climates also add interest to her work.

“I grow plants that are functional,” she says of her own garden. “What’s edible for the birds and what’s edible for me.”

That includes blueberries, pomegranates and other fruits in her front yard. Lucy is a strong advocate for creating an edible landscape. 

“Blueberries, for example, are delicious and healthy,” she says. “The plants have interesting flowers in spring. The birds eat blueberries. In the fall, blueberries have spectacular foliage. They’re working for me year-round.”

She advises beginning gardeners to think about the kind of garden they want before they start digging. 

“What do you want your landscape to do for you? A kids’ playground? A habitat for wildlife? A vegetable garden?” 

After deciding what you want to do with your yard, “look at your neighbors’ yards. Then plant what thrives in your area. That’s what brings the joy of gardening.”

Gardeners who aim for perfection or who don’t learn which plants will do well in a location usually find gardening frustrating, she explains. They spend time and money on fertilizers and herbicides trying to get unsuitable plants to grow. Time in the garden, as Lucy sees it, should be inspiring and uplifting.

“Gardens are incredibly therapeutic  — to be in beauty,” she says. “Even having a small container garden will make a difference in your life.” 

Lucy’s recommended resources

NC State offers a free plant selection toolbox, developed by Kathleen Moore and Rob Ladd. Visit NCSU plants to learn how to use it.

“North Carolina Extension Gardeners Handbook,” which Lucy co-authored with Kathleen Moore, is available as a free basic online edition, or as a comprehensive 700+ page hardback. The resource for all NC gardeners includes color photos and articles written by NC State experts in horticulture, forestry, entomology and related fields.

To learn more about NC’s Master Gardener program, contact your county extension agent.

About the Author

Margaret Buranen writes from her home in Kentucky.

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