The Grapevine

Add 'rescue' to your garden vocabulary

CorrespondentAugust 22, 2009 

Tom and Sarah Harville have been creating their garden in Cary since 1994. The inhabitants of their lovely hilltop refuge are primarily rescued plants. "I can't think of anything I would rather do than watch trillium open in the spring," Tom Harville said. "Every evening I unwind by walking around the yard and watching things change."

Harville said he gardens mainly for enjoyment and therapy and to satisfy his curiosity and protect wildlife. It would seem that he also enjoys the thrill of exploring endangered areas, searching for and rescuing native plants.

"Our garden is continually evolving because the majority of the plants are natives that have been rescued from natural sites in North Carolina which were to be bulldozed to make way for development. The plants themselves decided if they like my efforts at moving them and live and die accordingly," he said.

He can recall the history of most of his plants and the places he obtained them. The Edwards Mill Road Extension in Raleigh, The Preserve golf community near Chapel Hill and the Randleman Reservoir project on the Deep River, which has created the state's newest lake in Guilford and Randolph counties, are all places where he has collected natives that now thrive in special niches in his landscape. Many plants in his garden have come from as far away as Watauga, Ashe and Caldwell counties and as near as the lot behind their house on Braelands Drive.

Breathtaking views

The mingling of so many diverse natives has created a spectacular landscape.

On my visit, during the Native Plant Society's Conservation Garden Tour in April, Harville explained after our breathtaking trek up his steep driveway that we could begin our tour to the right of the garage -- just past the U.S. flag he proudly displays and where, he said, "saluting is permitted."

The first garden is filled with plants rescued from a site in Raleigh. Christmas ferns along the path came from the lot behind their house and the Edwards Mill Road extension project.

The back garden holds a welcoming patio with several birdhouses, water features and an area containing flowers for cutting. Sarah can view these from the kitchen window. A lower patio holds a sitting wall and Sarah's roses and herbs.

The winding and sloping pathways lead to small rooms within the landscape, water features, havens for reptiles and amphibians and, of course, humans.

Harville's private retreat, the "Obsessive Compulsive Patio," is a small stone patio carved into the hillside overlooking the street.

He said, "I sit there each evening with a toddy to toast the 'OCs' in our neighborhood as they drive home late from work."

An impressive display

An elegant, old-fashioned metal swing is the focal point of his first "outdoor room" project. The swing is a replica of one Sarah's father made when she was a little girl. Behind the swing, he experiments with oriental Asarums, or wild gingers. Nearby beds contain the transplants from Ashe and Caldwell counties.

Tom Harville's garden is one of the most impressive in Wake County, and he willingly shares his knowledge. Directly after I explored his wonderful garden, I invited him to speak at my gardeners forum at his earliest convenience and was thrilled when he readily accepted. I can't wait to hear what he has been up to since we met in his garden last spring.

If you want to learn more about rescuing, propagating and growing native plants, join us at 11 a.m. Sept. 12 at The Garden Hut in Fuquay-Varina, The Gardeners Forum is always free, but please call 919-552-0590 to reserve a seat.

For free gardening advice, attend Carol Stein's Gardeners Forum each month. See Garden Goings-on for complete information or contact Carol at

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