Southern Highlands Reserve Field Trip – July 23, 2012


An adventurous group of Gwinnett County Master Gardeners traveled to Southern Highlands Reserve located in western North Carolina.  At an elevation of 4500’, summer is later there and we enjoyed cooler weather and different flora.  The average temperature for this date is still in the upper 70’s!  The wildflowers were in bloom and there was plenty of shade to make this July field trip a pleasure.

The Reserve’s 120 acres are dedicated to celebrating the natural history of the Southern Appalachian Highlands, and was well worth a beautiful drive with friends to just inside our neighboring North Carolina.  The Highlands’ Core Park is home to destination gardens such as The Woodland Glade, The Azalea Walk, The Wildflower Labyrinth and Vaseyi Pond.  These are manicured display gardens planted with native species and their cultivars.  The Reserve is home to a vast array of naturally occurring native plants and one of the largest natural stands of Rhododendron vaseyi.  The Core Park is surrounded by a 100-acre natural woodland, with a change in elevation of 1000 feet in a distance of 2000 feet, featuring many waterfall and cliff communities.

John Turner, who spearheaded the planning design and execution of the Southern Highlands Reserve since its inception, provided a presentation on the history and development of the area into its status as a “Reserve.”  Southern Highlands Reserve founder, Robert Balentine’s love of the Appalachian Mountains began long before he founded the Reserve in 2002, dating back to a boyhood spent hiking and camping in the region. After years spent immersed in the diversity of these mountains, he put his life-long passion to work to help preserve, cultivate and display plants native to the region and to advocate for their value through education, restoration and research at the Southern Highlands Reserve.

We were led on a private tour to experience the symbiotic relationships between this bio-region and the flora and fauna.   We were astonished at the diversity and beauty of native plants.  This is truly a gardener’s and photographer’s dream come true!  After our tour we had so many wonderful locations in the garden to enjoy lunch.  One unique spot is the Chestnut Lodge roof garden.  Roof gardens have long been established in Europe, but are a recent introduction to the green movement here.  Most roof gardens are really “green roofs” planted with sedums and grasses, but this roof garden is built over the Lodge and also serves as a patio.

The visit to Southern Highlands Reserve provided the opportunity to gain a better understanding of identifying eco-climates in our own garden so that we may ensure properly locating plants and the benefits of using more native plants in the landscape.