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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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:


Where the Wild Things Are: Annual Symposium Addresses the Role of the Wild in Garden Design, Invasive Species Management and Human History

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On May 13th, 2017, SHR’s Founders and staff welcomed a sold out crowd to learn from renowned experts in horticulture at our seventh Native Plant Symposium. Following a brief welcome by one of SHR’s Founders Robert Balentine and Executive Director Kelly Holdbrooks, keynote speaker Claudia West gave an engaging lecture based on her recent publication co-authored with Thomas Ranier, Planting in a Post-Wild World.

Claudia discussed the unique challenge landscape designers and gardeners face of bringing ecological value back into the urban landscapes and home gardens. She then identified the differences between the way plants grow in the wild versus the way they grow in nature and how our landscape designs can minimize maintenance resources by more closely mimicking the way nature “covers the ground.” Combining her innate intellectual curiosity with her dynamic delivery and compassion for nature, Claudia captivated the minds of symposium guests as she demonstrated how employing principles of the wildness into garden design and management can result in a thriving plant community that requires less work and creates an aesthetically pleasing outcome. Following her lecture, Claudia welcomed guests in the Chestnut Lodge library where she signed her books that were available for symposium guests to purchase.

After a brief break, the symposium addressed another kind of wild currently being managed by humans everywhere: the continuing threat of invasive species. Gary Kauffman, Plant Ecologist and Botanist for the USDA Forest Service, informed symposium guests why we should be concerned about the distribution and spread of invasive species. While passing around real-life examples of invasive species, Gary shared management strategies on how to control and contain those species that pose the greatest threat to the native ecology of Southern Appalachian forests. Gary also provided insight on which species were the most harmful to our landscape, such as ones that came in after a fire in Linville. To help empower listeners, Gary discussed best management practices for control and eradication of invasive species.

The symposium wrapped up its morning lecture series with a lively presentation from botanical illustrator Linda Fraser. Known for her work as the cover illustration on Allan Armitage’s book “Of Naked Ladies and Forget-Me-Nots: The Stories Behind the Common Names Our Favorite Plants,” Linda elicited a giggle from the audience as she shared her interpretation of the botanical illustration on the cover. With leaves folded crisscrossed at the lower half of the stem, this “Naked Lady” on the cover was drawn with an implied gesture of modesty. Befitting the larger theme of the lecture, the cover art example demonstrated the role botanical illustration played in humanity’s connection with nature throughout history. Linda reviewed the history of botanical illustration from 1450 BC to present day, highlighting the many ways plants were incorporated in the paintings, woodcuts, engravings and print. Art provided not only a way for people to connect with nature, but created an opportunity for plants to be classified as well.

Following a catered lunch by Randevu, symposium guests separated into two tour groups, each led by one of SHR’s founders and an SHR staff member. As misty spring clouds moved through our high-elevation gardens, a serendipitous contrast appeared: the grey backdrop of the day made colors on the blooming flowers that much more vibrant and bright. The magenta-purple compound flowers of Rhododendron maximum beckoned guests to enter the gardens through the Maple Entrance. On the Vaseyi Trail, a few Rhododendron vaseyi were still in bloom, showing off both stages of their development, with flowers and bright green emerging leaves present at the same time.

As guests departed, a native plant grown at SHR was given to each symposium in observance of National Public Gardens Day. Coordinated by the American Public Gardens Association, National Public Gardens Day is celebrated by public gardens across the country to raise awareness to the importance of “building vibrant, relevant gardens committed to community enrichment and environmental responsibility through community engagement, sustainable practices and conservation.” Recognizing the importance of shining a spotlight on the role gardens play in communities everywhere, SHR continues to participate in this important endeavor to acknowledge public gardens for their role in conservation and education.

Celebrating National Pollinator Week at Home and in Your Garden

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Although pollinators are busy year-round, the third week in June is celebrated as National Pollinator Week, this year falling on June 19-25, 2017. If you’ve eaten today or enjoyed the view in your gardens, you’ll understand why people dedicate a whole week to celebrating pollinators: they provide invaluable services most of us take for granted every day.

Pollination is the process by which pollen, is moved from flower to flower by animals and insects such as birds, bats, butterflies, beetles, and bees or by other mammals such as humans, or even the wind. When pollen is transferred from one plant to another, genetic material is also moved, leading to fertilization and successful fruit production. This simple yet essential transportation system accounts for forty billion dollars’ worth of agricultural products annually according to the Pollinator Partnership.

Pollination is included in a long list of what humans consider “ecosystem services,” or work that the forces of nature perform that sustain all life on earth. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) includes pollination in a list of other priceless services provided by ecosystems, such as clean air and water made possible through the evapotranspiration process providing purification, flood control offered by marshes, dunes and other riparian, soil enriched with nutrients made available through the process of decomposition, and more. Despite our dependence on these processes, we take them for granted every day. Celebrating these ecosystems through special days set aside for observation helps us appreciate these priceless services provided by nature.

In 1997, the U.S. Senate U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior, the US Senate designated National Pollinator Week to address declining pollinator populations that are vital to our agricultural systems as well as ecosystems services. The Pollinator Partnership estimates that “worldwide, roughly 1,000 plants grown for food, beverages, fibers, spices, and medicines all need to be pollinated by animals in order to produce the goods on which we depend.” Despite our dependence on the services provided by pollinators, there is evidence that pollinator species are disappearing from their natural areas and evidence of their decline in managed areas as well.

Unfortunately, 2017 marks a disturbing milestone for pollinators: in January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the rusty patch bumblebee as an endangered species, the first designation for bee species in the continental U.S. (NPR). In 2016, a U.N.-sponsored report concluded from 3,000 sources of scientific research that nearly 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species are facing extinction. Given the fact about 75% of the world’s crops depend on pollination for food, it is imperative we take action at home and in our communities to protect pollinator species from further decline.

During National Pollinator Week, environmental organizations across the U.S. like Southern Highlands Reserve help to bring awareness to the plight of pollinators and promote their protection. Here’s what you can do to help support pollinators at home:

  • Select plants that attract pollinators and are native to your area, especially plants that provide food for pollinators at all stages of life, larval and adult
  • Reduce lawn areas and increase flower beds
  • Plant milkweed for monarchs and other butterfly species
  • Purchase local produce and select organic when possible
  • Reduce the use of pesticides in your garden and lawn
  • Volunteer at your local botanical garden and other pollinator friendly groups

The next bite you enjoy, take a moment to thank a pollinator.



Pollinator Partnership:

Environmental Protection Agency:

National Public Radio (NPR):

National Public Radio (NPR):


Southern Highlands Reserve Awarded a $16,000 Open Space Preservation Grant from the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area to Restore Red Spruce in Western North Carolina

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Southern Highlands Reserve (SHR) is honored to announce that it has been awarded the Open Space Preservation Grant from the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area (BRNHA). SHR will use this $16,000 grant to help restore red spruce to endangered spruce-fir ecosystems on public lands in Western North Carolina.

BRNHA is a nonprofit organization charged with preserving, interpreting, developing, and celebrating the rich and unique natural and cultural heritage in the 25-county Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. This year, the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership awarded 21 grants totaling $180,000 to help support projects across the North Carolina mountains and foothills, focusing on craft, music, natural heritage, Cherokee culture, and agricultural traditions. These five facets of the region’s heritage earned the 25 counties of Western North Carolina a Congressional designation as the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area in 2003.

“These grant awards will support community projects across Western North Carolina,” said Angie Chandler, Executive Director of BRNHA. “By spotlighting our cultural traditions and natural wonders, we help sustain these assets, build community pride, draw more visitors, and grow the regional economy.”

Grant funding will be used to support SHR’s red spruce restoration activities including seed collection, spruce propagation in SHR’s Nursery Complex, tree planting, public outreach, volunteer management, and project management. Restoring red spruce to Western North Carolina will help sustain the integrity of habitat and wildlife populations, sustain the priceless ecological services red spruce helps to provide, and protect the scenic and natural resources that support the tourism economy in Western North Carolina.

Spruce-fir forests of the Southern Blue Ridge ecoregion have been in decline for more than 100 years primarily due to logging activity and wildfires that compounded their inability to recover from human disturbance. These high-elevation spruce-fir “cloud forests” are considered the second-most endangered ecosystems in the United States and are home to species of conservation concern such as spruce-fir moss spider, the Carolina northern flying squirrel, the northern saw-whet owl, brown creeper, black-capped chickadee, and several salamanders.

SHR welcomes community members to get involved with its red spruce restoration activities. Please contact SHR at to become a volunteer. To donate to the Reserve and support spruce restoration activities, visit and follow the link to “Support the Reserve.” For more information about Southern Highlands Reserve and its role in the Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative, please visit

For more information about the BRNHA, visit

Library of American Landscape History Presents Betty and Robert Balentine with its Prestigious “Preservation Heroes” Award

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On Friday, April 8th in Atlanta, Georgia, members of the Board of Directors from the Library of American Landscape History (LALH) along with friends and colleagues of the Southern Highlands Reserve and its staff gathered to present Betty and Robert Balentine with the annual LALH Preservation Heroes Award. The LALH Preservation Hero Award is presented to individuals in recognition of extraordinary achievement in one or more categories: nonprofit and/or grassroots advocacy; scholarship and/or research; philanthropy; leadership.

Robin Karson, Executive Director of the LALH applauded the Balentines’ dedication to the advancement of horticultural research and conservation. “Robert and Betty Balentine have been selected as the 2017 LALH Preservation Heroes in recognition of their creation of the Southern Highlands Reserve at Lake Toxaway, North Carolina. This extraordinary site, which encompasses both designed and managed natural areas, reflects a steadfast, generous philanthropic and intellectual commitment to excellence in landscape stewardship, design, and horticultural and botanical research. Accomplishment at this level is rare even among professionals; it is breathtaking to find in private individuals. We applaud the Balentines’ remarkable achievement and hope that it inspires like-minded endeavors among other American land stewards.”

Upon receiving the award, Founder Robert Balentine shared a heartfelt thank you to the LALH for the prestigious honor. “Southern Highlands Reserve has been a labor of love for over 15 years for Betty and me and we are thrilled with this recognition. For a quarter of a century, the LALH has celebrated the uniqueness of American landscape design and we are both deeply honored by this award.”

Based out of Amherst, Massachusetts, the mission of the Library of American Landscape History is to foster understating of the fine art of landscape architecture and the appreciation for North America’s richly and varied landscape. The leading publisher of books that advance the study and practice of American Landscape architecture, LALH books educate the public, motivate stewardship of significant places and the environment and inspire new designs that connect people with nature. The LALH accomplishes its mission by publishing books, exhibitions and online resources that advance the study and practice of the American landscape architecture.

For more information on the Library of American Landscape History, visit