Get out there and garden

Hold onto your shovels: The door to the world of gardening here in Western North Carolina is opening. It’s called spring — and whether you’re a new gardener, new to the area or simply looking for renewal, there’s an abundance of information and plants at your fingertips. Scan the outdoor-activity and gardening sections in the local papers and you’ll find a variety of walks, talks and classes being offered on topics ranging from organic vegetable gardening to container gardening for small patios. And if you’re the type that’s more inclined to poke around at a plant sale, picking someone’s brain for information or debating which variety of rosemary is the hardiest for our area, you’re in luck, because there are four events coming up in late April and early May that you won’t want to miss.

* First on the list is the Growing in the Mountains retail garden show on Saturday, April 23 (9-6) and Sunday, April 24 (11-4) at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center across from the airport. With its broad offering of landscape plants and products, this show is probably the most representative of our regional landscape industry. Both wholesale and retail nurseries and garden centers will be showing their wares and services, along with designers and landscape contractors. There’ll be a great selection of perennials, shrubs and trees, sod, hanging baskets, container gardens and garden art. Local growers and landscape professionals will present educational programs on both days. If you’re interested in learning more about the creative and hard-working people who make up our local nursery-and-landscape industry, be sure to stop by.

* The French Broad Garden Club’s annual spring plant sale is slated for Saturday, April 30, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Clem’s Cabin (1000 Hendersonville Road). This high-quality event has been a staple on the local garden calendar since World War II. Fourteen local vendors will offer herbs, perennials, shrubs and trees and an information table will feature well-seasoned gardeners and horticulturists who’ll strive to answer your every gardening question. One nice thing the garden club does at this sale is highlight a particular plant group (this year, it’s the hellebores). Four local hellebore growers will be selling their wares, and the club will also offer hellebores from Pine Knot Farms. All told, many species and forms will be available, including doubles, singles, multicolors and solids. Don’t miss the companion plants, either, such as hardy cyclamens and hardy ferns. Camellias and peonies, highlighted plants from the last two years, will be making encore appearances.

* Next up is the “Herbs 2005″ Spring Herb Festival, scheduled for May 6-8 at the Western North Carolina Farmers Market. Now in its 16th year, this event never ceases to disappoint anyone looking for herbs and herbal products. It’s also a reunion for both growers and buyers, with more than 50 vendors offering an array of plants, medicinal herbs, teas, soaps, lotions, books, essential oils and herbal crafts. Local herbalists will offer educational programs on Friday and Saturday, and the local master gardeners have an information table providing answers to all things herbal. Whether you’re looking for the newest varieties or wanting to buy this year’s basil plants (as I always do), you can easily spend a pleasant day browsing, visiting and savoring the herb-filled air around you.

* On this same weekend, it’s imperative you at least stop by the Botanical Gardens at Asheville to sample Days in the Gardens. This gem of a facility, on Weaver Boulevard near UNCA, is dedicated to preserving and promoting plants native to the Southern Appalachians. Along with a fall plant sale, the event is an annual fund-raiser that helps pay for garden maintenance. It will be held rain or shine from 1-6 on Friday and 8-3 on Saturday. About a dozen local vendors will offer a variety of native plants in addition to the crafts, food and entertainment. I recommend being there when the doors open, since the best plant selections go quickly. But do make time to stroll the gardens and check out the spring ephemerals, as well. This is one show of early spring color you won’t want to miss.

* There’s more, of course, and it’s best to check local papers, bulletin boards and Web sites regularly to find out about programs, sales and learning opportunities. The North Carolina Arboretum has many educational programs, and a series of upcoming plant shows will focus on specific plant groups such as rhododendrons, roses and dahlias. The Buncombe County Master Gardeners are offering a series of monthly talks at the arboretum, titled Gardening in the Mountains, that will address topics such as “Planting a Cutting Garden,” “Bird and Butterfly Gardening,” “Lawn Care” and “Dwarf Conifers.” Remember too that the vendors at the many tailgate markets around town sell herbs, ornamental plants and vegetable starts as well as the fresh bounty straight from their own gardens. And finally, if you’re looking for some simple direction and guidance, check out your local library for regional gardening information, or visit the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service Web site (www.ces.ncsu.edu). Here you’ll find numerous leaflets on home-gardening-related topics as well as great links to other online horticulture sites.

By now it should be clear that unless you live in total isolation from the outside world, you don’t have to go far to be touched by an opportunity to learn about or buy plants in this area. Is it too much to ask that you make it a point to venture out sometime these next few weeks to a plant show or sale? And if you do, be sure to buy something — both to support your local grower and as a reminder of how incredibly lucky we are to live here, to have such talented growers among us, and to have access to such a diverse and beautiful plant palette. And if your schedule has you running here and there on these particular days, please promise me that you’ll at least make an appointment with a tree or a trail sometime soon, as an alternate way to express this gratitude and experience this same goodifortune. Thanks.

[Alison Arnold is director of horticulture at The North Carolina Arboretum. She can be reached at 665-2492.]

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