I dont know what Tom Harvilles woodland garden looks like in spring and fall, but on a Sunday afternoon in what he calls the green malaise of summer, plenty of plants got my attention. Harville led a tour by the south side of his Cary home, around the back, to the north and along pathways that climb a wooded bank.
Ferns, hemlocks, azaleas and oakleaf hydrangea are among several hundred species of native plants in his garden. Just a bit of color red berries on Solomons seal and fading purple peeping through a wave of yellow Heliopsis helianthoides and Rudbeckia heliopsidis was visible on this day in early August. Mostly theres green in various shades, shapes and textures.
Although most of his plants are native to North Carolina, Harville said hes not a purist. He also has non-natives, or exotics. Some satisfy his wifes desire for specific cutting plants. Others were put in when he settled here and thought hed plant a formal English garden. His plans changed.
After meeting members of the N.C. Native Plant Society and others who extol the benefits of native plants, Harville became curious.
They were here and the whole ecosystem developed them, he said.
Native plants are better for wildlife and the environment, according to N.C. State Universitys Going Native website. Native wildlife depend on native plants for food and shelter, and according to the website, As exotic plants replace our native flora, fewer host plants are available to provide the necessary nutrition for our native wildlife. Gardeners who grow native plants are more successful in attracting native birds and other wildlife.
To get his garden started, Harville covered the bank with hardwood mulch and let nature take over. About six years later, he cut out all of the loblolly pines on that north-facing bank and selectively thinned out the hardwood trees. Later he added paths that crisscross the slope. His work gave nature a helping hand with forest succession.
Some plants have arrived at Harvilles place the way they do in nature in birds beaks or droppings, the wind or other natural means. Harville has gathered some plants on rescue trips with the N.C. Native Plant Society. The group digs up and transplants plants that might otherwise be destroyed by construction.
Early on, a landscaper recommended he plant Iris cristata, so Harville bought some from the nursery. Later, while out walking in his neighborhood, he found the same iris growing in a vacant lot. He received permission to dig some up to move to his own garden.
He cut a swath, rolled it up and transplanted it to his garden. Soon, he not only had irises but also tiarella, hepatica and ranunculus that had come along for the ride. He was hooked.
Harville spends two to three hours a day in the garden. Part of that time is spent discovering whats landed. Some is spent admiring whats there, such as how plants change with the seasons. He noted that the oak leaf hydrangea has three seasons worth of interest white blooms in the spring, which fade to pink in early summer and then turn brown.
Occasionally, he is surprised, for example, when a plant like Dryopteris intermedia, a fern that grows in the mountains, does well in his Piedmont garden.
My tour was punctuated by botanical stories. Botanist John Bartram, who traveled the Appalachian region collecting seeds and plants, gets credit, Harville said, for saving the Franklinia alatamaha tree from extinction. One of these trees, formerly known to grow only near the River in Georgia, is in Harvilles woodland.
Harville clearly loves his woodland garden. It makes him feel connected.
Watching nature ebb, grow, adapt is very calming, he said. My woods give a refuge to all sorts of life and thats good.