The Southern Highlands Reserve is a native plant arboretum and research center located in Lake Toxaway, NC. The organization is a 501 c-3 non-profit focused on conservation and education of ecosystems of Southern Appalachian Mountains. We are currently seeking applicants for a full-time greenhouse and nursery manager. Please contact us with inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.
Southern Highlands Reserve was recently featured in the Franklin Press thanks to columnist Bob Gilbert, who visited the Reserve for its Annual Symposium. Gilbert writes about the Reserve, its Founders, gardens, and purpose.
In early October, Southern Highlands Reserve had the distinct honor of welcoming Robert Dowell and Jenna Zukswert, Fellows of the Campaign for Living Collections at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum for a tour of the Reserve and to share seeds for native plants grown on the Reserve. Established to expand the Arboretum’s collection through exploration, collection and production, the Campaign’s leadership envisions its living collection to encompass a broader, more diverse collection of plants with extensive documentation, making the collections more accessible to the public and scholars.
Founded in the 1870’s during the golden era of plant collections, the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University places a high value on the documentation on all plants accessed into their collection. They seek plant material in the wild to maintain a living representation of its habitat within the Living Collections Campaign. The Campaign is a concentrated push to bolster plants that have high conservation value. Its two geographic areas of interest are East Asia and the Southern Appalachian Mountains of North America.
Known for their biological diversity and unique climate conditions, high elevation forests of the Southern Appalachian Mountains attracted the attention of Campaign for Living Collections Fellows Dowell and Zukswert for their next phase of collection and exploration. During a week-long expedition through high-elevation forest ecosystems of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia, they visited Southern Highlands Reserve to tour the gardens and collect seeds to bring back to the Arboretum’s collection. SHR contributed seeds from our Southern Red Oak seed bank to represent the Southern Appalachian Mountains at the Arboretum.
Partnerships are a critical component to the Campaign’s success as Fellows Dowell and Zukswert travel seek plant material to fulfill their goal of 395 new accessions of plants over the next 10 years. By visiting SHR, they were very pleased to forge a new partnership with us to ensure a supply of healthy seed material for the collection. The seeds collected during their week-long botanical road trip will be sown in the Arboretum’s greenhouse and in the landscape several years from now.
While seeds from SHR will soon be nurtured in the Arnold Arboretum’s nursery and thereafter in the landscape, the seeds of partnership were sown during their visit. Robert Dowell commented on his immense appreciation for SHR: “Absolutely stunning and unforgettable. I will never forget the time we spent there. SHR has a beautiful collection of plants. It’s very heartwarming to see the love and care the Balentines and the staff have put into caring for the land.”
For nearly two decades, the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference at Western Carolina University has been a long-time favorite educational conference of landscape professionals across the country. With over 20 field trips, this 5-day conference hosts many types of in-depth opportunities to learn about native plants from experts including lectures, workshops, and field trips. The Cullowhee Native Plant Conference is known as one of the oldest native plant conferences in the U.S., attracting attendees from across the nation to visit our region and its rich biodiversity.
SHR staff members Eric Kimbrel and Kyle Meece attended the Conference, noting an increase in attendees from previous years, including many newcomers to the event. Claudia West and Thomas Ranier presented their new publication “Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes,” which illustrated how to implement longer-lasting landscape designs that don’t have to be intensely maintained. They shared valuable lessons in how to create gardens that are easier to maintain, productive, and aesthetically pleasing.
Following the conference, Eric commented: “The Cullowhee Native Plant Conference brings together everyone from the homeowner to the college professor to the avid hiker to students, all gaining knowledge in horticulture and botany. At the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference, people learn there is an alternative to traditional landscape design that is longer-lived, sustainable, lower maintenance and just as aesthetically pleasing.”
The Cullowhee Native Plant conference opens the door to the region’s rich biodiversity through its field trips. According to the WNC Vitality Index, the Southern Appalachian ecoregion includes the Blue Ridge Mountain Section contains “the highest number of federally listed and proposed threatened and endangered terrestrial species in the Southern Appalachian chain. Most occurrences of federally-listed species are associated with rare community groups such as spruce-fir, grassy bald, high-elevation rocky summit, southern Appalachian bog, montane alluvial, and spray cliff communities.” Many of these communities are represented on the Reserve, creating an experiential learning opportunity for plant experts across the country.
SHR was honored to partner with the conference and lead another field trip, providing SHR with a unique opportunity to have large groups of horticultural professionals touring the gardens with us. During the tour, SHR staff shared stories about SHR’s current projects and activities, while learning from our guests as well. Field trip attendees experienced the native plant gardens, Core Park, and extensively observed the Nursery Complex, highlighting the Reserve’s work in red spruce restoration in Western North Carolina.
The field trip is an excellent example of SHR’s efforts to “cross-pollinate” with other horticultural professionals where discussions of best management practices and lessons learned in the field is shared among colleagues in real-time, creating new opportunities for learning and growth.
Southern Highlands Reserve is proud to announce its formal long-term partnership with the Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative (SASRI) to restore red spruce and the vitality of spruce-fir forests in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. This summer, SHR signed a charter with organizations and government agencies such as The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Forest Service, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission and others. The mission of SASRI is to restore the natural condition of spruce-fir forests in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
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 ability to recover from human disturbance. These high-elevation spruce-fir “islands in the sky” 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, and the federally-endangered Carolina Northern flying squirrel, the northern saw-whet owl, brown creeper, black-capped chickadee, and several salamanders.
Restoring red spruce in Western North Carolina provides many ecological, environmental and economic benefits. Red spruce is a foundation species in the Spruce-Fir ecosystem, helping to sustain life for many other living creatures. Restoring red spruce in these spruce-fir forests will help prevent further habitat loss and preserve the rich biodiversity in our region. Red Spruce are also known as one of the species that helps to purify our air and water quality, resulting in clearer skies and cleaner water. Restoring red spruce offers a compounding economic benefit, enticing tourists to visit the region as they clear the air and preserve our long-range viewsheds. These air and water quality services are priceless to the vitality of our region’s communities and tourism-based economy.
With a proven track record of growing high quality red spruce trees from seed, SHR’s role in SASRI is to provide the spruce trees to be planted on all SASRI restoration projects. Over the past few years, SHR has worked with SASRI to plant over 2,000 red spruce trees on public lands. SHR currently has thousands of red spruce seedlings in propagation and hundreds of young spruce trees ready for transplant in its Nursery Complex. The successful restoration of red spruce to public lands in Western NC will ensure the threads within the web of life here in our national forests and along the parkway will be preserved for generations to come.
To support SHR’s efforts to restore red spruce in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, please contact Kelly Holdbrooks at 828-885-2050 or email@example.com. You may also support the red spruce project directly by contributing a donation on our home page on SHR’s website at www.southernhighlandsereserve.org. Volunteer opportunities will be announced in 2017.
Our seasonal Native Plant Sale is coming up just around the corner! Join us on August 19th and 20th and bring home a few of the native plants featured in the gardens of Southern Highlands Reserve.
We will have available many of the azaleas and other shrubs you have seen at the Reserve for sale in either 1-gallon or 4-inch containers. Each plant has been grown with care from hand-collected seed.
Please bring checks made payable to the Southern Highlands Reserve for your purchase. This is a check only event. Thank you!
The sale will be open at the Reserve from 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. on Friday, August 19th and from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 20th.
This year’s visitor season marks a milestone for SHR – its second art installation in the gardens! Inspired by the maps used by the National Parks Service along the Blue Ridge Parkway to help park goers identify mountain peaks along the horizon, SHR installed a bronze bas relief map naming the mountains seen from the precipice of the View Site. Surrounded by rhododendron and mountain myrtle, the bronze sculpture invites visitors to traverse the landscape down to the lower terraces to capture of glimpse of the mountains along the horizon.
In honor of Betty and Robert Balentine’s vision and commitment to conservation, the sculpture was donated to Southern Highlands Reserve by Vistage, a leadership development and business mentoring group comprised of executives around the world. SHR’s founders and staff had long wished to add a new design element to the gardens, a sculptural art form, that would serve to beautify the gardens and educate visitors.
Over the course of three years, SHR’s founders and staff worked with Wesley Wofford to develop this art piece, employing numerous methods to bring this project to fruition. With the use of USGS topographical maps, tracings using a light table, and digital photo software, Wesley was able to transform a digitally-rendered image into a 3-dimentional work of art.
Thanks to the creative talents of Wesley Wofford, visitors now have a personal connection to the mountains in the distance. The bronze topographical map features the name, elevation and distance from the View Site of the following 15 mountain peaks: Cold Mountain, Rich Mountain Bald, Richland Balsam, Panthertail Mountain, Mount Hardy, Tanasee Bald, Devil’s Courthouse, Black Balsam Knob, Graveyard Fields, Fork River Bald, Mount Pisgah, Looking Glass Rock, Mount Mitchell, Black Mountain, and Cedar Rock Mountain. The sculpture now sits as a crown jewel at the precipice of the View Site, honoring the land and those who ensured it would remain for generations to come.
SHR’s founders and staff are very grateful for the talented work of Wesley Wofford and the generous donation from the Vistage Group who made this art installation possible.