Keeping swimming: Aquaponics is creating quite the stir — literally! The systems keep water flowing between symbiotic environments of plant and fish habitats, creating a year-round farm. Photo by Hayley Benton.

Technology and nature blend in soil-less farming

It’s a cycle known as aquaponics, which uses dual-tanked plant-and-fish habitats to create a symbiotic environment and a sustainable system that mimics the natural world. One tank holds the fish; the other, the plants. A pump flows water between the two, aerating the water in the process. Along with hydroponics — a similar idea that focuses solely on raising vegetation — it’s a creating an alternative to traditional in-soil farming.

Take a good long look: The Cullowhee Native Plants Conference, running from July 15 through July 19, encourages enthusiasts to really 'dig in' to their love of native plants. Photo by Ashley Evans, courtesy of WCU.

Video: Plant enthusiasts assemble for the Native Plants Conference

Brace yourselves — the plant enthusiasts are coming. From Tuesday, July 15 through Saturday, July 19, Western North Carolina will once again play host to the Cullowhee Native Plants Conference, an annual event with workshops and field trips exploring many aspects of native plants. Get a feel for the conference with a video tour of the plants of Black Balsam Ridge.

The eve of Wamboldtopia: "This whole place is a love story," says Damaris Pierce, seen here in the garden's wedding circle — Damaris' "engagement ring" built by Ricki Pierce (left). "There's a lot of letting go." Photo by Carrie Eidson.

Leaving fairyland: Wamboldtopia’s creators say goodbye to their garden home

Since 1999, Wamboldtopia has been the ever-growing home and garden of artists Damaris and Ricki Pierce. It began as a steep, shady hillside covered in grass, but after 15 years of transformation, Wamboldtopia is a West Asheville institution — a fairyland covered in stone. But for Damaris and Ricki, this is the last season in the garden before they place the home on the market and prepare to move on to new and separate lives.

A garden for a foodie: Sheila Dunn transformed her steep Weaverville lawn into an edible landscape where fruits, vegetables and other delights take the place of grass. Photo by Carrie Eidson

Why I grow: Edible landscaping with Sheila Dunn

For many, edible plants are grown in rows in the vegetable garden — often kept out of sight in the back or side yard. But for Sheila Dunn, a retired microbiologist and Master Gardener, edibles are a beautiful necessity to be woven into the landscape. Dunn converted her steep, rocky Weaverville property into an edible landscape that now provides more than half of everything she eats.