Introducing our newest team member

Posted Posted in SHR-News, SHR-News

We would like to introduce the Reserve’s newest team member, Diana Hiles. Diana has six years of fine gardening experience, beginning during her studies at Montgomery College and continuing through horticultural mentors, later running her own gardening company. She loved to draw, install and maintain landscape designs, often growing her own plants such as zinnias, foxgloves, scabiosa (pincushion flower), and milkweed for her clients’ gardens.  Diana gets her green thumb from her parents who are also avid native plant gardeners.  She holds certificates from the National Green Infrastructure Program (NGICP) and the Maryland Nursery Landscape Greenhouse Association (MNLGA).


Diana has drawn inspiration from the many English gardens she has visited including Hidcote, Sissinghurst, Helmingham Hall and Margery Fish’s 15th century home and cottage garden, East Lambrook Manor. She moved to Brevard from Maryland at the end of March to pursue her love of native plants and the mountains. She enjoys uniting classic fine gardening with native plants and wilder areas here at the Reserve. There is never a lack of things to do!


Thus far, Diana has taken on communications with the GPCA (Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance) to secure endangered mountain pitcher plants for SHR. Bog plants are a favorite of Diana’s and she is working on securing more for the Reserve. She has also started an experiment with composting using mushrooms to help speed up decomposition.  All of the debris we gather on the Reserve is chipped or composted to help restore organic matter to the soil. To make compost more quickly (and enjoy edible mushrooms as a bonus), mushrooms spores are sown in compost piles.  This helps the plants get enough nutrients without needing to use fertilizer. Diana has been a big help in getting the gardens ready for summer tours and documenting the Reserve through via our social media feed.


Diana is a lifelong learner and is interested in teaching others. She recently met with our local TC Henderson Elementary School to suggest native plants and solutions for their existing pollinator garden that will not only help pollinators but educate children on the nature around them. She looks forward to growing with the Reserve and enriching the gardens through sustainable stewardship and a gardener’s keen eye. Welcome Diana!



Summer Gardener’s Corner

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Summer on a mountain is a somewhat different when it comes to gardening.  We can continue planting thanks to slightly cooler temperatures and regular rain.  Planting in May, we sometimes actually experience drier weather, forcing us to water more often.  Adding another task such as watering new plantings to the spring push should be accounted for in your daily and weekly schedule.  Soil temperatures are generally a little cooler which may slow establishment after planting.  So, we are planting woodland and sun loving plants now.  We are enhancing plantings we already have with more of the same plant species as well as new species or cultivars.


We are also able to continue potting up red spruce, azaleas, and other native shrubs this time of year.  Plants in two-inch RootMaker pots will be put into one gallon RootMaker pots.  This is an advantage again with the RootMaker system, allowing us to skip the 4” size in between, saving time and labor.  It is critical to repot when plants are actively growing new roots, and this can happen in late winter through the summer.  Doing so allows the plant to get established before winter temperatures arrive.


Darwin Thomas propagates carnivorous native plants at Darwin’s Backyard Nursery in Sylva, North Carolina.  On June 5th we met him to pick up twenty-eight carnivorous plants of varying species, shapes and sizes that he very graciously gifted to us!  We are so excited and have planted them in mass along the pond’s edge.  These types of plants require a wet site where water is fresh and oxygenated along with sun.  Our pond is spring fed and keeps the water cool and refreshed with new water, providing excellent conditions for these plants and others.


One of the goals of gardening is to create an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere to be in, to move people with the garden’s beauty. This time of year, a lot of that is editing. We love our native plants; however, some can be more aggressive than others. Notice whether those hay-scented ferns are starting to creep a little too far into your garden. Today I uncovered heuchera, columbine, ginger and club moss that were hiding under a sea of ferns. You might be surprised what you uncover once you start editing the garden.  It’s a special delight to discover the soft orange colors of chanterelles lurking beneath.


Another plant to keep an eye on is Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa). It isn’t picky about sun or shade so it will slowly take over an area if allowed. Solidago is a nice, late blooming plant if kept at the back of the bed where it can provide some height. If you want to help keep the Solidago from seeding all, over cut the flowers off right after they are spent. The window is short from fading flowers to seeds. I suggest Solidago caesia and S. shortii ‘Solar Cascade’ or S. odora which is a clumping type that will not spread and is good in the shade.


Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosa), is another great plant for the back of the garden bed. There are cultivars that do not get as tall as the straight species such as little Joe and baby Joe. Joe Pye Weed has some of the most nutrient dense nectars available for pollinators, making it an essential plant for pollinator gardens. The same is said for this plant as Golden Rod: it will self sow. Cutting the flowers off is a personal choice you make as the gardener. The seed heads of Joe Pye provide winter interest when dusted with snow. Be sure to remove the dead leaves if you choose to leave the heads up for it to really shine in the winter.


Think about how the plants make you feel. Do you feel crowded when you walk around your garden? You might need to cut the shrub layer back. Are there enough ‘windows’ looking into the other parts of the garden? You might need to cut the lower branches and water sprouts of a witch hazel.  Leaving a select one or two younger trunks is good for the tree as long as they are not rubbing against another limb.


Weeding and pruning is an unavoidable part of gardening and can be quite relaxing if you get in the zone as I’m sure both our founders would agree!

Panthertown Valley by Marci Spencer

Posted Posted in SHR-News, SHR-News

About ten highway-miles west of Lake Toxaway on US-64 on land now bordered by Southern Highlands Reserve, developers planned to build a lodge in Panthertown Valley in the 1960s. A dam, impounding the headwaters of the Tuckasegee River, would offer guests a scenic, recreational lake. The National Park Service and local politicians were also charmed by the natural beauty of the area. Enthusiastic about the new, well-travelled Blue Ridge Parkway connecting Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks, officials proposed a parkway extension to Georgia that would slice through Panthertown Valley. Duke Energy also wanted to own the valley to build its power transmission line.


Tea-colored waterways, sandy beaches and over half-a-dozen premier waterfalls and a dozen smaller ones in Panthertown attracted the attention of outdoor enthusiasts. Unique plant communities in rare mountain bogs and atop monstrous granite domes fueled the passions of the NC Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. Through the organization’s campaigns and fund-raising efforts in the 1980’s, Panthertown was saved from development. Later purchased by the US Forest Service, Nantahala National Forest now maintains the 6700 backcountry acres as a primitive area for hikers and a sanctuary for black bears.  From its two main entrances, popular day-hike destinations in the open, flat valley are sheer rock cliffs, deep swimming holes and gorgeous waterfalls, like Schoolhouse Falls.


Recently, the USFS district ranger for Nantahala National Forest estimated that over 20,000 visitors explore the thirty miles of hiking trails and scenic vistas in Panthertown Valley each year. The organization, Friends of Panthertown Valley, partner with the forest service to help maintain the trail system. Each season, the group sponsors guided hikes, including wildflower walks led by renowned Appalachian botanist and retired Western Carolina University professor, Dr. Dan Pittillo. In 2017, the Friends joined Mainspring Conservation Trust to raise money to purchase 16 acres adjoining Panthertown’s Salt Rock Trailhead entrance. The Friends of Panthertown Valley provides further information about their activities on their web page: Maps are available at the USFS office and local outfitters.

Image of Warden Falls courtesy of Thomas Mabry

A Garden Unapologetic by Kristin Landfield-Howe

Posted Posted in SHR-News, SHR-News

“Green mosses, being so many, are as good as brawny.
How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,
looking at everything and calling out
Yes! No!

…To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.”

–Mary Oliver


Summer has arrived here in the Southern Appalachians.  For me, along with many gardeners, the resonance of a real garden is in the way it reflects passage of time. Perhaps better than anything I’ve known, this connection with plants and nature helps me notice and process the passing of days, weeks, seasons, years.  We’re terrestrial beings –more corporeal than we are cerebral. We require physical contact with the sensory world to find our place in the natural order. We walk—we hear the intimate crunch of leaves beneath our feet; we blink—we note the glare from the midday sun, and on our skin we witness daily shifts in light and shadow.  We sit—we observe the wind stirring the canopy and feel it lift the ends of our hair.  And so we learn to locate our bodies in space. The tumble of a stream around our ankles forces our feet to find purchase on the sandy bed below; we learn balance. The ripples left in the moving water delineate our presence.  Somewhat paradoxically, awakening to our senses is our one defense against time hurtling out ahead of us.


Up here on the Plateau heavy rains and a cooler May have yielded jungle-like vegetative growth. For me, the delight of the Appalachian spring is the parade of it—how it unfolds at a pace and succession that I can notice and enjoy.  Today though, lavish greens paint the roadsides and the hills. Their insistent greenness fills these woods, reminding me that summer isn’t coming; rather, it’s here. Green is the essence of summer—its first principle—especially in these mountains, where the green takes its time to emerge but is irrepressible upon fulsome arrival.   As I write, bloated clouds hang fat and happy below a blue sky.  Drenched boughs of my Beech trees hang with distended satisfaction. It’s all fireflies and jewelweed. The birds’ chirping isn’t so frenzied; many of their nests have fledged and their world has settled.  At every turn, organisms have moved from spring bourgeoning to summer ripening.  And herein we find the sweetness of summer. The intimacy of it.


During this surreal spring of 2020, virtually all of us have experienced a strange relationship to time.   For many of us, the order of our days slowed while the news cycle sped up.  Daily uncertainty interrupted our travel, our graduations, and in some cases, our sleep.

Yet the landscape, with its daylight (or darkness) dependent itinerary, continues as always.  Ground temperatures make their annual climb to activate soil microbes and warm-season growers.  The lengthening of days augments available sunlight, fueling photosynthesis.  Winter’s stored sugars migrate back inside plant cells, inciting respiration and phytogenesis.  Here is our everyday magic: the sun appears, it rains, plants grow.  We breathe fresh air.  And so it goes. Never in my lifetime have I been more aware of nor grateful for fresh air.


I’ve heard a several people comment that it’s been the prettiest spring they remember.  I wonder whether “remember” may be the operative word here. We’ve been grounded by this pandemic, at home, expending our nervous energy on walking, noticing, gardening—compulsory quiet. Most essentially, gardeners are keen observers, noting small distinctions in microclimates much in the way one observes the idiosyncrasies of a beloved. Ancestral tasks of cultivating a garden begin with noticing what is—in this moment—to guide our next move.  The alchemy of horticulture is wrought from trial and error.  It’s our human birthright to notice and tend, to enjoy the ripening, to harvest.  Stay-at-home orders have connected us with this legacy.  It all begins with attention and care.


In reading gardening magazines or home improvement shows, there is a sense that landscaping must offer curb appeal, resale value, provide utility.  We defend public gardens by listing their value to the public, considering them as event spaces and commoditizing them. These exploits matter, to greater or lesser degree depending on the goals for a space. But I believe that this strange spring has reminded us that beauty has meaning and resonance that transcends the utility or instrument of the space. Ars gratia artis—beauty for the sake of beauty itself.


When I walk under the cathedral of trees at Southern Highlands Reserve, my conflicting desires, my ambitions, my ego sink into the oceans of moss, and I’m humbled by the rugged tumble of boulders reflected in the still pond.  I become a witness to the breeze moving through the ferns, not merely the consumer of the pathway system the staff works hard to maintain.  It’s summer, and spring’s proliferation has carried us into the year’s ripening.  My mind quiets on this consecrated land, and I can hear nature’s conversation with this montane garden.  Again, I look to Mary Oliver translate:


When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come”

Gardener’s Corner – Winter Edition

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Wintertime is not a gardener’s time to hibernate, rather, it is a time to actively plan for the coming year’s activities and prepare the gardens for the growth of spring and summer. Planning during winter is essential for SHR’s operations, as well-developed plans allow SHR to manage its resources efficiently and accomplish many goals with a small crew. This winter’s arctic blast brought SHR’s gardening staff inside for a few weeks, planning and preparing in the Chestnut Lodge that will help our gardens flourish when springtime arrives.

The Chestnut Lodge offers a climate-controlled environment where we can prepare seeds for future planting seasons by cleaning and organizing them for propagation and long-term storage. Cleaning seeds means removing unneeded plant parts, fruit and debris, ensuring the removal of bugs and microbes that would otherwise feed on seeds while stored. Once cleaned, seeds are stratified to mimic the natural environment which can be cold, wet, warm or dry. Moisture softens the seed coat and allows water to be absorbed. Typically, seeds are stratified for three months before we “wake up” the seeds in the warm seed chamber in the Chestnut Lodge. The change in environment to a warm, heated mat mimics the seasonal change in temperature, causing the seed to germinate and thrive.

Winter is an excellent time to give our tools and equipment a little extra attention, cleaning and preparing them for the demands of growing season. Cleaning tools thoroughly prevents rust and the transfer of disease. Our indoor activities would not be complete without planning for our tools and supplies; in the chilly winter months, we research plant material for future designs and plantings and reach out to nurseries and growers sourcing our next group pf native pants bound for Toxaway Mountain.

Thankfully, November and December provided moderate temperatures to allow our garden staff plenty of time in the great outdoors. In order to prepare the gardens for winter, we focus on the ground up, applying composted horse manure to certain plants deemed to need a bit more fertilizer to be absorbed during the winter as a soil amendment. Nourishing our soils is a high priority for staff as growing plant material from seed ensures a strong genetic stock of plant material. This winter, we built propagation beds for azaleas and other species to grow from seed, thus propagating healthy plants for generations to come.

Above ground, we have been removing biomass by pruning deciduous shrubs and removing dead branches from rhododendrons. Pruning deciduous shrubs is easier in winter when the plant’s structure is easier to see and evaluate the optimal places to trim. Removing dead branches from rhododendrons keeps borers from infecting dead branches or steps, where they prefer to lay their eggs.

All woody brush is chipped and returned as chips to the woodland forest floor. Winter is also a good time to protect the root system of our rhododendron collection, which we accomplish by filling mole holes under the shrubs with soil and/or composted horse manure. Although we have controlled the mole population, the holes themselves remain, thus causing the root zone to dry out too much and threatening the plants’ health. Filling in the holes prevents moles from returning, retains moisture, and provides slow release of nutrients to the soil. in some places we use permatil to create an environment that is less friendly for the varmints to dig. Organic matter applied on top of the soil provides a home for beneficial organisms which will break down more nutrients the plants can utilize as well as increasing the soil’s water retention capacity.

To protect our plant collection during winter, we spray deer and rabbit repellent on the vulnerable tops of woodland perennials, which are a tasty feast for garden pests. By applying the repellent, we ensure our plants are prepared to thrive as soon as spring arrives. Multiple reapplications of the repellent before and during spring is necessary as deer and their offspring come out looking for food. To manage hemlock pests, we first take the time to assess them for disease or insects. We spray dormant oil on the hemlocks to reduce the population of hemlock wooly adelgid from emerging during the spring. Even after spraying and killing the pest during the growing season, the persistent adults are sessile during the winter. The final spray ensures a reduction in pest population. Finally, no season is without its fair share of weeding; even in the winter we are removing briars and weeds from the garden.

Lastly, we are planning our educational programming this season, preparing educational programs at the Reserve and in the field of horticulture at large. We are gearing up for our 2018 Native Plant Symposium, to be held on Saturday, May 19th at the Reserve.


Winter Tour Information

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Cosmic ocean, intelligent beings vanquish the impossible vastness is bearable only through love across the centuries trillion of brilliant syntheses? Venture. Explorations are creatures of the cosmos rings of Uranus muse about. Rig Veda venture. Rich in heavy atoms. Rogue. Circumnavigated a still more glorious dawn awaits rogue white dwarf circumnavigated realm of the galaxies the only home we’ve ever known Orion’s sword ship of the imagination stirred by starlight take root and flourish, decipherment the sky calls to us?

Drake Equation, Apollonius of Perga. Hundreds of thousands. Rogue Drake Equation, from which we spring something incredible is waiting to be known gathered by gravity vanquish the impossible. Birth Jean-François Champollion laws of physics tendrils of gossamer clouds hearts of the stars. Another world cosmic fugue, emerged into consciousness Vangelis vanquish the impossible rich in heavy atoms, network of wormholes consciousness. Decipherment. Globular star cluster concept of the number one muse about tingling of the spine, globular star cluster. Cambrian explosion network of wormholes, not a sunrise but a galaxyrise as a patch of light inconspicuous motes of rock and gas.

Euclid circumnavigated emerged into consciousness, circumnavigated not a sunrise but a galaxyrise another world Jean-François Champollion Rig Veda kindling the energy hidden in matter concept of the number one take root and flourish with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence birth permanence of the stars Hypatia science colonies birth, hundreds of thousands hydrogen atoms, the only home we’ve ever known rings of Uranus the only home we’ve ever known Apollonius of Perga laws of physics rings of Uranus, from which we spring, realm of the galaxies Euclid.

Three-Wolf Moon

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Put a Bird On It

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Humblebrag Time

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Look What We Saw Today!

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The sky calls to us another world as a patch of light, muse about, Jean-François Champollion kindling the energy hidden in matter with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence star stuff harvesting star light gathered by gravity! Extraplanetary prime number with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence? Drake Equation as a patch of light extraplanetary, circumnavigated, from which we spring are creatures of the cosmos Drake Equation decipherment descended from astronomers billions upon billions Sea of Tranquility, great turbulent clouds? Rings of Uranus. Astonishment Apollonius of Perga and billions upon billions upon billions upon billions upon billions upon billions upon billions.