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Abundance Sprung From the Soil

Posted On October 3, 2022

PBS’s GardenSMART showcases western North Carolina gardening

Story by Kristin E. Landfield

Photography by Dettrick Little, GardenSMART

In Western North Carolina, summer in the garden yields an exuberance that is impossible to ignore.  Mammoth hostas flourish alongside colossal cinnamon ferns.   Vibrant geraniums and frothy lady’s mantle spill heartily over stone-edged beds; lively anemones dance among robust stands of white daisies.  In their late-summer splendor, show-winning dahlias prize the florist’s vase.  At every turn, gardens are crowned with hydrangeas: mophead, lacecap, arborescent, oak leaf, and paniculata—it’s hard to imagine there being too many.  These treasures are just a few among the bounty of garden plants that thrive in the cool summers of the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau.  

As a plant lover, the prospect of gardening in the temperate rainforest of the southern Appalachians was a siren call for me.  For those of us who love plants, especially flowering perennials, this unique region offers an atmosphere that cannot be replicated.  Our climate is pitch-perfect for beautiful gardening.  Plants simply want to grow. The ample moisture, appealing temperatures, rich water sources and beneficial soil microbiology are the right alchemy for thriving gardens.  For devotees of this special landscape, it’s no surprise that a nationally broadcast garden show would highlight the splendid area.  

In August, the PBS show GardenSMART filmed seven episodes in Cashiers, Highlands and surrounding areas.  Since 2004, GardenSMART has offered a weekly broadcast devoted to covering a diverse range of gardening topics in both public and private horticulture, syndicated to nearly 400 stations across the country.  Interviewing a variety of experts on location allows the show to bring alive specific innovations in gardening, as well as to elucidate “tried and true” practices.  Hosted by acclaimed horticulturist Eric Johnson, these episodes comprise a broad range of styles and content. One episode may showcase a beautifully designed garden, while others explore more specific aspects of cultivation at a nursery or trial garden.  Each episode is curated for practical guidance as well as visual inspiration.  An appealing feature of GardenSMART is that the shows track the garden seasons, therefore urging the gardener outside to implement relevant tips and ideas developed in that particular episode.   

After a week filming around the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau, Producer Jim McCutcheon was enthusiastic about the various places and people they encountered. The first show of this series was filmed at Highlands Biological Station (“HBS”).  Eric interviewed local horticulturist and native plant expert Sonya Carpenter to discuss the high elevation native plant garden that is situated in the heart of Highlands.  Under Sonya’s direction, HBS has developed an innovative boardwalk garden.  Frequently, a summer walk through the native plant collection is riddled with butterflies alighting on penstemon, coneflower and rudbeckia.

For Episode Two, GardenSMART visited the Cashier’s Farmers Market and filmed with Jason Golden of Trufflehunter Farms, who specializes in microgreens and mushrooms.  Trufflehunter Farms supplies area restaurants and markets with their nutritive produce and offers subscription deliveries for organic microgreens.  For this episode, Jim, Eric and team also enjoyed the abundance of flowers at Tim Wheatley’s Sylva-area dahlia farm, Mountain Diva Gardens.  Mountain Diva also sells at the Cashier’s market.  During late summer in Western North Carolina, dahlias often steal the garden shows, as indeed they will in this colorful episode.

The third and fourth episodes will explore two exceptional Cashier’s gardens that were featured on the 2021 Joy Garden Tour.  Each episode invites viewers on an intimate tour that will be sure to inspire.  Freesia Ridge is an exquisite Cashier’s home and property that captures the details of a fine garden while honoring a sense of place: these beautiful Blue Ridge mountains.  The design, originally developed by SiteWorks Studios, creates more formal and finished spaces around outdoor living areas, then subtly deconstructs to looser spaces the further from the architecture one steps.  Native plant guru Brad Phillips helps care for this fine garden and has continued to develop its character as the landscape has grown and changed over the years.  Freesia Ridge, with its thoughtful rooms, singular water feature and exciting views, is a celebration of these magnificent mountains in which it is situated.  In the show, viewers are offered an enviable invitation to this beautiful space.

GardenSMART’s episode 4 will showcase the lovely garden and property of Maureen and Hank Booth.  Viewers will be treated not only to the beauty of the garden as it exists today but will also learn the story of how this property was developed.  We gardeners know that a layered garden is one that is built and cultivated over time.  Eric and the Booths share the transformation as they walk the viewer through a series of inviting spaces, crowned by a serene pond and water feature.  It’s clear the Booths planned this property with loved ones in mind, as the layout encourages guests to relax and share in their enchanting garden.

Episodes Five, Six, and Seven will travel away from residential gardens to local businesses and nonprofits that capture the spirit of gardening in Western North Carolina.  GardenSMART will host viewers at The Barn, located just outside Cashiers, and interview chef Kristin Jorgensen on the ways in which she incorporates local food into her esteemed menu.  She will demonstrate crafting a locally-sourced meal and specialty cocktail. 

GardenSMART next carries the viewer to Fletcher, NC, where LeeAnn Shearouse shares the mission of Carolina Avian Research and Education, a sanctuary for endangered and special-needs birds.  C.A.R.E. garners its support exclusively from plant sales and educational classes on water gardening, wildflowers and bird habitats, to name a few.   

Episode Seven returns to downtown Cashiers for the story of The Village Green of Cashiers—sure to be a favorite among the many locals and visitors who enjoy this central space.  Join GardenSMART on this celebration of regional gardening by tuning into your local PBS station.  For more information on GardenSMART and their 52 annual shows, visit: www.gardensmart.tv