Garden Talent: Alicain Carlson

Posted by on January 28, 2014

Going forward…

These are the bright young minds going forward into the field of horticulture. 

Meet Alicain Carlson. Alicain, thanks for sharing with Gardening with Confidence! And thank you for all you do!

Please visit the profiles (on this blog) for other interviews of bright young minds.


Alicain Carlson Name: Alicain Carlson

Age: 27

Occupation: Ph.D. Candidate in Horticultural Science

Place of Employment: North Carolina State University

Where you went to college: I have a BS from Virginia Tech in Biological Sciences and an MS from NCSU, finishing up Ph.D. at NCSU this May in Horticultural Science.

What is your earliest garden memory?

I remember my first moment of plant world fascination. I can’t remember how old I was or even what state I was in, but one day I was outside at the babysitters and I accidentally broke off part of a tree. I felt bad for breaking it; the babysitter could tell I was stressed about it, so she told me that if I put that stick in the ground that it would grow into a whole other tree. I remember thinking to myself as I looked up at the huge tree I broke the twig from: “There is no way this stick could grow into the huge tree!” I believed her and thought she was crazy at the same time. Now I know she was right; it’s more complicated than she explained it, but she was right…Plant propagation is fascinating.

What made you decide to enter the field of horticulture?

Passion. I knew after the first Indoor Plants class I took as a freshman at Virginia Tech that I had a knack for plants. I then took Floral Design and became a teaching assistant for the class and that’s when I knew I LOVED flowers. The following summer I worked on a flower farm in VA (LynnVale) and realized this wasn’t just a fleeting obsession – I had found my calling, my passion. My other passion for science led me to graduate school.

Please tell me about your specific horticultural position?

Right now I am finishing my Ph.D. in Horticultural Science at NCSU studying under the cut flower guru, Dr. John Dole. I’m planning to be Dr. Carlson in May! My research focuses on cut flower production and postharvest, so how to grow cut flowers and how to keep them alive the longest once they are cut. My Ph.D. research is looking at creating an organic floral preservative using a probiotic bacteria. I am also investigating the genetic factors involved in bent neck and petal blueing of cut roses, two major postharvest problems for the most important flower in the industry. Other research projects include, extensive work with the wonderful plant Eucomis, cut flower trials, poinsettia trials, and PGR experiments. I also co-teach Greenhouse Management with Dr. Dole, give lots of talks on cut flowers to growers, and even do workshops at the JC Raulston Arboretum for Girl Scouts to learn about flowers. Involvement in my industry, community, and department are very important to me. I am hoping my future position will be as an Assistant Professor in Horticulture at a fine university somewhere!

How long have you been in the horticulture business?

I guess I would say I’ve been in horticulture just since undergrad, so about 9 years.

What is your personal garden style?

I like cutting gardens. If I can cut it and bring it in my home too I love it!

Tell me about your first plant love?

I am obsessed with Eucomis (pineapple lily). I started working with it during my master’s degree and have absolutely fallen in love with it. I even got to talk about it on an episode of “In the Garden” with Bryce Lane! It makes a wonderful cut flower, potted plant, and landscape plant. As a cut flower it has a vase life of at least a month! They smell great, are easy to take care of, deer don’t like them, they come in beautiful colors – the list goes on. I have had the pleasure of trialing new cultivars from breeders as far away as New Zealand. We now have over 15 cultivars in our trial beds at NCSU. Some people even call me the Eucomis Queen!

Who inspired you in your career and how?

So many people… Dr. Alan McDaniel was my professor for Floral Design who inspired my creative side and showed me this is a viable career option. I did my first vase life study with him too. Dr. Brandi Echols, who made me realize my love for science, gave me so many useful skills, and prepared me for graduate school. Andrea Gagnon gave me a love for the growers, taught me the real life application of it all, and filled my heart with passion for the industry. And Dr. John Dole who has been my most valued mentor, essential to my professional growth, and someone I aspire to be like.

What is your favorite garden setting?

Flower fields. They take me back to good times, make me happy, make me sing.

What is your favorite planting style?

I don’t really have one, but I love the long, linear rows of the flower fields. The bright masses of color that swallow you up.

What advice can you give others considering entering the field of horticulture?

Make sure it’s your passion. Have realistic expectations. Be prepared to work your butt off. Talk you everyone you can and create a solid network. There are so many options in the industry so explore them all. Be prepared to explain to your family and friends what “horticulture” is and what you can with a degree in it (if you so choose to get a degree, which I think you should!).

If you could go anywhere to see gardens, where would that be?

I would go to see the Eucomis breeding fields in New Zealand in February when they are in full bloom.

If you could go with any one person, who would it be?

I would take Andrea because she would be just as excited as I would be to see all those flowers and we would burst into song and dance simultaneously!

What was your most valuable training?

Everything has been valuable. It has all made me a well-rounded horticulturist. All the degrees, work experience, and teaching have made me the best professional I can be.

How can people contact you: email, fb, LinkedIn, Twitter, website, etc.? Search my name and find me on FB, LinkedIn, and Twitter. My name is very easy to search!

Editors Note: Alicain is pronounced Alison.

Anything else you would like to share?

Challenge yourself and you will grow.


Alicain Carlson and Andrea Gagnon at LynnVale Flower Farm


Helen Yoest


2 responses to “Garden Talent: Alicain Carlson”

  1. commonweeder says:

    What a great interview. It is wonderful to see new people coming into the horticultural field with so much energy and passion.

  2. HelenYoest says:

    Yes!!! Totally agree, Common Weeder! H*.

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