A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

[caption id="attachment_167556" align="aligncenter" width="1140"] During the winter, Griggs keeps succulents and tender perennials in a heated greenhouse, which utilizes century-old windows from the church that her husband’s family has attended

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

[caption id="attachment_167556" align="aligncenter" width="1140"] During the winter, Griggs keeps succulents and tender perennials in a heated greenhouse, which utilizes century-old windows from the church that her husband’s family has attended

Plant Joy

During the winter, Griggs keeps succulents and tender perennials in a heated greenhouse, which utilizes century-old windows from the church that her husband’s family has attended for almost as long. photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

Mary Griggs
Charlotte Garden Club — Est. 1926

Even as a young girl, Mary Griggs surrounded herself with plants. “Do you know any 12-year-olds who had plants in their room? Yeah, that was me,” she says. “Mother Nature is precious to me. I’m just of the earth.” At her home in Mint Hill, where she’s lived for 26 years, Griggs has countless plants — in her house, in a greenhouse, and in at least a hundred colorful planters. During the spring, caring for the garden is a full-time job — she spends about 40 hours a week working outside. “Everything you see, I did it. I planted it; I dug the hole,” she says. “That’s what I’m most proud of: When I’m gone, I’m going to leave a spot that’s better. They’re going to sprinkle [my ashes] there. I’m going to be there forever.”

Lib Jones has acquired an impressive collection of perennials over the past 33 years, while her husband, Tom Nunnenkamp, has discovered a passion for Japanese maples and hardscaping. photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

MapleWalk Garden
Charlotte Garden Club — Est. 1926

One of the first things that Tom Nunnenkamp and Lib Jones planted when they bought their home in south Charlotte in 1990 was a Japanese maple that they received as a housewarming gift. That maple still stands in their front yard — as do 97 varieties of maples in their backyard. After purchasing the wooded lot behind their home in 1997, the couple spent more than two years removing poison ivy, wisteria vines, scrub trees, and old construction debris by hand. Now, everyone is invited to explore their two-and-a-quarter-acre MapleWalk Garden, which is also home to more than 100 varieties of camellias, 24 types of dogwoods, 7,000 pots of dwarf mondo, and 1,700 feet of stone-lined paths.

4255 Kingswood Road
Charlotte, NC 28226

2024 Art in the Garden

See six beautiful private gardens around Charlotte during the Charlotte Garden Club’s annual tour, which will be held on May 4 and 5. For more information, visit charlottegardenclub.com.

The Blowing Rock Garden Club has tended to the town’s Memorial Gardens since 2001. photograph by Tim Robison

Memorial Gardens
Blowing Rock Garden Club — Est. 2001

The bronze figure seated among the flowers at the Memorial Gardens on Main Street in Blowing Rock is called The Gardener. She represents the garden club members who have lovingly tended the town’s focal point since the club was established in 2001. At least twice a week during the summer, members pull weeds and prune plants — only resting, says member Susan Sweet, when “tourists stop us to tell us how much they appreciate the beauty of our gardens.”

The Barhams’ seven circa-1940s terraces include Bob’s prized dahlias, as well as about 50 blueberry bushes. photograph by Tim Robison

Bob & Charlene Barham
Blowing Rock Garden Club — Est. 2001

After growing up on a tobacco farm in Summerfield, Bob Barham swore that he would never put his hands in the dirt again. Then, decades later, he fell in love with dahlias. “They’re just beautiful,” he says, “and I can share them with my friends, who come over to pick them all the time.” Bob tends all 27 of his dahlia plants two or three times a week. “I treat everything as if it were a tobacco plant,” he says, “and it seems to work.”

Every May, Susan Sweet shops for annuals to scatter among her perennials. photograph by Tim Robison

David & Susan Sweet
Blowing Rock Garden Club — Est. 2001

Wherever David and Susan Sweet moved during David’s Navy career, Susan planted daffodils. “I love them,” she says. “They’re the first thing to come up in the spring, and there’s the promise that you’re going to have a gardening summer.” Now, terraces in the couple’s sloped backyard in Blowing Rock are filled with daffodils, New Guinea impatiens, and Susan’s pride and joy: more than 40 varieties of daylilies. On the patio, a built-in bread oven and a waist-high herb garden allow for seasonal cooking — Susan’s other passion.

Over the past three years, Linda Sapp has released several hundred monarch butterflies that she’s raised from caterpillars. photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

Linda Sapp
Pinehurst Garden Club — Est. 1981

Each spring, Linda Sapp collects some of the leaves from her milkweed plants and puts them in a mesh cage in her home. There, the tiny eggs hidden on the bottom of the leaves will hatch into caterpillars — monarchs that will grow to about the length of an index finger before they crawl to the top of the cage and form a chrysalis. After they emerge, Sapp releases the butterflies in her backyard on the Pinewild Country Club golf course, where they flutter into a sea of pink, orange, and green. Movement and art have always been part of Sapp’s vision for her garden. Winding paths, circular garden beds, and wind sculptures guide the gaze over the textured foliage of perennials and the bright colors of annuals, which Sapp plants in new designs and combinations each year. “I started to see it like an artist’s canvas, as if I were mixing paint colors,” she says. “Every year, it’s like you’re creating a three-dimensional painting.”

Stephanie Boyles completed the NC Extension Master Gardener program in Moore County in 2008. Spending time in her garden, she says, “is when I do my best thinking.” photograph by Stacey Van Berkel

Stephanie Boyles
Pinehurst Garden Club — Est. 1981

Stephanie Boyles has been gardening since she was old enough to help her mother drop seeds into holes in the ground. At her home in Pinehurst, she named Lily Violet’s Garden in honor of the woman who inspired her love of plants. Boyles still finds her greatest joy when she starts flowers and herbs from seed — “just watching that growth and how beautiful they [become],” she says. In addition to growing herbs to use in recipes for pesto, stuffing, caprese salad, and more, one of her main goals is to create a habitat for pollinators and other wildlife by planting native species and practicing conservation. “I love it when I find some new little critter that’s found a home.”

Rhododendrons, cascading pink roses, and a serenity pool calm the senses in the McNeels’ garden. “It always gives back to me,” Carol says. “I like the way the yard smells, the way it looks in the spring. We don’t know why we ever travel in the spring because it’s just so beautiful.” photograph by KATHY SWENDIMAN/CHAPEL HILL GARDEN CLUB, MARY KNIERIM

Carol & Rick McNeel
Chapel Hill Garden Club — Est. 1931

After retiring from a career in medical technology, Carol McNeel took an Extension Master Gardener course and loved it so much that she went back to school to earn a certificate in horticulture. She then studied to become a nurseryman and worked at a nursery in Illinois for about eight years. When she and her husband, Rick, built a home in Chapel Hill in 2008, she put all of that education to use as the couple transformed their mostly bare lot into a garden paradise. Their property is now populated with more than 200 rhododendrons, camellias, and azaleas; a variety of uncommon trees, like variegated elm and English oak; and cascading roses. “We’re always touching the plants or dusting them off or picking leaves out of them,” Carol says. “I feel like [the garden] is really an extension of us and our personalities.”

Jane & Jim Brown
Chapel Hill Garden Club — Est. 1931

The Natchez crape myrtle in Jane and Jim Brown’s backyard soars three stories high, towering over their mid-century modern home on Eastwood Lake. “When it blooms, we can’t even tell because it’s so tall, except that we hear the hum of the honeybees,” Jane says. “And then it’s like it’s snowing as the blooms fall.” For much of the year, the tree offers shade for what the Browns call their sanctuary — “a calm, Zen, pretty self-sustaining [garden] as opposed to something that requires daily involvement,” Jim says. Over the past 30 years, they’ve planted hundreds of hellebores and other deer-resistant perennials, and propagated trees and shrubs from their own plants to create a space that’s relatively low-maintenance. Still, Jane finds joy working in her raised beds of poppies and peonies, and Jim enjoys pruning the sculpted camellia and the Lady Banks rosebush that drapes over the patio. And when the work is done, they recline in their lakeside hammock or sit beneath the massive crape myrtle to relax in their own little slice of heaven.

The Harbor Island Garden Club, established in Wrightsville Beach in 1952, maintains Harbor Way Gardens, which includes (clockwise from right) a children’s fountain and butterfly houses built by local Eagle Scouts. It’s also the only public garden in the state that grows Witherspoon roses. photograph by Matt Ray Photography

Harbor Way Gardens
Harbor Island Garden Club — Est. 1952

When Hurricane Florence took down 21 trees in Harbor Way Gardens in 2018, it was a blessing in disguise. Suddenly, the understory of the one-acre garden on the west end of Wrightsville Beach Park could see the light. Members of the Harbor Island Garden Club set about planting flowers that loved soaking up the sunshine: Lady Banks and Witherspoon roses, milkweed and bronze fennel, a variety of pink blooms for breast cancer awareness, and beach daisies, the official club flower. In the years since, the garden — which had mostly been a natural wooded area — has become a lovingly tended landscape that includes a pollinator garden, a children’s fountain, native and Southern heritage areas, and a labyrinth, which was installed after the hurricane to encourage peace and calm.

321 Causeway Drive
Wrightsville Beach, NC 28480
(910) 612-5872

Bob helped build the gate (bottom right) that leads into the McDonalds’ garden, where they often sit on a bench with their dog, Playboy. “It’s a great place for reading, praying, just being,” Wylene says. They can also watch the sun set over Motts Channel from their house. photograph by Matt Ray Photography

Bob & Wylene McDonald
Harbor Island Garden Club — Est. 1952

Nearly 40 years ago, Wylene McDonald was inspired by her neighbor, an Extension Master Gardener volunteer, to get into gardening herself. She began with a handful of geraniums. They all died — from overwatering. But Wylene learned from her mistake, and with plenty of trial and error — and learning to “pull weeds and pull weeds and pull weeds,” she says — she’s created what her husband, Bob, calls “Wylene’s World” at their home in Wrightsville Beach. Past the wrought-iron gate that Bob built with a friend is a tropical paradise: cast-iron plants, fatsia, holly ferns, and bright flowers, most of which are planted in pots because the palm tree roots have taken over in the earth. “There’s something about walking up to the gate … it’s just magical,” Wylene says. “I love the sense of satisfaction of watching something grow and feeling like you’re part of nature.”

2024 Plants & Plein Air

On May 4, the Harbor Island Garden Club will host its third annual Art in the Garden event, featuring the works of 20 professional plein air painters. Learn more at harborislandgardenclub.com/events.

This story was published on Apr 26, 2023

Katie King

Katie King is a managing editor at Our State.