WNC Travel Guide

When people praise the Smokies, it’s often the area’s status as a four-season bonanza of beauty that spurs the discussion. From snow-blanketed winters to vibrant-leafed autumns, these mountains dress to impress year-round.

Two short years ago, the backyard of Waynesville’s Grace Church in the Mountains was basically just grass, save for a single container bed at the top of the hill.

These days, the view is quite different. Six long container beds stretch out along the slope from the road to the church’s back door. A scaffolding that held a tent of beans during the warmer months stands to the side, and at the bottom of the hill is yet another group of raised beds, built high at the end of a flat walkway so that people with mobility issues can still access and enjoy them. There’s a toolshed, a gaggle of scarecrows and two in-ground beds dug directly into the land.

A summer of hard work is paying tasty dividends for some kids in Swain County 4-H — dividends paid in the form of tomatoes, corn, peppers, beans and zucchini.

This year was the first for a 4-H learning garden located at Southwestern Community College’s Swain Center, and according to Jennifer Hill — a 4-H extension agent with Swain County Cooperative Extension — it was a success.

[Before moving on to the primary subject of this column (yard gardens), I’d like to share some impressions with you of the eclipse, which (as I’m writing this) took place yesterday. For several weeks before the celestial event (as I grew weary of all the commercial hoopla), I shifted into my “Bah-humbug” mode. When asked where I was going to watch it from, I’d roll my eyes and announce: “My bedroom … it’ll be a good time to take a nice nap.”

When it comes to carnivorous plants, Darwin Thomas knows what he’s talking about. It doesn’t take much to get him started on a fact-filled tangent about the plants’ prey preferences, proper care and feeding, or histories. But Thomas, a heating and air technician by trade, didn’t learn any of it by sitting in a class somewhere. 

“I read a lot of books, and just talking to people too,” Thomas said. “I’ve not had any education at all in anything to do with this. I just learned over the years. And after 28 years, I think I’ve learned how to grow them.”

It’s a sunny day at Haywood Community College, light sparkling from the campus’s landmark mill pond and shining through the leaves still clinging to the archway of willow oaks lining the school’s entrance drive. The campus lawn is covered with leaves fallen from the towering white oaks dominating it, academic buildings nestled naturally into the folds of the landscape. 

In many ways, it looks more like a park than a campus, and that’s by design — the design of Doan Ogden, that is. Ogden, a nationally known landscape architect, designed gardens and landscapes throughout Western North Carolina after moving to teach at Warren Wilson College, and the grounds of HCC are among his accomplishments.

As manager of Waynesville’s urban forest, it’s safe to say that Jonathan Yates likes trees. So when Diane Kornse of the Mountain View Garden Club approached him last fall to ask if the town had any project in the wings that the club could help tackle, Yates was ready with an answer. 

“I said, ‘Actually, I do have an idea I’ve had for years, but it would really require something like a garden club to make it happen,’” Yates recounted.

fr whitmireThe Franklin Board of Aldermen has yet to agree on what it should do with a 13-acre tract it owns just off East Main Street, but two proposals from the public are leaning toward utilizing the green space for public recreational purposes.

out frWhen Sarah Scott first started work at Haywood County Cooperative Extension in February 2015, planning for the 2016 Haywood County Garden Tour was one of the first items to come across her desk. Untold hours of preparation later, the horticulture extension agent and horde of volunteers working with her are days away from showing hundreds of people the best of Haywood’s gardens.

“Haywood County has some very talented gardeners and some very beautiful gardens,” Scott said. “I enjoyed going out and seeing so many of them. It was terrible to have to choose only a few.”

out frAdam Bigelow bears down on the gas pedal of his biodiesel-fueled Jetta, urging it up the steep contours of the Blue Ridge Parkway in search of higher ground. It’s a gardener’s car, through-and-through, the dash covered with dried plant parts, the floorboards papered with garden-related fliers and catalogues. 

The only thing that’s missing is a live plant, and even that’s not too far-flung a reality. It wasn’t that long ago, Bigelow recalls, that he looked down from his seat to see a little pea plant growing up, apparently having received just the right amount of water from some mysterious source to take root in the car.

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