• Laurel Contributor

Garden Lovers Rejoice

by Charlotte Muir

The emerald green that carpets the summits and coves of this corner of Western North Carolina represents a series of unique botanical ecosystems. Many of these systems are under threat from development and human encroachment.

That’s why the Southern Highlands Reserve is so vital to the health of native plant and animal communities.

Located at the peak of Toxaway Mountain in Lake Toxaway, this native plant arboretum and research center is dedicated to sustaining the natural ecosystems of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At the core of its mission is a determination to preserve, cultivate, and display plants native to the region.

To accomplish this, the Reserve has created approximately 20 acres of display gardens to demonstrate the beauty and complexity of these native ecosystems. That’s in addition to the approximately 100 acres of natural woodland under conservation easement.

“At an elevation of 4,500 feet, the varied topography and forest types found on our 120 acres allow us to emulate many of the plant communities found in the higher reaches of the Southern Appalachians,” says the Reserve’s Anna Norton, Director of Communications and Outreach. “The Reserve protects one of the largest known natural stands of rare pinkshell azaleas, hundreds of hybrid azaleas, and scores of native wildflowers.”

If you’d like to observe the remarkable natural treasures curated at Southern Highlands Reserve, make a point to sign up for Visitors’ Day, set for 10:00 A.M. to 12:00 P.M Tuesday, October 1.

Visitors’ Day provides the perfect outing for backyard gardeners, plant enthusiasts or professionals in the fields of horticulture, design and ecology. It’s best suited for first-time guests or groups of four or fewer to SHR and is led by a garden tour docent.

Tours begin promptly at 10:00 A.M. and will last two to two-and-a-half hours. Please arrive at 9:30 to 9:45 A.M. for check in. Directions provided will give you an idea of approximate drive time. Roads to the gardens are curvy; plan according to your riders’ comfort level. All visits to the Reserve are guided and require reservations.

“Located at 4,500 feet elevation, we cover varied terrain much like hiking in the mountains of Western North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Parkway,” says Southern Highlands Reserve’s Anna Norton. “These conditions create a moderate-to strenuous hiking/walking experience. Please wear comfortable clothes and shoes, bring water bottle, camera, and bug spray.”

To make your reservations to both events, email info@southernhighlandsreserve.org or call (828) 885-2050.

Southern Highlands Reserve will also stage a Garden Room Tour–Viewsite, from 10:00 to 11:00 A.M. October 15.

“Join us at the Viewsite as we close our 2019 visitors’ season with a Garden Room Tour,” says Anna. “These tours offer a new way to experience the Reserve similar to Visitors’ Days, but focusing on a particular area that’s in its peak. This is the perfect opportunity for garden lovers who have less time or are not able to walk the full tour.

“Tours begin promptly at 10:00 A.M. and will last one hour. Please arrive no earlier than 9:30 – 9:45 for check in.”

For reservations, call (828) 885-2050.

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