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GardenSMART Episode

Show #42/7003. Highlands Biological Center

Summary of Show

Highlands, North Carolina
In this episode GardenSMART visits a garden that boasts unbelievable biodiversity and gives us a look into what we can do to make our garden spaces a haven for wildlife. HIGHLANDS, NORTH CAROLINA is a beautiful town located a short 120 miles from bustling Atlanta and just a stone's throw from Asheville, North Carolina. In the past decades, it's gone from a sleepy mountain town to a vibrant vacation destination. It's prized for its amazing views and many attractions as well as a haven for those seeking health and wellness retreats.
For More Information Click Here

Sonya
SONYA Carpenter is head horticulturalist at the Highlands Biological Center. Sonya has an infectious passion for the natural world and is passionate about sharing that love with all she encounters. As a garden designer, she's taken that passion to the next level building gardens that exist in balance with the natural world and demonstrates how that harmony brings true sustainability to our green spaces.
For More Information Click Here

Highlands Biological Station
Eric posits - The HIGHLANDS BIOLOGICAL STATION has been here for almost a century and it's got a really rich history. Let's talk a little bit about its mission and some of its history. The mission here is to promote research and education focused on the natural history of the Highlands Plateau. Of course, biological field stations are located in biologically interesting places, which is why it was founded here by a group of residents who were interested in teaching and celebrating and promoting the richness of the biodiversity here.
For More Information Click Here

The Pollinator Garden
Eric next would like to discuss THE POLLINATOR GARDEN, a garden after his own heart. It's teeming with life, diversity, all of these amazing colors and textures and almost feels a bit like a cottage garden meshed with a prairie. And there's so much interest here. He would like for Sonya to talk about the design of this garden and the space that it encompasses. This garden was designed and installed thanks to generous gifts from the local community and it's managed by the Highlands Biological Foundation. It was gifted back to the community and to the biological station. In 2019 they installed over 10,000 native plants, shrubs, trees, and 30 different species of perennial wildflowers in this garden. Since that time, the garden has grown and developed and turned into this beautiful, blooming place that we see now. But in addition to the plants they have thousands of other species that have come here - pollinating insects such as bees and other things like hoverflies and butterflies and beetles.
For More Information Click Here

Maintenance Of Pollinator Garden
Eric would like to talk a little bit about the MAINTENANCE of a pollinator or a native garden. From the outset, someone might think that this is going to be a super labor intensive endeavor, but actually they're not. Sonya says it's not so bad, actually. And she helps maintain this garden, so knows a little bit about it. It's all about picking the right plants for the right area. If you select your plants carefully, the maintenance actually turns out to be relatively easy. They don't use a lot of mulches here because the plants provide the mulch. They don't use a lot of insecticides because it's just not necessary. They want to encourage their pollinators. And really most of the weeds coming up in this garden now are native plants that are just seeding in because they're so happy in their environment.
For More Information Click Here

Peggy Crosby Center
Eric and Sonya next visit the PEGGY CROSBY CENTER. Eric feels this garden really does underscore how beautiful these native plantings can be. We’ve already seen the incredible diversity of wildlife, there are butterflies and bees, everything is humming around them. This was a pretty challenging site and it is obvious that Sonya was able to do something really amazing. Sonya appreciates the compliment. This particular garden serves a really important part of their network of habitat gardens because of its location. They are on the campus of the former hospital in Highlands, and it now serves as a hub for many small businesses and local nonprofit organizations. This area gets a lot of visitation.
For More Information Click Here

Highlands Plateau Greenway Garden
Sonya and Eric next visit the HIGHLANDS PLATEAU GREENWAY GARDEN. Eric feels this border really underscores how versatile a pollinator garden can be. This is an area that clearly does not have an enormous budget to maintain something that's super manicured. And this garden does its own thing. Sonya concurs, absolutely, it sure does. Here in Highlands they have a different kind of greenway. Most greenways might connect or run along a river, but theirs is a collection of trails and roadways that connect their neighborhoods and other significant areas within the community. This garden is supposed to be a cue that this is a trailhead for our greenway. It's a little visual way to show people, "Hey, come here and join our greenway." And it's planted on town property.
For More Information Click Here

Why Pollinators Are Important
Eric would like for Sonya to talk a little about WHY POLLINATORS ARE IMPORTANT. There's more behind this madness, if you will, than just attracting insects and other things to the garden, which is wonderful and important, but pollinators and all of these insects are so important just to the survival of humanity. Sonya agrees, absolutely. Pollination is responsible for many of the foods that we eat, and it's absolutely instrumental to life on this planet. Roughly 150 million years ago, plants developed a beneficial relationship with insects in exchange for colorful flowers that provide pollen and sweet nectar, insects in return will help pollinate the ovary within the flower and provide seeds for the next generation of plants. Without that pollination, we won't have new plants, new flowering plants, on our planet and many of the foods that we eat would just simply cease to exist.
For More Information Click Here

Building A Pollinator Garden
BUILDING A POLLINATOR GARDEN is not super tricky, even just converting some little corner of our garden into a pollinator area works. It's pretty simple, but there are a few things that we ought to keep in mind to ensure success. Eric asks Sonya what should we think about? She thinks we can narrow it down to four important components. The first one is to make sure that you have native plants blooming in your garden in succession throughout the growing season. You need to look around and see what the first native plants are to bloom in your area and get those in your garden, then layer in additional plants so that something is blooming all throughout the growing season. That's going to ensure that you have enough pollen and nectar to feed your pollinators throughout that important growing season. Eric agrees, that's super important. Part of it is just creating the habitat that encourages the insects. Then the second component is to make sure to pay attention to host plants.
For More Information Click Here

LINKS:

Highlands Biological Station
Highlands Biological Station

Highlands Greenway Garden
Botanical Garden Trails | Highlands Plateau Greenway

Native Plant Finder
Specify Your Location - Native Plants Finder

Highlands Chamber of Commerce
Kara Addy - Communications Manager
Welcome to Highlands! - Highlands Chamber of Commerce

Cashiers, North Carolina
Home - The Village Green Of Cashiers

Plant List

Show #42/7003. Highlands Biological Center

Transcript of Show

In this episode GardenSMART visits a garden that boasts unbelievable biodiversity and gives us a look into what we can do to make our garden spaces a haven for wildlife. HIGHLANDS, NORTH CAROLINA is a beautiful town located a short 120 miles from bustling Atlanta and just a stone's throw from Asheville, North Carolina. In the past decades, it's gone from a sleepy mountain town to a vibrant vacation destination. It's prized for its amazing views and many attractions as well as a haven for those seeking health and wellness retreats. The town sits at around 4,000 foot elevation and has a unique rain forest like ecosystem due to incredibly high rainfall. All of these factors converge to make it a perfect place for gardening.

SONYA Carpenter is head horticulturalist at the Highlands Biological Center. Sonya has an infectious passion for the natural world and is passionate about sharing that love with all she encounters. As a garden designer, she's taken that passion to the next level building gardens that exist in balance with the natural world and demonstrates how that harmony brings true sustainability to our green spaces.

Eric welcomes Sonya, thanks so much for joining us today. This is an amazing place. Every time Eric meets someone who has a super interesting job he is always curious about their history. Sonya responds, that's a great question. She studied ecology at the University of Florida, and then about 20 years ago she and her husband moved here. The very first time he brought her here, he had come here a lot as a child, she just knew that this was a place where she wanted to be. After studying ecology at the University of Florida she worked in ornamental horticulture for many years. Once here, started creating programs at the biological station, then got recruited to become the director of their biological foundation, which is the nonprofit organization that supports the station. She did that for about nine years and it grew and grew. She next stepped down from that position so she could work on this new pollinator garden at the biological station.

Eric thinks her work is amazing. This place is beautiful and this little corner of paradise is a beautiful, unique ecosystem, if you will. It's a temperate rainforest. Sonya concurs, it absolutely is. They have high annual rainfall, average is about 84 inches of rain and it falls throughout the season, so they don't have a dry season. And this really helps to nurture the biodiversity here. The Southern Appalachian Mountains, which is where they're located, is really known for its biological diversity and Highlands is certainly no different. They have northern species and southern species that combine here in this forest ecosystem and they nurture great biodiversity.

Eric posits - The HIGHLANDS BIOLOGICAL STATION has been here for almost a century and it's got a really rich history. Let's talk a little bit about its mission and some of its history. The mission here is to promote research and education focused on the natural history of the Highlands Plateau. Of course, biological field stations are located in biologically interesting places, which is why it was founded here by a group of residents who were interested in teaching and celebrating and promoting the richness of the biodiversity here.

It's gone through quite an evolution. Eric would like for Sonya to talk about what it is today and how it's evolved over the years. Today it is a multi-campus center of Western Carolina University, but really the mission remains the same. They promote their mission through education via three different facets of the biological station. The first facet is the biological teaching laboratory where students come from all over the country to take academically accredited courses, either one week or two week courses in the biological sciences. And these courses are a little different than what one might typically find at a university because students spend most of their time in the field, which is really important for young students. Instead of just being in the classroom all the time, they get to go see organisms in their natural environment. They also have researchers who come here from all over the place, they come to the Highlands Plateau to do their research. And that really contributes to understanding and knowledge about this environment. Eric says there's so much to learn. He thinks the laboratory aspect is really fascinating because the more we understand about different ecosystems in our environment, the better prepared we are to manage and maintain those systems, especially areas that are in crisis. Sonya agrees, absolutely. They see the work they do here as training the next generation of scientists, because we're really going to need boots on the ground to fully understand the impact of climate change moving forward. That brings us to the second facet of the biological station, which is the nature center, the doors of the nature center are open to the community and teach a wide variety of different classes and programs. Everything from little kids in their nature center programs and summer camps to adults and weekly conservation lecture series. Those happen throughout the summer to increase science literacy. It’s all so fascinating and it's fun. Eric wants to know-What's the third? The third facet is the botanical garden. They have a 26 acre botanical garden that's a little bit different. It was established in 1962, it's a living laboratory and repository for over 450 different species of native plants. It's a great place for people to come and learn about the value of native plants. These gardens are set up a little bit differently, it's a garden of gardens. They have a bog garden and a moss garden where they display plants according to the communities in which they grow in the natural world. You might find an area where you walk through like a rich cove community or an acid cove community and it helps one understand a little bit better about how these plants interact with each other. For Eric, as a gardener, he loves going and visiting other people's gardens, especially ones that are arranged by geographic and soil type. He has an area in his own garden, a boggy area and has had challenges with plants that are not really well designed to grow in that space. He can come to the biological station and reflect, "I've got these environments in my own yard or garden, and these plants are thriving there." He thinks as gardeners and horticulturalists, it helps us make better decisions for our own plantings.

Eric next would like to discuss THE POLLINATOR GARDEN, a garden after his own heart. It's teeming with life, diversity, all of these amazing colors and textures and almost feels a bit like a cottage garden meshed with a prairie. And there's so much interest here. He would like for Sonya to talk about the design of this garden and the space that it encompasses. This garden was designed and installed thanks to generous gifts from the local community and it's managed by the Highlands Biological Foundation. It was gifted back to the community and to the biological station. In 2019 they installed over 10,000 native plants, shrubs, trees, and 30 different species of perennial wildflowers in this garden. Since that time, the garden has grown and developed and turned into this beautiful, blooming place that we see now. But in addition to the plants they have thousands of other species that have come here - pollinating insects such as bees and other things like hoverflies and butterflies and beetles. And, there are countless other species that now inhabit this garden. Eric notes this garden has a really dynamic sense of motion with all of these insects buzzing around, one can see the evidence of so many other critters that the garden itself has invited to become part of its landscape. And it adds so much more interest being able to connect nature to the people that visit the garden. That's why he thinks these species are so important, showing how we support the pollinating community. But also as a visitor, it's amazing just all the different sights and sounds that go well beyond the plants. Sonya agrees, absolutely. And what they are really beginning to understand is it's the interactions between all of these different species that make a healthy ecosystem dynamic. They are so excited when visitors come through here. Every day people are walking through with dogs on leashes or families spending quiet time together or campers and students that come here. They feel this garden is a really great teaching opportunity showing that native plants are not just beautiful individually, but can be used in a well-designed garden that supports not just the plants, but all of these other species, including the insects, but also birds and bats and mammals and reptiles and amphibians. It's just teeming with life, all different kinds of life.

Eric would like to talk a little bit about the MAINTENANCE of a pollinator or a native garden. From the outset, someone might think that this is going to be a super labor intensive endeavor, but actually they're not. Sonya says it's not so bad, actually. And she helps maintain this garden, so knows a little bit about it. It's all about picking the right plants for the right area. If you select your plants carefully, the maintenance actually turns out to be relatively easy. They don't use a lot of mulches here because the plants provide the mulch. They don't use a lot of insecticides because it's just not necessary. They want to encourage their pollinators. And really most of the weeds coming up in this garden now are native plants that are just seeding in because they're so happy in their environment. Once you get a good cover across the soil, the weeds, they're opportunists, they're looking for an open patch of land, in time, if the right species are attended to and they begin receding, you get a type of colonization of the plants that you want. And once the soil is covered it requires very, very little weeding, very little maintenance. Sonya agrees, absolutely. As she mentioned 10,000 plants were put into this garden. That's a lot. And density is important. If you plant your plants fairly close together, it allows them to knit together in the landscape fairly quickly, and that will minimize your weeding needs.

Eric and Sonya next visit the PEGGY CROSBY CENTER. Eric feels this garden really does underscore how beautiful these native plantings can be. We’ve already seen the incredible diversity of wildlife, there are butterflies and bees, everything is humming around them. This was a pretty challenging site and it is obvious that Sonya was able to do something really amazing. Sonya appreciates the compliment. This particular garden serves a really important part of their network of habitat gardens because of its location. They are on the campus of the former hospital in Highlands, and it now serves as a hub for many small businesses and local nonprofit organizations. This area gets a lot of visitation. It's also about a block away from the local kindergarten through 12th grade public school. Every day this garden is seen by students and parents and all of the visitors that come to the Peggy Crosby Center. They really like its visibility, but the visibility used to be a problem. Once upon a time, this was an eroding slope that was really an eyesore for the building. Her husband, Canty Worley, worked in partnership with the administrators of the building and a local garden club to start and create a garden here. It started slowly but then grew and grew and grew into this beautiful and diverse garden. Eric thinks it’s amazing. Great job.

Sonya and Eric next visit the HIGHLANDS PLATEAU GREENWAY GARDEN. Eric feels this border really underscores how versatile a pollinator garden can be. This is an area that clearly does not have an enormous budget to maintain something that's super manicured. And this garden does its own thing. Sonya concurs, absolutely, it sure does. Here in Highlands they have a different kind of greenway. Most greenways might connect or run along a river, but theirs is a collection of trails and roadways that connect their neighborhoods and other significant areas within the community. This garden is supposed to be a cue that this is a trailhead for our greenway. It's a little visual way to show people, "Hey, come here and join our greenway." And it's planted on town property. They installed this garden in 2020 with a group of masked volunteers. And all of those volunteers that helped install this garden have a stake in how it looks, they're invested in this garden, which they think is really wonderful. Sonya's hope for the future is that they can expand this garden to make it more impactful and additionally to include more pocket gardens along the trail, both as a cue to hikers that the native plants lead the way on the trail, but also to serve as a wildlife corridor of sorts so that animals and insects can follow the trail just like the humans do. Eric thinks that’s a good point, what keeps those pollinators around in the community is having these little pockets of food and nectar and habitat. Sonya says the habitat is a very important part of a pollinator garden. But something that's often overlooked.

Eric thanks Sonya, it's been exciting to see her work with pollinator gardens. They’re really beautiful and they have really shown us that not only is there this wonderful utility and function they serve, but additionally from a gardening standpoint, they can be really, really wonderful plantings.

Eric would like for Sonya to talk a little about WHY POLLINATORS ARE IMPORTANT. There's more behind this madness, if you will, than just attracting insects and other things to the garden, which is wonderful and important, but pollinators and all of these insects are so important just to the survival of humanity. Sonya agrees, absolutely. Pollination is responsible for many of the foods that we eat, and it's absolutely instrumental to life on this planet. Roughly 150 million years ago, plants developed a beneficial relationship with insects in exchange for colorful flowers that provide pollen and sweet nectar, insects in return will help pollinate the ovary within the flower and provide seeds for the next generation of plants. Without that pollination, we won't have new plants, new flowering plants, on our planet and many of the foods that we eat would just simply cease to exist. When we think about the fact that the lions share of what we find in the grocery store is the product of pollination, if that plant's not pollinated, it does not produce fruit. Humans would starve if we didn't have pollinators. It's why creating these habitats for the pollinators is so important and we need to be thinking about it. It's something that literally affects everyone. Honeybees get a lot of attention because they do a lot of the pollination for our crops, but we have over 4,000 species of native bees in North America, and they're equally important and deserve just as much attention and conservation as the honeybees do. It is absolutely a human issue and Eric thinks that's why for us, as gardeners, we can play this small role in just giving them the habitat and the food to eat and hopefully help build these populations back up.

BUILDING A POLLINATOR GARDEN is not super tricky, even just converting some little corner of our garden into a pollinator area works. It's pretty simple, but there are a few things that we ought to keep in mind to ensure success. Eric asks Sonya what should we think about? She thinks we can narrow it down to four important components. The first one is to make sure that you have native plants blooming in your garden in succession throughout the growing season. You need to look around and see what the first native plants are to bloom in your area and get those in your garden, then layer in additional plants so that something is blooming all throughout the growing season. That's going to ensure that you have enough pollen and nectar to feed your pollinators throughout that important growing season. Eric agrees, that's super important. Part of it is just creating the habitat that encourages the insects. Then the second component is to make sure to pay attention to host plants. Those are the plants that are going to feed your baby caterpillars. All the babies need to eat something too. And feeding caterpillars means providing host plants for your caterpillars to eat and grow. One thing that's important, and often hard for people to accept, is that you really need to see things eating your plants. Not everybody likes that. But it's said that if nothing is eating your garden, then it's not really a part of the ecosystem. We need to make sure that we're feeding the babies. The National Wildlife Federation has come up with an excellent online tool to determine what the best host plants are according to your zip code. (Specify Your Location - Native Plants Finder) If you use the website it will cue you into what the best plants are for your garden. It’s a great resource. Then the third component is you need to make sure you're paying attention to what's happening with your pollinators over the wintertime. It's a time that we don't always think about but pollinators are going to overwinter in your garden. And many of our native bees are solitary. They don't have hives to go back to, instead they lay their eggs either in the ground or in the hollow stems of your plants in the garden. You want to make sure that you leave your stems at least 12 inches long. Because that's where a lot of the larvae and the eggs for your next generation of pollinators for next year will be. And it's also important to remember that bumblebee queens often overwinter under rotten logs in your garden. So, it's a good idea to leave some branches or an old rotten log that's laying around in your garden so that they can find a safe place to be over the wintertime. Eric mentions that mulching is great in certain scenarios, but as we think of a pollinator garden, we're trying to encourage the widest diversity of species. And mulch keeps a lot of these seeds from germinating. It's a little bit of a different perspective when we think about how we're going to garden. Plus all of that material that grew from your garden is gold for your garden. It provides nutrients plus often pollinators look like dead leaves. If you're raking up and taking all the dead leaves away, you're probably robbing your garden of some pollinators that you would like to see next year. Another thing that we need to think about is what we're doing with chemicals, if any, in our garden. Because if the goal is to keep these insects as happy and healthy as possible, there are a very few things that we can spray on the plants that is actually in their best interest. If you want insects to be eating your plants and you want the pollinators around it doesn't serve you very well to spray them with insecticides. And often insecticides are indiscriminate in the insects they kill. It's important to be careful about the chemicals that you put into your garden. And when you're doing a pollinator garden, it's not so much about the space. It's about this concept of growing both for the plants, but also for all of the other species that utilize your garden. For Eric, that's what makes it exciting. Sonya has been a gardener her whole life and loves plants, but now she gardens for all of the other things that come to her garden - the pollinators, the birds, even bats and sometimes snakes, but really any of the other species that share this beautiful planet with us. She's gardening for all of them now. And it's great.

Eric absolutely agrees. It's wonderful to learn how even small changes that we make to the way we garden can have a huge impact on our surrounding ecosystem. And to see that there are tangible decisions that we can make to improve the diversity of our community. Sonya, thank you so much for spending the day with us. We've learned so much from you and what an amazing place this is. Sonya returns the compliment, thanks for visiting. It's been her pleasure.

LINKS:

Highlands Biological Station
Highlands Biological Station

Highlands Greenway Garden
Botanical Garden Trails | Highlands Plateau Greenway

Native Plant Finder
Specify Your Location - Native Plants Finder

Highlands Chamber of Commerce
Kara Addy - Communications Manager
Welcome to Highlands! - Highlands Chamber of Commerce

Cashiers, North Carolina
Home - The Village Green Of Cashiers

Plant List


   
 
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