Cherokee Garden Club of Atlanta Coordinates “Partners for Plants” Wetland Revegetation Project at Great Smoky Mountains National Park with SHR, National Parks Service, Volunteers

July 1, 2016

On the weekend of June 10-12, SHR founders and staff joined members of the Cherokee Garden Club of Atlanta, Peachtree Garden Club, French Broad Garden Club, public land managers with the National Parks Service, and other dedicated native plant lovers for a special weekend to help revegetate a wetland area near the southern entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This occasion was quite a celebration, as 2016 is the Centennial of the National Parks System.

The target area for planting was determined by the “Partners for Plants” Initiative, a habitat restoration joint program between The Garden Club of America Conservation and Horticulture Committees. Its purpose is to facilitate projects between local GCA clubs and land managers on federal, state, local and other significant public lands. Projects may include the monitoring and protection of rare, endangered and medicinal plants, the propagation and replanting of native plants and the removal of invasive plants.

Guided by the Partners for Plants program, the team’s mission was to plant seedlings grown from seeds collected on site by the National Parks Service and grown by volunteers. Seeds were packaged by members of the Jackson County Master Gardeners and Cashiers Valley Garden Club and sent to SHR and other GCA clubs to grow the seeds. SHR contributed to the project by nurturing a majority of the seed mats that grew the native seeds into young seedlings ready for transplant.

SHR’s Director of Horticulture Eric Kimbrel noted that the project provides significant benefit to the entrance by “allowing nature to be the way it was before the invasive plants took over.”

Cherokee Garden Club member and champion of the Partners for Plants Project, Mary Palmer Dargan, organized a host of activities for volunteers who participated in the revegetation day over the course of a weekend overnight camping trip in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Prior to beginning the plant installation, Cherokee Elder Marie Junaluska from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee conducted a blessing of the plants and the land that was about to receive them. “The blessing of the plants by a Cherokee Elder was the most moving things I’ve ever witnessed,” founder Robert Balentine reflected.

When the installation project was completed, the group foraged for food in the woods and headed back to camp where they were joined by a special guest speaker. Identified as a “living treasure” by Mary Palmer, “Lady of the Woods” Ila Hatter cooked with the group around a campfire and shared her knowledge on foraging in the woods, as featured in the publication Women of the Smokies: No Place for the Weary Kind.

Saturday evening, the group feasted on their foraging delights: spicebush roasted vegetables, elderflower fritters, foraged salad with chickweed dressing, homemade pickled ramps, and coupled these treats with roasted trout and chestnut cornbread, to then finish everything off with a rhubarb berry crisp and a few elderflower cocktails. Yum! Later that evening, the group went to chase fireflies during their peak season.

Like the other participants, SHR Founder Betty Balentine found the entire weekend delightful. “I loved our experience with Partners 4 Plants. We are blessed to have an incredible National Park system in the United States. To help celebrate their 100 anniversary we participated in this project to revegetate an area of the Smoky Mountains National Park that had been overtaken by exotic invasive species. We spent time with Ila Hatter, a renowned naturalist, learning about native plants and their many uses. Knowing that jewel weed can relieve the pain of insect stings and bites came in quite handy!!”

SHR founders and staff would like to thank the Cherokee Garden Club of Atlanta, the Peachtree Garden Club, the French Broad Garden Club, the National Parks Service and all the volunteers who made this project possible, especially the leadership of Mary Palmer Dargan. As noted by Robert Balentine, “even small, grassroots organizations can make a difference when we work together.”