The Weekenders: 35 Years of Weekend Gardener

This year, WPTF’s Weekend Gardener celebrates 35 years. We asked its longtime hosts Mike Raley, Anne Clapp and Rufus Edmisten to reflect on their time on the show. Here’s what they said.

RALEY I’ve done Weekend Gardener for 35 years, Rufus for 15 years or so and Anne since 1992. We’ve all experienced the levity and education that’s part of the show. It has an incredible history, starting in 1924. Y’all weren’t around then.

CLAPP I didn’t start long after!

RALEY Well, probably 40 years later…

CLAPP Yes, in the 1960s.

RALEY In the beginning, the Raleigh Garden Club ladies would come do a report.

CLAPP They were called the Good Garden Ladies of Raleigh.

RALEY Then they brought in John Harris, who was a professor at State. He was quite a gentleman and a funny guy. In 1945, John started a 15-minute show called The Tar Heel Gardener.

EDMISTEN I listened to it even when I was working for Senator Ervin.

RALEY It was an extremely popular show. I was the last person to work with John, and I’m sure I just drove him crazy. It’s amazing how many people’s lives John touched. He’d get letters, and often we’d get dead plants for identification.

CLAPP We weren’t sure about some of the things we would find in there!

RALEY Yes, people would send insects, too! So John did it until 1985, then management decided they wanted to make it a talk Mike Raley, Anne Clapp and Rufus Edmisten reflect on their time with the Weekend Gardener. the Weekenders show. Irv Evans was brought in because he was an extension manager in Wake County. So they made it into a 30-minute talk show, then at some point the name changed to The Weekend Gardener, and it evolved into three hours. Anne was a master gardener, that’s how you became a part of the show.

CLAPP I was filling in because Irv was having voice problems at that point.

RALEY And he recommended you take over in 1992.

CLAPP What’s amazing to me is how loyal our listeners are.

RALEY Rufus joined us in 2006. If you had told me that Rufus Edmisten, who’d been attorney general and secretary of state, would want to do a gardening show, I would have said you were crazy!

EDMISTEN I got my gardening interest from my mother. We grew up on a farm, so when we were supposed to go to the back and hoe the cabbage, I would finagle my way into my mother’s garden instead. She was the church flower lady, so if she requested my help, I could get out of the heavy farm work. I can tell you how gardening can affect a person because the 10 years I lived in Washington, I lived in an apartment and it killed my soul!

RALEY Houseplants are one thing, but you’re a country boy.

EDMISTEN I had a little balcony and it was so hot you could roast corn on the cob out there. I would take frequent trips to the National Arboretum, and when I moved back here, I would ask people if I could have cuttings from their gardens.

RALEY That’s something you’ve continued, you share a lot of plants.

EDMISTEN It’s being a good gardener.

RALEY It’s a Southern tradition! I grew up dreading to pull weeds.

EDMISTEN But you know the temperaments of people, and always listen with. courtesy and kindness no matter how crazy they may be.

RALEY We certainly get all kinds.

EDMISTEN We get people who sing, who tell jokes. What’s magical is the ease of being with you and Anne—although I do have to get up earlier and it messes up my Friday night social hour.

RALEY The Saturday morning escape is something I’ve tried to develop, it’s like sitting around the pickle barrel at the country store. We’re just chatting and trying to give people an education and make people feel better—especially today, during the pandemic.

EDMISTEN Radio has this sort of mystique about it, often friends ask what Anne or Mike look like, if they’re really good people. They do exist! They are good people! It was a crowning jewel when Governor Perdue awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine to you two, an honor for me to deliver them and they don’t just give those things away for nothing!

RALEY That certainly was a highlight of my career, of my life! Another was when Anne and I were guests of the late Bill Friday on UNC-TV’s North Carolina People. And the fact that I got to work with John those last few years.

EDMISTEN You’re a humble person, the show has tremendous ratings and that’s compliments to you for building the groundwork. Because there are lots of other things I could be doing on Saturday morning—like sleeping!

RALEY It all comes back to sleeping!

EDMISTEN I don’t know the technical names of plants, but I know what will and won’t grow.

RALEY Anne can handle those names, she’s got a doctorate in textile chemistry.

CLAPP Plant material is hard to keep up with in this day and age!

RALEY That’s why we have the experts come in. Another thing I enjoy is our remote broadcasts, one of our first was at the Farmers Market. It’s fun being out with our listeners, we even have groupies. Is that cool or what?

EDMISTEN I really enjoy the remotes, and I’m occasionally able to share my plants with people. Like my Advent roses, those are something everybody can grow.

RALEY Yes, even if you don’t want to!

CLAPP It’s a good thing to share!

RALEY Another highlight was doing a show at the Governor’s Mansion.

EDMISTEN I hated missing that, it was the closest I’d get to being governor.

RALEY You’ve been there many times! There are so many interesting plants there. And there’s a huge fig tree on the Person Street side, I know many people who have gotten cuttings from it. Another highlight was when Governor McCroy declared January 24, 2015 the Weekend Gardener Day. That was our 30th anniversary and the 70th anniversary of the Tar Heel Gardener. We’ve had great national guests on the show, like P. Allen Smith and Mel Bartholomew from Square Foot Gardening.

EDMISTEN Back to the pandemic: it’s no secret that garden shops have seen their business increase this year. People are going outside to work, it’s soothing. When you feel all pent up, you can socially distance with your dog in the garden.

CLAPP It’s the way a lot of people get relief from a bad day.

RALEY Take out anxiety digging holes.

CLAPP I can call my plants names.

RALEY You’re allowed to cuss in your own garden, just not at the neighbors!

CLAPP Of course, the purpose of the show is not just to educate gardeners, but to give them a little escape.

EDMISTEN I’ve had people who’ve never lifted a shovel tell me they like the show.

CLAPP We try to be friends to listeners.

RALEY There are not a lot of things flourishing right now, but Weekend Gardener is, and I think the escape through gardening is the reason.