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


Green Infrastructure: Designing with Best Water Management Practices to Conserve Resources

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Water is our most precious resource. We’ve all heard this phrase before, but it always seems the things that are a part of our lives every day are the things we most often take for granted. Access to clean water would not be possible without the services provided by the ecosystems that support our global habitat. Forests and soils provide filtration services, plants participate in the transpiration process, pulling water out of the soil and releasing it into the atmosphere through their leaves and needles. Perfectly balanced by nature over eons, these processes are now being disrupted by a changing climate and human development.

Weather and water are inextricably linked. As global temperatures rise, water evaporates from our oceans at a faster rate, which in turn causes an increase in frequency and intensity of storms. In addition, the expedited rate of evaporation also means weather events will result in more frequent of droughts and floods. In other words, we can expect to see longer periods of time without water and also experience  greater amounts of water in single weather events.

Water mitigation is important foremost for the purpose of water conservation and reduction of potential damage to both our landscapes and ecosystems. Water retention reduces the need for water elsewhere, which can be costly if the water source is monetized via a city water supply or a well supply, where energy is used to pump water on-site. Enhancing infiltration to utilize storm water runoff on site is beneficial for not only your gardens and cost reduction, but also prevent contamination of nearby streams and rivers. As storm water runs quickly over roads and land, it picks up contaminants and soil sediment that are then carried to water sources. Sedimentation is the number one cause of water pollution in North Carolina, which disrupts the balance of delicate aquatic ecosystems. With meteorologists predicting a greater amount of unpredictability in our weather patterns, employing water mitigation strategies helps us prepare for the unknown.

Over the past five years, SHR has implemented a number of water mitigation strategies to minimize the effects of drought and flooding in a changing climate. After the gardens were designed, SHR’s founders and staff began learning more about climate change and recognized the need to take action in order to adapt. As Executive Director Kelly Holdbrooks notes, “We don’t have to stay in the past and stay married to systems that don’t work. We can evolve.”

In order to formulate a plan on which best management practices would help SHR best address the changing weather patterns, Holdbrooks reached out to Gary Smith, the landscape architect who designed SHR’s Core Park. “Involving Gary allowed us to maintain the integrity of the master plan he created for SHR while adapting to changing weather patterns,” said Holdbrooks. In order to reduce the impact of garden trails that were not designed along contours (a practice which is now a fundamental principle taught in landscape design) SHR is considering the implementation of boardwalks to control erosion and storm water runoff as well as reduce the footprint on our native ecosystems.

At SHR, we currently apply two basic engineering principles to water mitigation: change the velocity in which water is moving across a landscape and/or change its direction.Executive Director Kelly Holdbrooks conducted 4-5 water mitigation studies over the course of 2012-2013 with the assistance of two consultants and staff to create the water mitigation strategy. Dr. Jon Calabria, ASLA, professor at the College of Environment and Design of the University of Georgia, recommended we build “hydra-humps,” or mounds of elevated soil. These mounds redirect the flow of water to an angle that is similar to where water would naturally flow, but steers it into areas that will not cause as much damage to plants or our trails. According to Director of Horticulture Eric Kimbrel, “We implemented hydra-humps back in 2013 when the rain was affecting our trails and gravel driveway.”

In areas where water is known to flow, SHR lines paths with stone to protect garden beds. These “dry creeks” help to capture storm water runoff during intense rainfall. According to Holdbrooks, “We created swales throughout the gardens to guide the storm water, some of which we have increased in size as well. We also placed large dead trees throughout our gardens in areas where the slope is higher than 5%. These logs help to slow down the run-off and protect our plants from getting the soil washed away or covered by other debris in the storm water runoff.”

Conversely, to mitigate times of drought as we had in 2016, our water mitigation strategies are focused on keeping water on site. Our primary method of keeping water on site is the Vaseyi Pond, which was engineered with a high degree of precision and passed by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect ecosystems downstream. While the pond is fed by a naturally-occurring stream, the gardens are engineered to send a majority of the water that lands on-site to the pond, where we collected it and use it for irrigation use. This highly-engineered water retention method is designed according to the scale of our gardens, but this water retention strategy can be calibrated to any size gardens, residential or commercial.

The Vaseyi Pond is also a water feature, which is inherently more valuable to the environment than just as a water mitigation or irrigation technique. The addition of a water source to any landscape or environment is highly beneficial in that it adds the number one component: water. Water is necessary for all living things; with the presence of water comes wildlife. At the pond, we have seen a massive increase in wildlife activity such as otters, bears, song birds, tree frogs, turtles, and a diversity of insect species. Lastly, water is used in design to create a connection to nature. Water is cleansing not only to our physical bodies but also to our mental and emotional bodies. The sound and sight of water is restorative.

Below are four specific water mitigation strategies that can be scaled used for residential and commercial applications:

• Utilize materials that don’t wash away, such as rock in dry beds for example. Use mulch during dry periods to slow the evaporation process.

• Collect water during the wetter spring months using water tanks, rain barrels and other forms of water retention.

• Consider designing water retention into the landscape. Water gardens can be an ornamental strategy to collect storm water while adding aesthetic value to the landscape.

• Evaluate using larger gutters and connecting those gutters to rain barrels, cisterns, and swales that feed the landscape when constructing home or consider upgrading if you’re in an area that gets high levels of precipitation.

The water cycle is a valuable ecosystem service that has been purifying our most precious resource for billions of years. All life on earth depends on clean water. Conservation and best management practices protects ecosystem services and saves money in the long run. While making these changes to existing gardens and landscapes now can be considered an investment, the return on invest will be tremendous in years to come.


Women of the Woods: How the Daughters of the American Revolution Found a Forgotten Forest

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On October 14, 2016, the clouds parted to cast a few glimmers of sunlight on a special ceremony taking place on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Honoring nearly 100 years of conservation, members of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) gathered together to commemorate a forest once forgotten to the light of knowledge. The forest of 50,000 red spruce was planted in 1941-1943 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and dedicated to the deceased Daughters of the American Revolution, but its location and existence was almost completely forgotten. As if illuminated by a divine mirror to commemorate the moment the forest was remembered, the sun shone down through the clouds on the unveiling of the memorial wayside sign honoring the rediscovery of the DAR Jubilee Memorial Forest.

The story of the forgotten forest begins in 1913 with Margaret March-Mount, an employee of the US Forest Service in Michigan, who became known as the “Ambassador of Trees” for her leadership in conservation. According to U.S. Forest Service history, in an interview with the Washington Post, Miss March-Mount commented in 1942, “We spend millions for bombs. Let us encourage our children to invest pennies for pines. Bombs explode, pines grow.” Envisioning a nation of healthy trees, she founded a children’s program called the Children’s Conservation Crusade which encouraged children to give “Pennies for Pines.” As the name suggests, pine trees were sold to organizations who pledged a penny per seedling. The American people embraced the conservation program and millions of seedlings were planted as a result of her dedication.

With conservation as part of its core mission, the DAR’s involvement began in 1939 with U.S. DAR President General Mrs. Henry M. Robert. Seeing the popularity of the Penny Pine program and also holding conservation close to her heart, Mrs. Robert led the nation’s Daughters in celebrating DAR’s 50th Golden Jubilee anniversary by participating in the Penny Pine program. Mrs. Robert charged every state DAR chapter to pledge one acre of pine seedlings. The National Society of DAR planted over 5 million seedlings. The North Carolina DAR pledged 200,000 pine seedlings to be planted on public land and also pledged to plant 50,000 red spruce seedlings in Pisgah National Forest near the planned route for the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Like the trees themselves, a few seeds needed to be planted before the forest could be remembered. In preparation for National DAR’s 100th Anniversary in 2009, Conservation Committee Chairwoman Liz Hotchkiss encouraged the state chapters to research conservation projects that had been done in the last century to be celebrated at 100th DAR Jubilee. Mrs. Etta Reid of the Guilford-Battle DAR Chapter in Greensboro found a map in old DAR scrapbooks with a purple mark denoting the location of the spruce forest. From the map, they knew it was planted somewhere in NC near Devil’s Courthouse along the Parkway, but that was all they knew.

To enlist the help of a nearby DAR chapter, NC Conservation Committee Chair Robin Masters-Meyer enlisted the help of Cricket Crigler of the nearby Joseph-McDowell DAR Chapter in Hendersonville. Cricket met Ted Oprean, a forest historian at the Pisgah National Forest Ranger Station. Deep in the National Forest’s CCC files, Ted pulled out a hand-drawn map by Mr. S.F. Clark, a forest ranger in Pisgah National Forest in the early 40’s. With map in hand, Cricket and her husband, Norris, traveled up to Devil’s Courthouse searching for the forgotten forest but were unsuccessful in locating the stand of trees.

Then in 2015, Brevard resident Molly Tartt of the Waightsville-Avery DAR chapter got involved, determined to solve the mystery. Molly brought together a merry band of hikers and their dogs into the woods to search for the forest following only the direction from the map and the invitation from the original dedication ceremony reading: “The trees were planted at a high elevation in an undisclosed location.” Molly remembers, “I was told to go to the top of the Devil’s Courthouse Overlook and look backwards; all I saw was millions of trees. I had no idea what I was looking for, but I was determined. I knew this was going to come to fruition.”

With the help of the Forest Service, National Parks Service and the Southern Research Station, Molly and her team began to hone in on one location in particular. In order to prove this was indeed the location of the forest, Brevard High Senior John Breese Huggins and Mike Thompson, a forestry teacher from Troy, North Carolina, measured the trees’ circumference, height, and collected increment borings of the trunks within the spruce forest.  Data analysis and the Forest Service confirmed it; the location of the Forgotten Forest was finally discovered.

After nearly 75 years and countless hours of research and planning, 81 DAR members from across the nation, plus over 100 special guests gathered on the Parkway for the 30-minute dedication ceremony on October 14th, 2016. Molly recalls of the blustery and chilly morning, “just before the wayside marker was to be unveiled, the wind carried it off for us. It’s almost as if we were reminded that man plans and God laughs,” said Elizabeth Graham, State DAR Regent in attendance at the ceremony.

Thankfully, Molly along with her colleagues didn’t give up along their journey. “Were there times when I got discouraged? Absolutely,” said Tartt. “The timing especially. I wanted it done and it was just a process. But I knew it was going to come together, and I wanted it to come together quickly. It took almost two years from getting the map to finding the forest, to getting the sign created to coordinating the dedication, I would say it was the most intense and difficult job I have ever done.”

Visitors may access the forest at Devil’s Courthouse and mile marker 422.4 on the north side. According to forest historian Dr. James Lewis, the Jubilee Forest, “can be accessed on foot by following the trail from the Devil’s Courthouse parking lot, turning left at the end of the asphalt walkway onto the dirt trail, and going back over the Blue Ridge Parkway toward the Mountains to Sea Trail and turning left at that junction. After a few minutes’ walk, you’ll enter a spruce forest. With row after row of red spruce trees clearly visible, the handiwork of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the diligence of the Daughters of the American Revolution still continues to survive.

According to Molly, “After 74 years of spruce needles falling from the trees, the forest floor has a lovely rose-colored tint. Trees are now 100 feet tall and the canopy is almost completely filled in. The forest is very dark, peaceful and quiet.”

Like these dedicated Women of the Woods, Southern Highlands Reserve is honored to now carry the torch of conservation in its efforts to restore thousands of red spruce on public land as a charter member of the Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative. Read more about Southern Highlands Reserve’s efforts to restore red spruce in the Southern Appalachian Mountains on our projects and research page. 

Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust Awards Southern Highlands Reserve with a $20,000 Grant to Build Digital Native Plant Research Database

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Southern Highlands Reserve is honored to announce the award of a $20,000 grant from the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust. The grant will support SHR’s development of a customized digital database to store the Reserve’s plant accession records, phenology, weather data, and more. The research database will further enhance the Reserve’s capacity of native plants in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, one of the world’s most biologically significant hot spots. With the database, horticulturalists can conduct research on our native plant collection from anywhere in the world.

Since its inception nearly 15 years ago, SHR has captured valuable data on its property within the 20-acre Core Park and adjacent 100-acre natural woodland. With every plant that is accessed at SHR, a written record followed with data on the condition of the plant, source, and location in the gardens when planted. Staff diligently scribed observations of bloom time, leaf development, and fauna activity in its phenology records. At the same time, our weather station recorded daily temperature, rainfall, humidity, and barometric pressure. With a digital database, these records can now be used to conduct any number of research projects, both on-site and anywhere in the world.

The unique conditions at the Reserve make our “living laboratory” a valuable source of information to scientists worldwide. SHR is located in a region recognized both nationally and internationally as a highly significant biological area. According to the WNC Vitality Index, “species diversity is high because many species are at the southern limit of their distribution and gradients in elevation, aspect, slope, and rainfall contribute to a range of available niches and habitats.” Like much of the surrounding area, SHR receives some of the highest amount of rainfall on record. High precipitation levels classify this area as a “temperate rain forest,” which parallels the biodiversity found in tropical rain forests.

At 4,500’ in elevation on the top of remote Toxaway Mountain, the plants in our gardens thrive in conditions more extreme than surrounding areas. With increased variability in temperature and precipitation and exposure to the elements on a mountainside, the Reserve’s native plant collection is sensitive to environmental pressures. With the onset of shifts in climate due to climate change, SHR will now have the ability to monitor and analyze how plants respond to these long-term changes.

“The support of SSHT helps the Reserve 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. “Data on high elevation native plants is important as we encounter rapidly changes factors in our environments.”

The grant marks a new milestone in SHR’s history, as it is the first grant awarded to the Reserve. SHR plans to develop long-term partnerships and seek grant funding opportunities to support our efforts to conserve native plants through education and research. This, along with private funders, admission fees and plant sales provide support that is essential to SHR carrying out its mission in the conservation of native plants through education and research.