2020 Winter Gardener’s Corner

Posted Posted in SHR-News

As the plants become dormant and hibernation falls on the land, I become aware of how automated the ecosystems are.  Despite the harsh winter conditions headed our way, native plants are prepared for the weather both physically and morphologically.  I am always amazed by how cold hardy plants do not freeze and or die in the winter. If plants are comprised of so much water, how do they not freeze solid or burst apart? It all comes down to chemistry. As temperatures begin to drop, plants convert their starches to sugar and move water to spaces between cells. So, when winter arrives, there is less water that can actually freeze in the cells. The high concentration of starches within the tissues is similar to throwing salt on ice. Think of it as plant anti-freeze. Spruce and other evergreen trees demand and retain even less water, making them naturally more freeze resistant, even in the root zone. This allows roots to undergo extreme freezing conditions without negative effects. For example, in our nursery area, we keep our red spruce outside in pots all year with great success. In fact, last year they were covered by over 2 feet of snow for weeks with no damage!

We are now applying composted horse manure to our beds and plant crowns. This allows for a slow release of nitrogen all winter.  Composted manure and other forms of compost also contain calcium.  Calcium is vital for plants to form new tissue. In general, organic matter has calcium in its makeup. Woody debris, including wood chips and rotten wood/sticks, as well as leaves all have calcium.  If added to our plants during the winter, then we will see increased growth in the spring.  This is a trick fruit growers use to produce larger fruit sizes.  Our woody plants show a lot of improvement in growth response after only a few yearly topdressings. It really is remarkable that a “waste” product fairly low in nitrogen but high in organic matter can outperform a pelletized chemical fertilizer. Perennial beds can also benefit from topdressing. But if they are plants you commonly have to stake, go lightly with fertilizers, including manure, to prevent leggy elongated growth and eventual toppling of the stems.  On the whole, ferns, wildflowers or native woodland plants do not need fertilization either. They get the nutrients they need from rain drops “catching” nitrogen in the air and delivering it to the soil surface. We do not apply any nitrogen or manure to our wildflower labyrinth for this reason.   However, some soils are deficient or excessive in nutrients by nature, therefore, soil testing is always a great first step.  Your local county extension agent can assist you with this and help you determine the right amount of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium to add.

Soil frost upheave at the Reserve

Be on the lookout for winter injury caused by wind and rapid temperature change, such as a polar vortex. Antitranspirants are liquid sprays that can be applied to the leaves and stems of plants to protect them from winter damage. The antitranspirant forms a protective layer that helps the plant retain water in its leaves and buds. One of the worst cases is when the ground is frozen, and the air temperature rises during the morning long before the ground will thaw. This disparity causes the plant shoots to lose too much water and prevents the frozen roots from releasing water to replenish it. This process is called desiccation and leads to winter injury or winter burn.  In areas with a longer winter, antitranspirants may need to be applied twice. For example, we spray broad leaved evergreens like Rhododendron ‘English Roseum’ with TransFilm in late fall and early spring, making sure to coat both sides of the leaf.

While our landscapes hibernate, there is still much to do in our gardens. With the perennials tucked away and the leaves no longer shielding our view, the bones of the garden are at their most noticeable. This is the time for mentally readying ourselves for the next stage of life in the garden and planning ahead for what’s to come. Winter allows us to forget our failures of the year before and to believe that next year, for sure, it’s all going to work out — there will be no weeds, no drought, no pests and disease, no dead as a doornail $29 plants. Winter is a time of recovery, preparation, and hope.

Using Our Senses

Posted Posted in SHR-News

What was your first memory of ‘being’ in nature? The first recollection of sitting back, looking around, taking a deep breath, and connecting? In recent decades, fewer and fewer children have experienced the oneness that comes from feeling nature. This is in part due to technology, schedules, and expectations. But, perhaps, it is also because as adults, we, too, have become overwhelmed by our to-do lists and separated from the natural world. At Southern Highlands Reserve, we are committed to connecting people to nature.

Hundreds of studies have documented the effect of nature on health outcomes: In Copenhagen, living a short distance from a garden or park has been linked to less stress and a lower body mass index. In the United States, children diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were more able to focus in a natural. Another study from the United States revealed that children in low-income households lowered their risk for asthma by living near areas with higher tree density. In Japan, greener neighborhoods and more parks were associated with greater longevity among the elderly. One study even suggests that nature exposure can help reduce health disparities, improving health outcomes in poorer communities so that they more closely match those from wealthier neighborhoods.

It is for this reason that Southern Highlands Reserve and TC Henderson Elementary School have developed a partnership to remedy the situation through recurrent, hands-on outdoor activities. Each activity and meeting have been designed in an intentional way to place students back in the natural environment where connections are made and ideas come to life.

During our last visit, the lessons centered on “plant senses,” serving as a link between plants and the student’s regular school curriculum– the human senses and the human body. Students learned about heliotropism; a sunflower’s ability to “see” and follow the sun. They learned about the pitcher plant’s “taste” for insects to supplement its nutrition. The dodder plant stretched itself toward a tomato plant “smelling” its next parasitic victim. Students cupped their hands to their ears to mimic the buttercup and other flowers whose shape allows them to “listen” for the buzzing of bees to initiate nectar production. But the biggest treat for students was the chance to witness the sensitive mimosa fold its leaves like praying hands when it would “feel” the brush of a finger or insect.

After a review of the senses, younger students were given recycled egg cartons to create their own nature sensory boxes. They collected cones, pine needles, seeds, leaves, and an eclectic assortment of other findings while wandering the trails outside the school. They were encouraged to see, smell, feel, and hear nature as we wandered the trails. But we did dissuade them from using their taste senses until a later lesson…

Older students were given alstroemeria flowers, a flower that is scientifically considered perfect because it has all the parts of a flower. The students dissected the flower, pulling apart the sepals, the petals, the stamens and pistils, the pedicel, and the leaves. Students then compared the structure and function of these flower parts to the structure and function of animal body parts. For example, the pedicel (or flower stem) helps hold the flower up straight and tall, so many students compared it to legs or the spine or skeletal system.

One of the greatest treats in working with TC Henderson has been the teachers. While it’s fun and exhilarating to see the students marvel over a pitcher plant, it is just as incredible to watch the teachers giddily reach out to touch the sensitive mimosa and watch it close its leaves in reaction. Needless to say, we’re thrilled for our next venture into the classroom. Thanks to a recent grant from the Pisgah Health Foundation, this outreach work is only just beginning! Furthermore, with help from our dedicated Steward and Sustainer donors, this is just one way opportunity to pay forward the gifts we receive.

Wild Collecting in North Carolina: Southern Highlands Reserve and the Arnold Arboretum partner for plant conservation

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by Sean Halloran, Plant Propagator, The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University

In September, the Arnold Arboretum once again visited Southern Highlands Reserve as part of a 3-week long plant collections trip, continuing our on-going partnership for plant conservation started in 2016. All seven 2019 North American-China Plant Exploration Consortium (NACPEC) scientists were graciously hosted by Lauren Garcia Chance, Kelly Holdbrooks, and Eric Kimbrel during one very important stop on our plant collecting expedition. This trip was special for us because we were hosting three Chinese plant scientists from Beijing, Chengdu, and Kunming who aided us in our study and collection of Southeastern U.S. flora. During the trip we made 100 collections in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia.

The SHR crew led us on a wonderful tour of the gardens where we marveled at the plantings, including the native wildflower labyrinth, to name just one of my favorite parts of the gardens. I really wish we had more time to explore the gardens before we were off wild collecting in the conserved sections of the Reserve!

Native Wildflower Labryinth

Thanks to role of past ice ages, Southern Highlands Reserve is particularly desirable for collecting wild plants. The unique combination of high elevation plant communities and incredible biodiversity of the region mean there are many native plants that are also cold hardy and appropriate here in Boston. In particular, we seek out wild protected areas to collect plants, like those stewarded by Southern Highlands Reserve. Wild plants are important to collect because these existing natural plants often represent a wider gene pool than cultivated plants (think plant nurseries versus your local forest). For example, genes for disease resistance might exist in a single group of plants in the wild, which is why representing as many of these wild groups, or populations as possible in public and private gardens is so important.

When we collect a plant, our procedures include extensive collection of data, including size and visual description of individual plants, density of the plant species in the area, the other plant species that are in the area, habitat descriptions, location information such as GPS coordinates, soil type, and much more. We typically seek out only seeds, but sometimes cuttings or even seedlings are desired based on the time of year. Along with this data and our plant collection, we also collect representative samples of the plants – called herbarium vouchers.

Data and fruit collection in the field

Herbarium vouchers are pressed and dried plant samples that are a record of the plant form and structure (morphology) used for future study. Plant taxonomists, botanists, and other plant scientists use herbarium specimens to make determinations about differences in plant species. For each collection we made on this trip, we prepared between 4 and 7 herbarium vouchers. These vouchers will go to herbaria around the world where current and future researchers can study them, even if a plant is lost to extinction in the wild. Herbaria are large repositories of plant specimens, almost like plant libraries, where specific plant groups can be studied.

The data and plant material we collect is shared with other institutions whose missions align with the conservation or protection of plants. The plant material that we gathered is divided based upon institutional interest and distributed appropriately. For example, at the Arnold Arboretum, we focus on propagation and growth of woody trees and shrubs cold hardy to zone 6. The seeds from a Magnolia that we collected at SHR will be grown in our greenhouses and nurseries before being planted out in our collections; a small piece of SHR growing in Boston. These Magnolia trees can then be studied by researchers or the public for many years to come!

NACPEC colleagues review herbarium vouchers at the US National Arboretum herbarium

I know that the future of plant conservation in Eastern North America is dependent upon partnerships like these, and we hope to continue collaborating with Southern Highlands Reserve in the future. We can’t thank the Southern Highlands Reserve community enough for allowing us access to the wonderful lands you steward!

Sean Halloran is the Plant Propagator at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. Sean received a Bachelor’s in Horticulture and a Master’s degree in Plant & Environmental Science from Clemson University where he focused on nutrient media in tissue culture propagation. His professional background includes private residential horticulture, greenhouse and nursery production, plant nutrient management in soil-less media, and temperate woody plant propagation and conservation. As the Arnold Arboretum’s Plant Propagator, Sean continues a 150 year tradition of growing trees from seed, cuttings, grafts, layers, and more; as well as being given the honor to travel and wild collect plants for the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts.

Gardener’s Corner with Eric Kimbrel

Posted Posted in SHR-News

Nature’s schedule is always interesting to observe—it pays no mind to our calendar. The trees filled up with webworms early this year, and yet current warm temperatures are pushing fall back. Precipitation also plays a part in when the seasons change, with more rain causing plants to go dormant earlier than usual.

Fall is a great time of year to plant deciduous trees—but not in all plant hardiness zones. Fall plantings at lower latitudes and elevations are usually successful because plants have time to become established before harsh winter temperatures arrive. This prevents frost heaving which pushes the root ball upwards as the ground freezes. At higher elevations, however, winter comes early allowing for almost one month less of root growing time. We recommend planting in the spring or before September for gardens in cooler climates.

Soon, we will gather leaves which are just beginning to fall and store to keep them dry until shredded and placed back in the landscape. Shredding leaves makes it easier to spread them farther and to get them in between the plants. Leaves are great as a mulch as they get broken down by earthworms into organic matter. Over time this layer slowly works its way into the soil below and builds upwards as well, creating a rich environment for organisms valuable to plants such as beneficial fungi and bacteria which work with plant roots to transport nutrients. This is what we refer to as living soil, which can also be created with compost (worm castings) to speed up nature’s process.

It is not just N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) that makes for healthy plants.  We are currently experimenting with granular and liquid additives of beneficial bacteria, probiotics and mycorrhizae such as Espoma and Biotone.  A relatively new material called Biochar is proving to benefit plant growth and health in propagation soils as well as plants already in the ground. We used it in potting soil and saw significantly more growth. Biochar is charcoal-like material that provides a home for organisms which then associate with nearby roots and “feed” the plant chemically.

One exciting species we recently planted is Castenea dentata hybrid American chestnut given to us by the American Chestnut Foundation. We placed six of these in various locations in the Core Park, some intentionally close to wild chestnut trees that are, of course, experiencing blight. Our location is a great proving ground for resistance due to the population of blighted trees already on the property.

We have been installing new plants to enhance the quantity and variety in our garden rooms. It is always fun to try new varieties of native plants that have recently entered the market but best to give a plant a few years to settle in before making judgement on its value. Remember, the first calendar year the plant is establishing its root system, so top growth is minimal until the second year. That is why watering the first year is essential. We have been using a product called Superthrive for watering plants before they go into the ground. This supplement contains Vitamin B as well as other ingredients that give the plant what it needs to get through transplant shock and begin producing root and shoot growth. Typically, we only use Superthrive once, but it can be used more often if needed. Amendments do not have to be incorporated into the soil prior to planting, and in fact they are not even recommended for trees and shrubs. It has been proven that the plants do no better long term when amendments are used. Instead, in the fall and winter months we top-dress with amendments like composted horse manure (stall refuse), or for homeowners Daddy Pete’s cow manure. This is applied on top of the root zone (inside of the dripline) at one to four inches thick. Worms then incorporate this into the soil over time, producing good results.

No matter what your garden calls you to do, this is a wonderful time to simply be in it. Make note of the cooler air on your skin and the crisper days opening up the vistas and allowing those fall colors to appear just a bit brighter. Being outside during all seasons is nourishing to the soul, but spending time tending your gardens this time of year not only prepares the plants, it also helps you transition into the season of dormancy.

Finding Beauty In the Familiar

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hu·man be·ing noun 1. a man, woman, or child of the species Homo sapien, distinguished from other animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech, and upright stance.” [1] In the strictest sense, we are homo sapiens, but this simple fact leaves out the core for most of us—that we distinguish ourselves from other animals by our superior mental development. By extension, we pride ourselves on being a unique species based on having a sense of aesthetics. But does that really separate us as much as we imagine?

We experience and recognize beauty through the senses, especially vision. Qualities that brings us pleasure are individually subjective to some degree, but many patterns and tendencies exist across cultures. This is because at the root, beauty has a biological function. The adaptive choices our ancestors made around food, procreation and home that led to their survival and success are ingrained in us and often reveal themselves as a predilection for one thing over another. For example, in the animal world, “wood thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina) should find dense woods attractive and savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis) open fields.” [2] Based on studies by Edward O. Wilson, father of the term biophilia, the human biological function of aesthetics is thought to have evolved on the savanna with its open grassland hospitable to large herds of grazing animals interspersed with stands of trees that provided refuge from predators. This is evident in the fact that today we most often favor images of these landscapes over others, and we even tend to construct our outdoor recreational spaces based on them. [3] The landscape and ecology that were most suitable for early human life have become the foundation for our modern-day sense of design.

So, while we value our aesthetic sensibilities, they are ultimately tied to our survival, just as are the choices of other animal species. Katy Payne, acoustic biologist, states that “when animals make sounds, we consider them functional and when people make sounds we consider them aesthetic (songs), but they are really the same, so we don’t need a separate language for them.” [4] This idea, of course, translates into the visual realm as well.

We also evolved, like animals, to favor the new. This is because no environment is ever completely stable. Change being inevitable, an inclination to try new things as possible food sources when the old favorites diminish or vanish allows for survival. This same characteristic is what makes us tend toward newness in situations unrelated to subsistence. We are caught and captured by the sight of a new pattern, arrangement or design. We fancy the latest fashions in all forms, turning over our wardrobes, changing our hair and updating our homes.

The field of residential landscape design prioritizes aesthetics above almost all else, and in the world of horticulture, this craving for difference translates into fascination with exotic flora. Ornamental plants, those grown specifically for display with no concern for function, create a gap in ecosystems. Native plants, however, can be equally as showy while they simultaneously provide the ecosystem services of supporting the food web, often while they help clean our air and water. Among the native plants of the Southern Appalachians that we consider to be most ornamental are fly poison, bear grass, little bluestem grass, mountain myrtle, hydrangea radiata, turk’s cap lily, buttonbush, mountain laurel, pink profusion bowman’s root and cinnamon fern.

The choices we make in landscaping have an impact beyond just our own homes and businesses. The majority of land in the US is privately owned, so decisions that property holders make carry the greatest weight. Not only that, but every selection in terms of species of, course, ripples outward through the entire interconnected natural world. Our desire to be surrounded by beauty lies deep within our genes and need not be disregarded, but we do need to consider the effects of what we introduce into nature. It only serves us for our own survival to return our gaze to the exquisite flora native to our region that provide wildlife food and habitat, conserve water and store carbon dioxide with little maintenance (including pesticide and fertilizer)—all while they present abundant color and variety in form.


[1] Lexico.com

[2] The Biological Roots of Aesthetics and Art

[3] The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution

[4] OnBeing.com

SHR Receives Commendation from The Garden Club of America

Posted Posted in SHR-News

The Garden Club of America recently presented Southern Highlands Reserve the Zone VIII Horticulture Commendation. The commendation was awarded with appreciation for SHR’s dedication to horticulture, preservation, conservation and education in the uniquely beautiful native plant gardens of the Southern Appalachian Mountains and beyond.

Lifelong outdoor enthusiasts, Reserve founders Betty and Robert Balentine aspired to bring their children closer together in the mountains of their own youth when they noticed their big-city, big-kids suffering from what they call “nature deficit disorder.” This love for the nature of family and the family of nature has evolved into The Southern Highlands Reserve—integrating roll your sleeves up, hands-on research and education based on conservation of the rare ecology of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

The Balentines received the award on behalf of the organization at an awards banquet in March in Palm Beach, Florida, presented by The Garden Club of Palm Beach. Robert Balentine said, “Through two generations of our family’s involvement, I have long admired the work of the Garden Club of America. Receiving the Zone Horticulture award on behalf of Southern Highlands Reserve was a very special honor for Betty and me.”

The purpose of The Garden Club of America is “to stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening; to share the advantage of association by means of educational meetings, conferences, correspondence and publications; and to restore, improve and protect the quality of the environment through educational programs and action in the fields of conservation and civic improvement.” Among the other Zone VIII award recipients were the Garden Club of Palm Beach, the Late Bloomers Garden Club, the Reed Mountain Garden Club, and also The King Library.

Seed Collecting: A Shared Experience

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The world of botanists, horticulturists and landscape architects is a tight knit community, one in which conversations often result in tracing back crossed paths and common friends while sharing favorite plants and gardens with one another. One of the greatest benefits of such intersections are the opportunities that spring forth.

The majority of plants at SHR are grown from seed collected onsite. However, by continually using the same plants for seed collection, we limit the genetic diversity and representation of flora across the Southern Appalachians. Therefore, seed collecting trips in our own backyard are important not only to grow the number of plant species we hold in our collections, but also for the genetic diversity of these plants. Recently we were invited by the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in Boston, MA to join them for two days of their three-week long plant collecting trip to the region. This partnership opened the opportunity for SHR staff to join in the adventure and gather seed for our own collections.

This time of year, tucked back from the main thoroughfare in the Nantahala National Forest, native plants are bursting with seeds. During this most recent excursion, staff scaled up the steep slopes of Jake Ridge, crossing rock scrambles and avoiding the prick of smilax stretched across the path. The climb was worth it, as gems such as doll’s eye, blue cohosh and towering buckeye were found at every turn, bearing seed ready to be harvested. The group passed through a variety of ecosystems while descending into the valley at Buck Creek Serpentine Barrens where both rare and unique plants were growing. The Serpentine Barrens are a uniquely complex mixture of mesic and xeric plantings interspersed together, thanks to a perched water table in combination with clay soils. Twenty-two state-listed rare plant species and four state-listed butterfly species occur at the site. While special permits are necessary to secure seed from listed rare plants, seed was collected from plants such as the Canadian burnet and hearts-a-bustin’. Over the fall, we will enter records into our plant database and the collected seeds will be prepared and stored, ready for planting or sharing with other partners.

While the collected seeds were a welcomed prize after a great deal of bushwacking, not to mention the mental challenge of plant identification, the biggest rewards were the new professional partnership and many personal friendships that were created. Other faces in the group included those from Arnold Arboretum, the Beijing Botanical Gardens (Beijing, China), the Chengdu Institute of Biology (Chengdu, China), the Kunming Institute of Botany (Kunming, China), the US National Arboretum (Washington D.C.) and the US National Forest Service Nantahala Office (Franklin, NC). As the world shifts due to climate change, sprawling cities and growing populations, it becomes all the more important for botanical partnerships to lay the groundwork to collect and preserve our native plant species. You can help by planting natives in your own garden, visiting the Center for Plant Conservation website and joining us at our next Native Plant Sale, where the proceeds go toward making trips like this one possible.

frogs, nature, gardens, conservation

Springing into New Life

Posted Posted in SHR-News

As spring advances, signs of renewed life are appearing at the Reserve in each of the four elements. Amphibians have laid their eggs in the water, insects are hatching and beginning to fill the air, buds are swelling along with new growth appearing from the earth and we recently performed the annual prescribed burn of the Wildflower Labyrinth! All of these components of life’s cycles are occurring in line with the vernal equinox.


Of these manifestations of awakening, we focus here on amphibians. The Southeast, recognized as the center of amphibian biodiversity in the United States, supports over 140 species of frogs, toads and salamanders [1]. North Carolina alone is home to more than 60 salamander species (more than anywhere else in the world) with some of those being found only in our state [2]. Two in particular, the northern pigmy salamander (Plethodon organi) and Weller’s salamander (P. welleri), are species of conservation concern dependent upon this ecosystem as habitat. The Reserve is home to several known species (as well as likely many not yet seen and identified): the wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus), spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum), three-lined salamander (Eurycea guttolineata) and red spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens). Newts, the subfamily Pleurodelinae of the family Salamandridae, are semi- or fully-aquatic as adults as opposed to other salamanders that follow the reverse life cycle.

Why Are Amphibians in Decline?

Amphibians as a whole have been in decline for over 20 years, leading all taxonomic groups, with approximately one third of the species listed as threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. This is due in part to their biphasic life stages, meaning they rely on both aquatic and terrestrial systems. As most alternate between life in the water while juveniles, to adult life on land (some species exhibit the reverse progression) with a return to the water to mate and lay eggs, they are susceptible to adverse conditions of both ecosystems. Their moist, permeable skin not only absorbs most of the water needed for survival, it is also a sensitive respiratory organ, therefore taking in both water and air pollutants. Centrally located in the food web, these consumers of aquatic vegetation, invertebrates and other vertebrates are also prey for fish, snakes, birds and others. Strongly influencing biodiversity and acting as early indicators of ecosystem change, amphibians are considered to be proverbial canaries in the coalmine regarding climate change [3]. Increasingly erratic rainfall patterns with greater deluges and longer periods of drought present impossible obstacles for these creatures that are simultaneously being threatened by habitat loss, disease, invasive species and overexploitation.

What Helps?

USGS scientists found that restoration of degraded, damaged or destroyed wetland hydrology provides the most immediate benefit to frogs and toads [1], and presumably salamanders. This process involves reestablishing water flow conditions to historic natural states, as we have been doing at the Reserve, and benefits not only amphibians, but all native plant and animal species. Our recent modifications include adding hydra humps with rock outlets, adding turf and rock swales and altering existing swales to better direct the water. We are also constructing step pools and rock check damns within the swales to control water velocity. Finally, we are experimenting with large woody debris (LWD) in a subwatershed to slow sheet-flow across the landscape and prevent valuable soil and nutrient loss.

What You Can Do

If you want to help protect amphibians and their habitat because you value biodiversity, for ethical reasons or perhaps because you have warm memories of sitting on a back porch being gently eased into the evening hours by a chorus of frogs, we have some additional suggested places to begin.

  • Leave ground cover such as dead wood, leaf litter and rocks in your yard to provide moist shelter
  • Avoid pesticide and fertilizer use
    • Plant native species that are more resilient against disease and pests
    • Fertilize with manure and compost
    • Buy organic food
  • Build a pond with gently sloping sides and vegetation along the edges
    • Choose native plants that help support amphibian life
    • Do not stock with fish

If you have wetlands on your property, you can even participate in the USDA Wetland Reserve Program offering landowners the opportunity to protect, restore and enhance wetlands voluntarily. These sites have been found to host more species and more individuals of those species of amphibians than neighboring land, so the efforts work [1]. So, as always with conservation, protection and the overall health of our planet, it is in the hands of us all.

1. Science Daily
2. Charlotte Observer

native plants, azaleas, gregory bald, gardens, gardening

Gardener’s Corner with Eric Kimbrel

Posted Posted in SHR-News

I always eagerly await this time of year when leaves emerge and plants begin to flaunt their flowers. A truly magical transformation happens all around us. This is also the perfect time to dig into gardening and get plants in the ground and established for several reasons. First, the ground has thawed after the harsh winter months. Also, the rainfall is typically plentiful, lightening the workload of irrigation required during dry spells. Finally, early planting allows ample time for roots to ground down before cooler weather sets in, leading to better survival rates through the first winter. This is what we have been doing in the Core Park as well as in preparation for the annual Native Plant Sale, which will be August 23 this year.

We have been fortunate to have volunteer Robb Turner joining us frequently in the nursery to help pot up two-month-old native azalea seedlings (Rhododendron vaseyi, calendulaceum and Gregory Bald) into larger pots where they will remain and grow for one year. They will then be moved up once more for the final stage of growth that will bring them to an adequate size to be sold (and planted in your yard) the following fall. Red spruce are also being moved up from 2” to one-gallon Rootmaker pots and will be ready for sale and planting (some at the Reserve and some in your yard) in two years. This does not mean, though, that we won’t have any for sale until then; this is simply one stage of the ongoing cycle of propagation, and we always have another batch of young trees mature enough to begin their journey in their new homes.

In the landscape, we are planting in all garden rooms to enhance color for our visitors and pollinators alike, provide screening and replace dead or dying plants. We also continue our water mitigation efforts by installing 37 new LWDs (large woody debris) as well as more river rock and wood chips to slow the pace of water runoff and prevent erosion in various areas. We turn our attention to detail on beds, edging adjacent turf for greater definition and distinct boundaries prior to mulching. Locust logs are also being installed along Azalea Walk trail edges to retain bed integrity and define trail material from bed mulch.

Pesky azalea bud gall persists, so our annual ritual of removal from flame and Gregory Bald azaleas is at its peak. This diminishes the spread of the fungus and prevents energy from being wasted on gall tissue rather than flower growth. Our location adjacent to Panthertown Valley’s native rosebay rhododendrons covered in gall makes it almost impossible to prevent spread to the Reserve without spraying fungicide on buds. Dedicated to conservation, we choose to manually remove the disease rather than risking the larger detriment from harmful chemicals. While a slower process, it is worth the benefit to the ecosystem–and it’s free!

In late spring and early summer, we prune evergreen trees and shrubs, such as rhododendrons, after they have completely finished flowering. Late bloomers, rosebay rhododendrons flower later than all other species, so they are the last to be pruned. This not only allows time for the plants to grow back and fill in, but also to form flower buds prompted by the detection of shorter days later in the year. So, the sooner after flowering that you prune, the better chances you have for abundant flowers next year!

landscape design, water mitigation, landscaping

Change: A Perspective on Aesthetics and Climate in the Garden

Posted Posted in SHR-News

Written by Matt Sprouse, PLA, Sitework Studios – Principal and Amy Fahmy, PLA, Sitework Studios – Landscape Architect

This past year brought us to Southern Highlands Reserve to talk about water. We were eager to once again revel in this wonderful garden, designed to inspire appreciation for the diversity of native plants of the highlands. No better example exists of a man-made landscape that blurs the lines seamlessly with the surrounding ecosystem. Yet change is always present, and as with gardens everywhere, a constant effort is required to maintain the displays amid the forces of nature. SHR works tirelessly to maintain the vision and beauty of the gardens and for the past few years this has included a mighty struggle with water.

Six months into 2019, SHR has already experienced two 100-year storm events. These storms overwhelm the existing drainage infrastructure, cutting new channels on the steep slopes and eroding plantings. Kelly and her staff hold their breath with each storm, waiting to see what losses they’ve sustained. After each storm, SHR staff work to quickly bring the garden back to a presentable state. Washed out paths, fallen trees, and uprooted plants are a weekly challenge. A garden is one of the few places where we traditionally appreciate and expect change – the change of seasons, the evolving sequence of blooms, the transition from seedling to mature specimen. SHR is now working to bring a new aesthetic component to the changes wrought by stormwater. If excessive rainfall is the new normal, can that 100-year event occur within a designed erosion management system that has both efficiency and beauty for visitors to appreciate?

Let’s consider what SHR is up against this summer. Southern Highlands Reserve rests at 4,500 feet above sea level in one of the few temperate rainforests in the Eastern U.S. The highland area of Transylvania and Jackson Counties, including Toxaway Mountain, sees some of the highest recorded rainfall in the region. Temperate rain forest classification is a minimum of 60 inches of rainfall in a year. Last year’s rain fall measurement at Southern Highlands Reserve was 130 inches.  Precipitation is a constant at the Reserve. Low cloud cover, rising fog, and the constant movement of ground water up through the trees and out the leaves (transpiration) fills the air with moisture. As the sun warms the moist summer air, cumulonimbus clouds rapidly form over the mountain and blue skies change to ominous dark gray in a matter of minutes.

Excessive rain events are with us for the foreseeable future. Through design, exciting possibilities exist to bring the wild forces of weather and the cultivated beauty of the garden together. The design of beautiful stormwater systems sounds like an oxymoron but progress is underway. It is now conventional wisdom that man-made drainage systems should recharge groundwater locally rather than dumping concentrated flow downhill. To achieve this with recurring 100-year storm events, we must fully understand the natural drainage system within the soils, rocks, and plants that hold a garden together. We can then evaluate which plants have the potential to be introduced into this local ecosystem as partners in erosion control, and from this we can move towards plant choices with nice flowers, contrasting textures, and form – classic garden design techniques. Swales, level spreaders, and catchment basins are examples of effective functional systems that disperse water near the point of origin. Filling a catchment basin with masses of plants that can thrive in wildly fluctuating water levels is an example of the new landscape aesthetic. Another is germination blankets or coir logs with planting holes that support gorgeous wildflowers on highly erodible slopes. Live stakes from shrubs with stoloniferous roots can create both fibrous root mats on stream banks and fabulous blooms for visitors.

The design of these hybrid storm water solutions requires the same artistic, creative, and inventive principles as those developed over the centuries for beautiful gardens. If “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” the more we understand about the ecology underpinning our existence the more we find it beautiful. Take Lurie Gardens in Chicago or the High Line Park in New York City, both are “wild” meadows in the center of urban places. Both gardens would once have been visually unacceptable, but the new landscape aesthetic is clearly evident in these gardens. Each garden’s function is as beautiful to their communities as is the flowering season. As a haven for pollinators, the rough and unkempt phases of the gardens are appreciated for seed heads, nesting sites, and insect overwintering.

Southern Highlands Reserve is working to understand stormwater as an asset in the garden. Their solutions can tap man-made structures that function in harmony with natural systems. No one said it would be easy, but Southern Highlands Reserve is on the right track.