Southern Highlands Reserve Launches Digital Database to Advance Native Plant Research

Posted Posted in SHR-News

Southern Highlands Reserve (SHR) is pleased to announce the development of a digital database to advance its work in native plant research and education. The database is a powerful tool for SHR to conduct research on more than 10 years of plant observation data, weather data, and plant accession records. The research database will further enhance SHR’s capacity to conduct research on native plants in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world.

At 4,500’ in elevation on the top of remote Toxaway Mountain, the plants in SHR’s gardens thrive in conditions more extreme than surrounding areas. With increased variability in temperature and precipitation and exposure to the elements on a mountainside, SHR’s native plant collection is sensitive to environmental pressures. With the onset of shifts in weather patterns such as storm intensity, drought, and other extreme conditions due to climate change, SHR now has the ability to monitor and analyze how plants respond to these long-term changes through the use of the phenology reports and information in the database.

The Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust recognized the value a native plant database would bring to SHR for the Southern Appalachian Mountains and ornamental horticulture worldwide. In January of 2017, the Trust awarded $20,000 to SHR to assist with the development and implementation of the database, the seed money essential to complete the project successfully.  SHR hired locally-based consulting firm Sounds Essential to design the database working hand in hand with SHR’s Executive Director and Director of Horticulture.

“The support of the Trust helps SHR not only fulfill our mission, it also enables the Reserve to serve as a valuable resource for our community,” says SHR’s Executive Director Kelly Holdbrooks in regards to the grant. “As we encounter rapid changes in the environment, having the ability to obtain and share information related to high elevation ecosystems and native plants is a crucial component of our mission to advocate for the value of the ecosystems within the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains.”

Southern Highlands Reserve is open April – October for garden tours by reservation only. Please visit for more information about SHR, gardens, events, and projects.

SHR Welcomes Two New Staff Members and Celebrates Retirement of Inaugural Greenhouse Manager

Posted Posted in SHR-News

2017 was a banner year for the Reserve in many ways. SHR made its mark by changing the mountain landscape, planting over 900 red spruce trees on public land near Black Balsam with the first ever restoration project for the federally endangered Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel. The organization’s landscape changed in 2017 as well, as we welcomed two new staff members and celebrated the retirement of inaugural Greenhouse Manager, Sue Owen.

Sue began as SHR’s first Greenhouse Manager when SHR opened its doors in 2008. Since then, she has nurtured thousands of native plants that now thrive in the Reserve’s gardens and in backyards across the region. Some native plants Sue has grown at the Reserve are now at the Pisgah Ranger station near highway 276, planted on “Pisgah Pride Day” coordinated by The Pisgah Conservancy. Sue was responsible for growing thousands of red spruce from seed that are now planted on public land through SHR’s red spruce restoration program. Thanks to her efforts, SHR is now regarded for its high-quality red spruce stock and is frequently the source for red spruce purchased by the US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife and NC Wildlife Resource Commission for red spruce restoration projects. Sue retired in October to spend more time with her family and canine companions. Before she did so, she spent six months training new Greenhouse Manager Nathan Price on time-honored horticulture and propagation techniques. Thankfully, Sue says hello to her SHR colleagues at The Grill on occasion for lunch.

Stepping into the role of Greenhouse Manager is Nathan Price with over 20 years’ experience in gardening, landscape design and restoration work. Along with his green thumb, Nathan brings a diverse range of experience in landscape design, everything from hardscapes and laying rock work to carving out woodland trails, planting beds and building irrigation systems. Nathan’s previous employers include the NC Arboretum, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota Florida, and The Nature Conservancy. When Nathan worked as a sub-contractor with The Nature Conservancy, he re-established native plants on sites as a part of Florida’s environmentally sensitive lands program. During the time he was in Florida, he also helped manage a 10-acre nursery and worked on a large coastal restoration program. Nathan also brings his knowledge of integrated pest management (IPM) techniques to SHR, as well as his skills in operating heavy machinery when needed. Next time you are on the Reserve, be sure to greet Nathan in our nursery complex.

Also new to the SHR family is April Leasure, who joins the gardening team. April has a Bachelor’s in Environmental Studies from Eckerd College and will be completing a certificate of biodynamic and sustainable beekeeping training in 2018 offered by Spikenard Honeybee Sanctuary in Floyd, VA. She is utilizing her knowledge acquired through homesteading on her 3.5-acre home Brevard, which she is revitalizing with native species in addition to keeping bees and tending to her chickens. April was drawn to SHR thanks to her passion for making a positive difference in the ecology of the Pisgah National Forest area and through our red spruce restoration work with the NC Wildlife Resource Commission and the U.S. Forest Service. April is also a licensed massage therapist and esthetician. In her spare time, she enjoys being in the great outdoors, biking and hiking with her family, along with cooking, baking and knitting at home.

Please join us in welcoming our new teammates to the SHR family!



Carbon and Climate: Forest Management Strategies for Climate Change

Posted Posted in SHR-News

The carbon cycle is a part of our daily lives, although most of us probably wouldn’t realize just how personally it affects us. The carbon cycle is directly linked to the food we eat, the air we breathe, the electricity that powers our lights, televisions, and computers, the fossil fuels that power our cars, even the fertilizer we use in our gardens. Our role in the carbon cycle is important, as we not only are affected by the carbon cycle, but we influence the carbon cycle as well. As we begin to experience some of the predicted effects of climate change, foresters are studying how our forest management decisions influence this dynamic system.

The delicate balance of life on our planet is regulated by innumerable processes and cycles. These cycles, such as our water cycle (evapotranspiration cycle), nutrient cycle, and the carbon cycle, are all dynamic systems whose productivity changes over time, a slow response to changing outside influences. Climate change influences all ecosystem functions, including the carbon cycle. Climate change affects the rate at which carbon is released into the atmosphere and likewise influences the rate at which plants take in, or sequester, atmospheric carbon into their biomass. As forests take up about 30% of the total global land area[1], understanding how forests sequester carbon helps to inform and guide forest management decisions.


The Carbon Cycle and Climate

Carbon is everywhere. We are made of it, we eat it, and our entire civilization is built on carbon. Carbon is the fourth most abundance element in the Universe. Most carbon on earth (about 65,500 billion tons) is stored in rocks. The remaining carbon flows between reservoirs in the carbon cycle, such as the ocean (85%), atmosphere (2%), plants, animals, people, soils (5%) and fossil fuels (8%).[2][3] Changes within these “active” parts of the carbon cycle influence the rate at which carbon is made available or released from other components in the cycle. The cycle through which carbon moves through these reservoirs over millions of years is known as the slow carbon cycle. Carbon moving through biological processes (transpiration by plants, decomposition, etc.) is known as the “fast carbon cycle.” As most cycles in nature do, the carbon cycle on Earth manages to maintain a balance that keeps carbon cycling through these reservoirs, instead of releasing it all into the air or storing it all in rocks.3

Why does the carbon cycle matter to us, and why especially now? Understanding the carbon cycle helps to understand climate change and our role in it. Climate is affected by the carbon cycle. When the sun’s rays penetrate earth’s atmosphere, the warmth from solar radiation is returned to the earth from the atmosphere in the form of heat radiation. Gases in the atmosphere like carbon dioxide (CO2) absorb this heat and radiate the heat energy to the earth’s lower atmosphere and surface.2 When humans release more carbon into the atmosphere in the form of CO2, the atmosphere absorbs more heat radiation from the sun and thereby increases overall surface temperature on earth. For eons the carbon cycle has remained in balance among its various reservoirs, keeping the earth’s temperature balanced over time, like a thermostat. However, humans have disrupted this balance since the Industrial Revolution, releasing carbon at an unprecedented rate. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, CO2 concentrations were at 280 parts per million (ppm); today that number is 387 ppm, a 39% increase2. Our role in altering the balanced system of the carbon cycle is clear – and the activities responsible for this disruption should remain important to us on a daily basis.


Human Impact on the Carbon Cycle

Humans have a significant impact on the carbon cycle predominantly from two activities: burning fossil fuels and deforestation. Fossil fuels are derived from stored carbon. If all the fossil fuels stored in the layers of soils on the planet were left intact without human interference, the carbon within those reservoirs would slowly return into the atmosphere over millions of years, either through volcanic activity or through the slow carbon cycle. When we burn fossil fuels in the form of oil, coal and natural gas, we release enormous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, moving it from the slow carbon cycle to the fast carbon cycle.2 For perspective, the total concentration of carbon stored in rocks is 65,000 billion metric tons; in 2009, humans released 8.4 billion metric tons of carbon by burning fossil fuels. This means in one year, humans burned almost 1/8 of the carbon stored in rocks on the entire planet.

Deforestation plays a large role in the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere as well. Over 30 million acres of forests and woodlands are lost every year due to deforestation. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, 32 million acres of tropical rainforest were cut down each year between 2000 and 2009.7 The primary cause of deforestation is to clear land for livestock and crops including sugar cane, palm oils, and corn production8. It is estimated that more than 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide are released to the atmosphere due to deforestation, mainly the cutting and burning of forests, every year.4 Forests are one of the many “reservoirs” that store carbon on land in the form of plant and animal life. When we cut down a forest, our influence on the carbon cycle increases exponentially. Deforestation removes the plants and trees that otherwise would have sequestered carbon out of the atmosphere into their biomass, reducing the forest as a reservoir for carbon storage. Uprooting stands of trees leaves soils exposed, releasing stored carbon from lower soil layers. In developing nations, these trees and plants are frequently burned, releasing the stored carbon into the atmosphere quickly. Forests store more than 100 times more carbon than the agricultural land typically replacing these removed forests.4


Forest Management and Carbon

Scientists studying management strategies recognize that no single solution is the answer to all challenges, especially within a dynamic system. Chasing this “moving target” – if you will – underscores the importance of diligently monitoring and testing multiple approaches to carbon management in our forests. According to a study conducted in December 2007 called “Climate Change and Forests of the Future: Managing in the Face of Uncertainty,” a mix of both mitigation and adaptive strategies that best suit the conditions of the forest and region should be employed, with flexible approaches that can be modified as conditions change.6

Given the significant role forests play in the carbon cycle, the U.S. Forest Service has created the “Forest Service Strategic Framework for Responding to Climate Change.” 5 The plan contains a comprehensive structure for addressing carbon sequestration and climate change including scientific research, adaptation, mitigation, policy measures, sustainable operations, education and alliances.

Forest Service officials in Monongahela National Forest (MNF) in West Virginia are using this framework to design a comprehensive forest management plan that prescribes specific adaptive and mitigation strategies to address climate change. One of the top priorities of the plan is to restore red spruce to MNF as an adaptive strategy; promoting cooler temperatures, moister conditions, and enhancing ecosystem resiliency will help forests adapt to climate change. Restoring red spruce serves a mitigation strategy to help reduce the effects of climate change by promoting carbon sequestration. The management plan was recently presented at the first joint meeting of the Central and Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiatives (CASRI and SASRI, respectively) at which SHR presented its own spruce restoration program.

We are faced with an unprecedented amount of carbon being introduced to the atmosphere with an almost certain influence on the carbon cycle. Our ability to adapt and mitigate these effects will be determined by the successful application of the appropriate management strategies, thereby reducing our effect on climate change.

Here are a few ways we can reduce our carbon footprint every day:

  • Reduce use of fossil fuels – walk, use public transportation, carpool, combine trips
  • Recycle – recycling reduces the demand for virgin materials to make new products and requires less energy to produce new products from recycled materials than virgin materials.
  • Compost – Composting reduces the amount of material transported to landfills by processing the material at your home. Plus, it provides great fertilizer for your garden!
  • Plant Native – Choosing native plants for your garden improves ecosystem resiliency
  • Reduce consumption of animal products – Reducing meat consumption reduces the demand for forested land for livestock production, thereby reducing deforestation.
  • Choose products for their sustainability value – select products with high sustainability value, like paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
  • Buy Local – purchasing products made locally reduces the amount of fossil fuel burned transporting goods to your door.











Connecting People, Places and Trees: SHR Shares Red Spruce Restoration Best Management Practices at High Elevation Forest Restoration Workshop

Posted Posted in SHR-News

When people aligned in the same mission gather together and work cooperatively towards a common goal, an interconnectivity emerges. Linking pieces of information, relationships and people together begins to form one larger, more valuable picture. Each individual piece of the puzzle is important alone, but when connected, as the great philosopher Aristotle observed, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Demonstrating this philosophical adage, scientists dedicated to the restoration of red spruce in the Central and Southern Appalachian Mountains gathered on November 14-16 in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Southern Appalachian Man and Biosphere Program, the 2017 High Elevation Forest Restoration Workshop brought together members of the Central and Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiatives (CASRI and SASRI, respectively) to learn from one other’s experiences, strengthen their professional connections, and build momentum towards the ultimate goal of restoring high elevation spruce-fir ecosystems to health and vitality. This was the first joint meeting of CASRI and SASRI, marking a new era in cooperation and partnership towards red spruce restoration in the Appalachian Mountains.

During the workshop, Southern Highlands Reserve Executive Director Kelly Holdbrooks shared SHR’s expertise on red spruce propagation with colleagues in forest restoration. Director of Horticulture Eric Kimbrel also attended the workshop. In turn, Kelly and Eric learned best management practices shared by soil scientists, botanists, forest ecologists and others. The sessions spanned a variety of topics, including a history of 30 years of spruce restoration, soil conditions of the spruce-fir ecosystems, forest hydrologic conditions that increase interconnectivity of microorganisms to increase red spruce resilience, red spruce adaptive traits to stresses like climate change, endangered species and fragmentation of habitat.

Throughout the sessions, a common theme emerged: disconnected fragments of populations result in a decline in the health and resilience of an ecosystem. Red spruce populations in the Southern Appalachian Mountains were once connected to larger populations in the northeast. Following the stresses of heavy logging and wildfires in the early 20th century, spruce-fir forest populations decreased by 90%, leaving the remaining spruce-fir populations fragmented and relegated to only higher elevations. According to SASRI, spruce-fir ecosystems are considered the second most endangered forested ecosystems in the United States.

Due to fragmentation, these few existing populations are likely maladapted to stressors such as pests and changes in climate. Given their preference for higher elevations and predicted weakened resistance to stressors, fluctuations in temperature and climate could threaten the health of spruce-fir ecosystems more dramatically than other species, as red spruce simply have nowhere else to migrate: they’re already at the top of the mountains here in the Southern Appalachians.

The dangers of disconnection affect not only the trees; within the spruce-fir forest ecosystem many species are considered threatened or endangered. The federally-threatened Cheat Mountain Salamander’s spruce-fir habitat was divided by Three Mile Trail in Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, potentially exposing the salamander to dry, hot conditions should it wish to cross. The trail is thought to separate two populations, each remaining on their respective sides to remain in the cool, moist conditions essential to the salamander’s ability to breathe through its skin and mouth. Thanks to the efforts of an organization called Friends of the 500th, in 2016 an underpass was created to promote a connection between the two populations. Scientists are assessing the salamander’s movements through the region this fall to determine the effect the bridge is making for the populations.

Throughout all life systems on this small, blue planet, we find countless examples of symbiotic and mutualist relationships where plants and animals work together to increase their likelihood of survival.  Nature has perfected “co-evolution,” fostering mutual benefit to species that work together. These relationships occur within the boundaries of the same species, between one or more species in the same kingdom, and even between species belonging to different kingdoms. The innate intelligence of nature orders life to work together.

Within the human realm, when we connect with our cohorts to build bridges between individuals and organizations and remove barriers to cooperation, we increase the likelihood our visions will survive and our goals will be achieved. SHR is honored to be a part of the cooperative efforts to restore spruce-fir ecosystems to the mountains of the Southern Appalachian region through SASRI, CASRI and other partnerships that are emerging around this cause. After all, working together is the only way our planet will survive, be the forest, or the trees, or its people.

If you would like to join the many hands working to restore red spruce in our region, there are many ways you can help. Donations to SHR’s red spruce restoration program helps to raise spruce from seed to tree. A gift of $100 fosters the germination of 500 native seeds, a gift of $500 fosters the propagation of 10 red spruce trees from cone to seedling, and a gift of $1,000 nurtures 20 mature red spruce trees planted on public land. As a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, 100% of your donation to SHR is tax deductible. Learn more about SHR’s activities on our website at Learn more about SASRI at

Red Spruce Restoration Program Grows New Roots: Partners in Restoration Plant 900 Red Spruce Near Black Balsam

Posted Posted in SHR-News

On September 18th and 19th, representatives from the Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative (SASRI) gathered in Black Balsam to restore red spruce on public lands in Western NC. Over 900 young red spruce trees were carried on foot and horseback by dozens of volunteers and members of SASRI to their new home deep in the woods on public lands. In two days, these dedicated conservationists made at least seven trips down the Flat Laurel Branch Trail, some logging 14 miles for the day. The red spruce trees were grown by Southern Highlands Reserve as part of a larger long-term effort to restore red spruce to its high-elevation native habitat on public lands in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains.

Typically found at high elevation mountaintops in our region, red spruce are keystone species in the endangered Spruce-Fir ecosystems. These ecosystems, native to our region, are the second most endangered ecosystems in the U.S. A once-thriving ecosystem, Spruce-Fir forests were decimated by the logging activities and wildfires of the early 1900’s. Composed primarily of red spruce and Frasier fir, these conifer-based ecosystems are home to endangered species like the Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel, and species that are threatened or are of special concern such as the Northern Saw-whet Owl, the Black-capped Chickadee, the Rock Shrew and the Pigmy Salamander. SASRI members have identified the areas of land in the Southern Appalachian Mountains that are the highest priority for restoration and will be coordinating other restoration activity days like those at Black Balsam this past September.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Sue Cameron was thrilled to see this milestone accomplished: “I am so excited about the successful completion of the first spruce restoration project in the Southern Appalachians at Black Balsam. It was made possible by the hard work of dedicated professionals and hard core volunteers and is a testament to the value of the SASRI partnership. What excites me most is the knowledge that we can make a difference to species living on the edge on our highest mountains. I see spruce restoration as one of the most important steps we can take in recovering the Carolina northern flying squirrel.”

Human intervention can have catastrophic effects on an ecosystem, which is a delicate balance of botanical and animal interactions and systems, referred to by many as the “web of life.” The restoration site was selected by the U.S. Forest Service to help support a population of endangered Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel, a species that relies on the fungi that grow in the soil where red spruce grow. Likewise, the red spruce depends on the squirrel for its maintenance of the fungi. These species work together in a symbiotic relationship; without a keystone species like the Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel, the ecosystem would fall apart.

Partnership is a critical component of the red spruce restoration program’s success. SASRI itself is a collaboration-based organization, bringing partners in conservation around the table working towards a common goal: restoration of Spruce-Fir ecosystems. The organization is comprised of federal, state and nonprofit organizations including the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, The Nature Conservancy, SHR, and others. Each organization brings a specific set of talents and resources to reach the goals laid out in SASRI’s red spruce restoration plan. As SHR Executive Director Kelly Holdbrooks explains, “This restoration project is the result of the years of hard work completed by SASRI, a commitment from organizations, agencies, and volunteers to the ecosystems of the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains, and a great example of collaboration and partnerships in conservation.”

For its part, SHR will grow red spruce trees that will be planted on the lands prioritized for restoration by SASRI. in addition to growing thousands of red spruce in its Nursery Complex, SHR maintains an active role in all aspects of red spruce restoration including collecting cones, performing education and outreach, organizing restoration days, and mobilizing volunteers.

Now with momentum underway, new partnerships in red spruce restoration are emerging. Last year, SHR entered into a formal agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to support SHR’s activities to grow red spruce. Earlier this year, SHR was awarded an Open Space Preservation Grant from the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area (BRNHA) to support SHR’s role in SASRI, including preparing red spruce seeds for planting, potting up red spruce from smaller pots into larger ones, and to mobilize volunteers to help with these tasks.

With the support of the grant provided by the BRNHA as a new partner in red spruce restoration, a partnership emerged between SHR and the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Waightstill-Avery Chapter, who eagerly jumped at the opportunity to get their hands in the soil and helped with the propagation of red spruce red spruce trees from cone collection, to germination, to growing them to small mature trees that withstand planting in a mixed forest canopy. In addition, they served as educational docents during the planting days in September, sharing information about red spruce restoration and its importance and telling stories of the DAR’s involvement in red spruce restoration for nearly a century. Local non-profit The Pisgah Conservancy also has recently partnered with SHR in red spruce restoration, helping to call volunteers to action in red spruce restoration activities.

Thanks to the work of Haywood Community College’s Forestry Program and students from Warren Wilson College, over spruce trees have now been planted on the restoration site near Black Balsam. SHR Executive Director Kelly Holdbrooks commented, “I am overwhelmed with gratitude to all the volunteers and SASRI members that helped make this restoration planting a huge success. Working together with others for hours carrying red spruce trees on a rocky and wet trail reminded me of how much I love my job and how fortunate we are to have these forests.”

The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” applies also to raising a forest: without the cooperative nature of SASRI, resulting in conservation professionals joining forces across organizational boundaries, and without their commitment continuing for many years, or their ability to enroll others to the cause, this forest would not have been planted. The forest itself stands as testimony to the value of collaboration towards a common goal, conservation and restoration of ecosystems vital to the survival of our natural heritage.




Gardening for a Changing Climate: How Shifts in Climate Should Guide our Conservation Practices

Posted Posted in SHR-News

The onset of hurricane and fire season this year has brought an alarming degree of destruction to communities across the planet and disruption to the delicate balance of ecosystems. Record-breaking precipitation levels, fires, storm intensity, and storm frequency parallel the predictions of climate scientists for the past two decades: as oceans warm, we will observe increased storm activity, frequency, and intensity. In light of the devastation of recent extreme weather events from Hurricane Harvey and Irma on such a harrowing scale, we ask ourselves: are we powerless to stop this kind of catastrophic damage from happening again? What can we do at home to reduce our ecological footprint and adapt to the predicted long-term weather conditions? Further, what can we do to help strengthen the resiliency of our ecosystems and empower others to leave this earth better than we found it for future generations?

First, it is important to draw distinctions among a few terms that are often used in the discussion of climate interchangeably, namely: weather, climate, global warming and climate change. Although often interchanged, each term’s meaning varies in terms of geographic scale and time. Weather refers to atmospheric conditions in short periods of time in specific areas, causing events such as rain, thunderstorms, winds, and flash floods. Climate refers to long-term, large-scale trends in weather patterns, over seasons and larger geographic area. According to the NASA’s Global Climate Change website, “global warming refers to the upward temperature trend across the entire Earth since the early 20th century, and most notably since the late 1970’s due to the increase in fossil fuel emissions since the industrial revolution.” The term “climate change” refers to “a broad range of global phenomena created predominantly by burning fossil fuels, which add heat-trapping gasses to Earth’s atmosphere. These phenomena include the increased temperature trends described by global warming, but also encompass changes such as sea level rise, ice mass loss in Greenland, Antarctica, the Arctic and mountain glaciers worldwide; shifts in flower/plant blooming and extreme weather events” (NASA, 2017).

The first climate change model was presented nearly 50 years ago by Syukuro Manabe and Richard T. Wetherald. In their groundbreaking 1967 paper, they defined the complex interrelationships that regulate weather and climate, describing the dynamic relationships among components of various atmospheric conditions. Specifically, the model addresses the interrelationships among carbon dioxide, atmospheric temperature and ocean temperature (Siegel, 2017). According to their findings, an increase in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere would result in warming atmospheric temperatures, thereby increasing warming ocean temperatures as well.

Unfortunately, CO2 levels have increased significantly since the Industrial Revolution. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in 1800, CO2 levels were at 280 parts per million (ppm). In 2010, levels were recorded at 390 ppm, the highest amounts in 20 million years. By 2050, we are on track to see a 500 ppm concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. By 2050, the IPCC estimates the average temperature of the earth will rise between 1.5 – 4 degrees Celsius or 4-9 degrees Fahrenheit (Porter, 2017). With the increase of atmospheric temperatures, ocean temperatures are predicted to rise too. As oceans warm, the evapotranspiration process increases, causing the increase of precipitation, frequency, and severity of storm events. Herein lies how global warming contributes towards long-term shifts in climate.


Although the shifts in climate and the resulting phenomena seem to be far out of our sphere of influence or management, there are actions we can take in our homes and gardens to minimize the effects of climate change.


  • Evaluate best management practices for water mitigation. Overall, gardeners should adapt to climate change by incorporating water mitigation strategies that account for increased rate and volume of precipitation. To account for the increasing rate at which water is reaching our gardens and homes, incorporate measures that allow for greater absorption of water, such as mulch, compost and other absorptive ground covers. In the hardscape, permeable pavers allow water to pass through driveways and sidewalks quickly, increasing absorption by the soil below and reducing storm water runoff. Further, gardeners should address the direction the water sheet moves across the landscape by incorporating drainage systems, swales, and hyra-humps.


  • Reduce your carbon footprint. The majority of the scientific community agrees these trends in climate change are likely due human activity as it relates to burning fossil fuel and the resulting carbon emissions into the atmosphere (Higgins 2017). Therefore, we must do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint at home and in our gardens in addition for accounting for increased precipitation. SHR is a partner of the American Public Gardens Association’s YOUtopia program, which encourages gardens to monitor their ecological footprint in the context of water conservation, energy efficiency, and waste reduction. Homeowners can make strides towards reducing their ecological footprint is by phasing out turf lawns and replacing them with gardens. With the right plant selection, gardens can help reduce overall water consumption. Energy consumption can also be reduced since gardens do not need to mowed like lawns do. According to Sara Via, a climate change specialist with the University of Maryland, lawn equipment emits a significant amount of carbon pollution, especially gas-powered lawnmowers and weed eaters. Further, the emissions from lawn equipment are not dealt with to the same extent other gas-powered motors are. Consider using rechargeable lawn equipment or push-technology in your lawn as much as possible (Higgins, 2017).


  • Evaluate fertilizer. Gardeners should evaluate their use of fertilizer as a way to reduce our carbon footprint. Fertilizer emits pollution as it breaks down, especially chemical varieties. Further, many fertilizers are cancer-causing and endocrine disruptors, even tiny amounts of them can prevent our hormones from functioning normally (Healthy Yard Project, 2017). The first step to nourishing your garden properly is to conduct a soil test to identify nutrient imbalances. This information will help determine the appropriate amendments for the soil conditions. Using compost instead of conventional fertilizer is a climate-friendly option to nourish your garden and vastly reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. In addition to reducing the need for fertilizer, compost does double-duty as a water mitigation strategy, increasing absorption rates while retaining moisture through dry spells. When we grow organically, we reduce the need for chemical fertilizers and therefore reduce emissions there as well (Higgins, 2017).


  • Prioritize native plants in your garden. Plant selection should be evaluated to increase garden resiliency, biodiversity and pollinator value. In his book “Bringing Nature Home,” Doug Tallamy discusses the importance of biodiversity as it relates to climate change: “it is biodiversity that will suck the carbon out of the air and sequester it into living plants” (Tallamy, 2007). Selecting native plants and trees for your garden supports healthy insect populations, providing food for insects and other wildlife.  In turn, healthy insect communities support birds, bats, butterflies and other pollinators, making our small corner of the world more resilient to climate change and reducing potential negative consequences towards our fragile web of life. Gardeners may need to select plants that have a similar range of geographic zones and evaluate neighboring growth zones as well. Selecting native plants can minimize the threat of invasive species and maintain the important pollinator connections that may be disrupted from climate change. Select a wide variety of native plants to increase the overall biodiversity of your garden, thereby increasing your garden’s resiliency from extreme weather events and conditions (National Wildlife Federation, 2017).


With appropriate selection of native plants, the implementation of water mitigation strategies, and a commitment to reduce fossil fuel and chemical amendment use, we can successfully adapt to a changing climate with gardens that thrive and sustain us.



“Gardening for Life.” Website based on Doug Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home.

“Gardening for Climate Change.” The National Wildlife Federation. Retrieved from the web address: on October 7, 2017.

Higgins, Adrian. “How gardeners can combat climate change.” The Washington Post. April 20, 2017

Siegel, Ethan. “The First Climate Model Turns 50, And Predicted Global Warming Almost Perfectly.” Forbes. March 15, 2017.

Porter, James. “Climate Change and Coral Reefs.” (January, 2017). Presentation retrieved from the web address: on October 6, 2017).

The Great Healthy Yard Project. (Visited October 5, 2017).

“What’s in a name? Weather, global warming and climate change.” National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Retrieved from the web address: on October 6, 2017.






Gardener’s Corner – Fall Edition

Posted Posted in SHR-News

As the summer comes to a close for fall, we prepare for winter by helping the gardens go into a hibernation of their own, tucked into their beds and ready for a long, dormant season.

Throughout the year, SHR staff prepare for the next generation of native plants to adorn the landscape. After bearing summertime fruit, plenty of seeds are ready for harvest throughout the gardens. Our gardeners are busy collecting seeds from our native plant collection, storing the genetic programming for the coming years. Seeds are stored in the Chestnut Lodge, each labeled to identify species, date and location they were collected. This information will then be added to our accession records once these seeds germinate and are planted back into the gardens. SHR takes great pride in our meticulous data collection as this is the lifeblood of the landscape; knowing where we come from will help steer us where we are going in the future.

SHR co-founder Betty Balentine endearingly calls her role “editor of the garden” in SHR’s film Genius Loci: Southern Highlands Reserve as all gardeners know weeding is a year-round venture! Our gardeners are likewise busy being editors, removing what doesn’t belong, providing an essential part of the process as we make way for what we want to be growing in our garden landscape. While we remove what doesn’t work, we’re adding new plants to the landscape to encourage growth of what does work for the garden master plan.

With the occurrence of extreme weather events this summer, SHR staff are evaluating water mitigation measures in both the short and long term. Given the increased intensity and volume of water running off the landscape from storm events, we are implementing water mitigation best management practices to keep water on site and increase infiltration. These green infrastructure measures slow down the sheet flow of water as it moves across the landscape. Examples of some best management practices we are implementing are: dry creek beds, hydra-humps, swales, berms, and drainage systems.

Fall is a great time to prepare lawn areas for the next growing seasons. As you may know, SHR doesn’t have much lawn area in its gardens; however, the sections that do have turf are an essential part of the garden’s design. In the Wildflower Labyrinth, the ring of low-lying turf contrasts beautifully with the flourishing labyrinth, full of a wide spectrum of colors, sights, and smells. The nearby Betty Bench area, surrounded by low-growing turf, then provides a soft respite for the senses. Over-seeding the lawn areas and paying special attention to any bare spots will have it looking great by spring.

Fall is a key time to remove dead plant material and make way for spring growth. Our maintenance activities are focused on cutting down herbaceous perennials and annuals, removing plant material to make way for new fresh growth to emerge in the springtime creating a clean aesthetic for the winter bones of the gardens to be enjoyed. These plants have had their season and it is time to make way for the new neighbors to move in after winter. Debris and leaf removal is also important. We gather our leaves, shred them into mulch and place them back into the gardens. By mulching leaves, we speed up the natural process of composting that occurs within the garden and place those nutrients back into the soil. Ensuring soil beds are full of nutrient-rich material is essential to encourage root growth through the winter, a critical part of plants’ growing cycles. Further, the fresh mulch reduces weed growth in the early spring months.


Lastly, we are taking a deep breath and enjoying the fruits of our labor for the year, enjoying the fall color and mother nature’s last hoorah before the dormancy of winter.




Soils: Nourishing Gardens from the Ground Up

Posted Posted in SHR-News

Soils are the backbone of the landscape, nurturing gardens from the ground up. As we transition from warm late summer months into the harvest of fall, now is the time to evaluate your garden’s soil conditions and plan for next year. The health of your gardens is determined by the health of your soils. Understanding soil dynamics and the soil type in your backyard will ensure the highest yield for your vegetable gardens and a flourishing, flowering landscape come springtime.

Soils are the hub of life on our planet, the depot through which nature transports and transforms nutrients, air, water and carbon through to their destinations. The nutrient cycle is the movement of organic and inorganic matter into the production of living matter. Decomposition, another essential life cycle, transforms the living material above soils back into the raw inorganic materials that become the nutrients for the next generation of plants.

These systems are another example of ecosystem services: the valuable processes conducted by nature that benefit people and wildlife. These benefits can be direct or indirect, small or large. When we construct our built environment to include green infrastructure, we support systems that make our communities more inhabitable.

The rate of decomposition and nutrient cycles are determined by other conditions like soil type, weather, soil structure and soil pH. Soil types vary by the concentration of sand, silt, and clay present in the soil substrate. The major mineral particles are responsible for rate at which nutrient cycles and other cycles, such as gas exchange and water movement, can occur. Sandy soils have larger particles and therefore greater spaces between them. Water flows easily through these soils; however, nutrients are not held as easily as when silt and clay are present to hold water and nutrients. Loamy soils are ideal for many plants as they offer good aeration, balanced water retention to draining and nutrient retention.

Balancing the pH of your garden soil is an essential part of ensuring the vitality of your garden. Soil pH influences the availability of nutrients for plants to absorb in the root systems. Depending on the acidity or alkalinity of the soil, some nutrients may be more easily dissolved in the soil solution than others; therefore, selecting the proper plants for your soil’s pH will influence the garden yield.

Another way soil pH plays a major role in nutrition and well being of plants is on the growth and productivity of microorganisms. Just like in the human biome, bacteria are necessary to help break down organic matter and increase nutrient availability. On the extreme ends of the pH spectrum, within either highly acidic or highly alkaline soils, bacterial growth can be hindered, resulting in either too much or too little nutrients available for plant uptake. For these reasons, it’s important to test your soil pH to learn what types of soil amendments are needed in your garden ecosystem to maintain optimal nutrient availability and bacterial growth.

Soils on the Southern Highlands Reserve are typical of high elevation mountaintops in Western North Carolina — a low pH or highly acidic. In order to correct this issue, our gardeners add pelletized lime which dissolves quickly, neutralizing soil immediately. Regular testing is required to ensure pH levels are maintained. Due to the geology beneath the soil substrate, different rock formations cause the acidity to rise in the soil throughout the year, requiring neutralizing pelletized lime to be added on a yearly basis. Contact your local county Cooperative Extension Office for soil ph testing kits and guidance on the best ways to test.

Late summer and early fall are the ideal times to ensure garden soils are prepared and ready for the spring. Add soil amendments in the fall and incorporate them back into the soil to ensure proper aeration and nutrient cycling. Be sure to cover tilled earth with mulch and compost so as to not leave it exposed to weather conditions; harsh conditions can compact soil, reducing aeration and slowing the nutrient cycle. You may also plant a cover crop where applicable to add nutrients to the next year’s cycle and keep weeds out. Plants in the brassica family can be left in the ground over winter to help deter soil pests. With careful planning and preparation, your garden will be ready to wake up healthy in the springtime and nourish a bountiful growing season.

Gardener’s Corner: Summer Edition

Posted Posted in SHR-News

With the onset of the warm summer months, the gardens are at their fullest and our gardeners are busy adding new native plants to our garden rooms and maintaining them daily, preventing pests and weeds from encroaching into the landscape.

We are pleased to see a positive impact on the gardens from the implementation of our most recent water mitigation best management practices. By controlling the direction of water flow and the rate at which water moves across the landscape, we are able to minimize the need for maintenance following heavy precipitation events. We’re adding mulch and soil to low areas that have been washed out by rainfall. In the Vaseyi Creek, additional rock will slow the flow of water and prevent further washout. The increase of intensity and frequency of precipitation events is a by-product of climate change. By planning ahead and implementing measures now, we mitigate the negative effects of climate change at the Reserve.

One of our summertime priority best management practices is removing Azalea Gall from all azaleas, especially the flame azaleas. Azalea Gall is a fungal growth that is caused by a wind-borne fungus whose spores overwinter in bark and buds, emerging in the spring and summer months. To treat the azalea, the galls are removed by hand and disposed of in the trash. To keep it from spreading, the gall should not be returned to the landscape by tossing further into the forest. Although unsightly, the gall doesn’t cause any significant harm to the plant. Gall removal helps ensure healthy flower production and reduces weight stress on branches.

The overarching goal of our planting activities this season is to enhance the overall appearance of the Reserve and increase our plant collection using the original Master Plan to guide our efforts. We’re planting in all the garden rooms of the Core Park, including the Maple Entrance, Green Roof Garden, Woodland Glade, Azalea Walk, The Wildflower Labyrinth, The Vaseyi Pond, and The Viewsite.  At the Viewsite, we’re adding plants to the sunken gardens. At the end of the Woodland Glade Trail, a new collection of wood poppies engulf the forest floor underneath a Fraser magnolia. Native plants added to the landscape this summer include Wood Poppy, Creeping Phlox, Purple Coneflower, Texas Tickseed, Golden Seal, Trillium, Fire Pink, St. John’s Wort, Mountain Mint, Red Salvia, Bee Balm, Doll’s Eyes, Chokecherry, Christmas and Wood Fern.

This year has seen a number of new permanent installation in the gardens. Those attending the spring and early summer Visitor’s Days got to experience the new locust boardwalk leading from the Vasyei Trail into the Vaseyi Pond, inviting guests out to the expansive garden rooms at the Viewsite. From the Viewsite, visitors can now enjoy a new locust arbor leading into the Yellowwood Trail, “pointing towards heaven” as Founder Betty Balentine commented. We look forward to visitors getting a chance to experience these new installations.

In the Nursery Complex, we’re getting prepared for our Summer Plant Sale on Friday, August 25th, potting up our native azalea plant collection and other native species into larger pots for gardeners to take home from the sale. In Nursery Complex, we are expanding the areas surrounding the greenhouses to provide more space and better conditions for azaleas. Throughout the year, nursery staff are potting up red spruce for public land restoration projects. With spring at a close, fertilization activities were complete in June, allowing us to focus on maintenance and watering.

Maintenance activities are at a high during summer months in order to remain ahead of the curve. We are diligently pruning and cleaning up of the beds and inspecting daily for pest control. During the warmer months, wildlife is active in the gardens and the need for pest control measures are at their height. We spray deer and rabbit repellent to prevent them from consuming our plant collection. To prepare for next year’s growing season, we’re collecting woodland wildflower seeds such as Bloodroot and Wood Poppy and planting them.

In the upper elevations of the Reserve above the Chestnut Lodge, our vegetable and flower garden known as the Sky Garden is producing summer veggies and flowers heartily. The founders and staff are enjoying the summer’s bounty of squash, zucchini, and tomatoes ripened by the sun and enriched with the forest soil. May your summer gardens be bountiful and beautiful as well.


“Women of the Woods” Write New Chapter in a Multi-Generational Story of Conservation in Partnership with Southern Highlands Reserve

Posted Posted in SHR-News

The Waighstill Avery Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) have played a role in conservation spanning over 100 years in Western North Carolina, from a pre-war forest once forgotten and now found, to nurturing the future of spruce-fir forests in our region today. Once carpeted with red spruce and fir, our high elevation mountain landscapes now bear warning of the decline of these endangered ecosystems. In partnership with numerous federal, regional and local organizations, the ladies of the DAR and Southern Highlands Reserve recently took action to restore these forests, one seedling at a time.

Over two days this spring, 28 volunteers from the Waighstill Avery DAR chapter traveled to Southern Highlands Reserve (SHR) to repot nearly 600 spruce seedlings and prepare new seeds for planting, cleaning the entire collection of red spruce cones in SHR’s nursery. Their dedication to red spruce restoration is a part of a much longer story of conservation spanning generations.[1]

Last October, the Waighstill Avery Chapter lead a ceremony dedicating a long-forgotten red spruce forest originally planted by the DAR in the 1940’s. Conservation was a long-time pillar of the organization and 50,000 red spruce trees were planted near Devil’s Courthouse off the Blue Ridge Parkway by the NC DAR shortly before World War II began. With government resources focused on the war effort, the forest fell out of priority and out of memory. Despite the absence of maintenance on this young forest, it grew anyway; life found a way to survive on the rocky, shallow soil of the forest floor.

It was only by serendipity decades later that members of the NC DAR uncovered a sketch of the forest planting and the quest to find the forgotten forest began. Despite the lack of a or clear description of where this forgotten forest was planted, the DAR ladies were committed to finding the forest and nevertheless, they persisted. With the help of forest historians and the dedication of these ladies, the forest was found and marked with a special commemoration ceremony last October.

In yet another series of fortuitous events, SHR learned about the commemoration of the DAR’s red spruce forest as its staff were preparing to write a grant proposal to the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area (BRNHA) to support SHR’s red spruce restoration project. Upon learning about the DAR’s commitment to conservation and red spruce restoration, SHR invited the Waightsill Avery chapter to be an official partner in its grant application and commit volunteer hours in its Nursery Complex to help with propagation activities, like potting red spruce into larger pots and cleaning seeds to prepare them for planting. Without hesitation, the DAR chapter wholeheartedly agreed to help.

The DAR would be yet another partner added to a long list of partners dedicated to restoring the health and vitality of spruce-fir forests, the second most endangered ecosystem in the U.S. Southern Highlands Reserve is part of a multi-stakeholder effort united to help restore the endangered spruce-fir ecosystem to the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Recognizing the need to protect the habitat of the endangered Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel and many other species by planting red spruce back onto public lands, SHR and other agencies formed a partnership called the Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative (SASRI) to help identify and prioritize areas for spruce to be planted. SHR is growing spruce from seed for these priority restoration areas.

In order to fulfill its role in SASRI and grow thousands of red spruce for these projects, SHR sought the help of not only the many hands in the greenhouse, but also the support of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area whose grant programs help to preserve the natural and cultural heritage of the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains. Thanks to the support of the DAR and numerous other partnerships, SHR was awarded a Preservation Grant from BRNHA to support its red spruce propagation activities. It was because of the unique partnerships SHR brought to the table, like the DAR, that the tapestry of conservation began to weave together a story of environmental conservation spanning many years.

Together, these 28 representatives of the DAR who gave freely of their time to something larger than themselves have now collectively built upon conservation efforts started by their predecessors in the DAR so many years ago when the forest first was planted. Like torchbearers being handed the flame of passion for conservation, the DAR’s commitment to our forests lead them to forge new alliances in the present, nurturing the momentum towards a more sustainable future. Their commitment to conservation will leave a lasting legacy in the form of needles, branches, and cones for future generations to enjoy.

The nearly 600 red spruce trees repotted by the DAR will be planted on public lands in Western North Carolina and will contribute to the long-term effort to restore red spruce to our high-elevation forests.


[1] A full-length article about the DAR’s “Forgotten Forest” can be found on SHR’s website: