Thanks to my friend Rosemary, yesterday I had the pleasure of discovering a garden gem in Toxaway, NC, not far from Highlands and Cashiers, NC. A small group of us set out at about 6:30am for The Southern Highlands Reserve. A relatively easy three hour drive from Atlanta, if you don’t mind roads that twist and turn, the occasional patch of thick fog and, on this particular day, a tree that fell across the road. Fortunately, the episode with the tree happened on our return trip and only involved a brief delay until a fireman armed with a chainsaw was able to remove our roadblock. I know I speak for the group when I say that we felt like we had been transported to a magical faraway place, one I know I will visit again.
When we first planned this fieldtrip we imagined a sunny fall day but Mother Nature had other ideas. Somehow the rain and fog didn’t bother us or the rest of the people on our tour (except it made it difficult to take photos and hold an umbrella at the same time ). Our tour was led by Kelly Holdbrooks, Program Director, for the Reserve. Her passion was evident from the moment she began talking about the plants and the Reserve, their mission and how she came to work there.
A few of things I learned on our tour: the garden is located in Transylvania County which receives over ninety inches of rain per year; the elevation is 4500 feet and once the native wildflower Galax urceolata finishes blooming it gives off an unpleasant scent. (Maybe this is the first time I have noticed this quality because there were hundreds of these beautiful evergreen plants covering large areas of ground). Other plant highlights included large Viburnum cassinoides covered with pink and blue fruits, a grove of yellowwoods (Cladrastis kentuckea, would love to see these in bloom) the wildflower labyrinth and the woodland glade. What is hard to believe is that this garden is only six years young. Every boulder (and there are lots of them) was brought in, masses of native herbaceous plants were added and the offices, greenhouse and barn were constructed. Existing stands of certain trees and shrubs help give the garden a mature feeling.
The land for the Southern Highlands Reserve was purchased by Robert and Betty Balentine who have a lifelong love of the natural world and realized they had something special. Today the gardens display plants native to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Ecological Restoration Center supplies native plants for restoration projects to state and federal agencies and other non-profit organizations.
A private garden, The Southern Highlands Reserve generously opens to individuals on the first Tuesday of each month, May to October. For details or to make a reservation visit http://www.southernhighlandsreserve.org/