Spring passes by so quickly that sometimes it is over before we know it. Early this week I got a chance to have a “do over” by traveling up north of me to visit a high elevation garden in North Carolina. It was nice to see trilliums blooming again, fern fronds unfurling, as well as to see some plants that don’t grow in my area. Here is a quick tour of my trip to the Southern Highlands Reserve in Lake Toxaway, NC.
The Southern Highlands Reserve is located in western North Carolina at an elevation of 4500'. SHR is a private native plant garden and research center dedicated to the preservation, cultivation and display of plants native to the Southern Appalachian Highlands. You can learn about the Reserve and it’s mission here.
Rhododendron vaseyi is a gorgeous pink azalea with a very limited range, but it is indigenous to this property. Luckily the plants were in full bloom for our visit. The range of blooms varied from very light pink to dark pink.
Phlox stolonifera was a new plant for me. They’ve used this extensively in some of the landscaped areas and the handsome foliage makes for a nice groundcover. The bright blue blooms are very much like the Phlox divaricata that we have around here.
Here are a couple trillium that are not found near me: Painted trillium (Trillium undulatum) and red trillium (Trillium erectum). Catesby’s trillium (Trillium catesbaei) was also there in abundance and happily blooming in a deeper shade of pink than I usually see it.
Mountain magnolia (Magnolia fraseri) was blooming heavily throughout the area. A big one had fallen down recently so we were able to see and smell the blooms up close. What a divine fragrance!
You can’t be up at 4500 feet and not have great views. Here is a view from our walk to the waterfalls. You can just see a lake on the left side of the picture.
The area is considered a temperate rain forest. Rainfall in the area is 80-90 inches per year on average and that makes for lush growth and, with the right rock formations, nice waterfalls. Our hike included 3 waterfalls.
The waterfalls were spectacular and many plants thrived in the moist pockets around them, even plants that I associate with drier areas like Bluets (Houstonia caerulea). Here is a shot looking UP one of the waterfalls.
The ample moisture in the area allows nature to successfully seed around and many plants were growing in cracks and crevices of rocks. Here are a few examples that I wish would appear in my garden!
It wouldn’t be right if I failed to point out some of the special woody plants there. American chestnut (Castanea dentata) grows there naturally, but most of it is affected by the Chestnut blight. Mature trees succumb and then resprout from the stump, over and over again. In one of the landscaped areas there is a healthy population of Sand Myrtle (Kalmia buxifolia). While not indigenous to the area, it is very happily growing in well-drained rock crevices. What a beautiful little member of the genus that includes Mountain Laurel.
And here is bear huckleberry, Gaylussacia ursina, a prolific shrub in the Reserve. We were told that some areas of it get a "huckleberry haircut" to keep it low in the landscaped areas. The vast majority of it, however, gets to grow naturally to about 6-8 feet.
Other special plants in the landscaped areas were Royal fern (Osmunda regalis), which was appropriately sited next to a man-made lake that was home to bullfrogs, and Toothwort (Cardamine sp.) tucked up against a rock in a mossy area.
Southern Highlands Reserve was previously only open to groups by reservation. I was there as part of a trip arranged by the Georgia Native Plant Society. Starting this month, they are open on the first Tuesday of each month to interested individuals. Contact them in advance to arrange your visit. There is no charge, but donations are most welcome. If you go in the fall, you'll be able to see the Wildflower Labyrinth.