Take a walk on the wild side

Not many people know the history and design of the Botanical Gardens at Asheville as well as local writer/gardener extraordinaire Peter Loewer. As the author of several gardening books, including the popular The Wild Gardener (Stackpole, 1991), Loewer will lead a walking tour of the gardens on Sunday, July 25, at 2 p.m., focusing not only the flora and fauna, but on the gardens’ history, as well. Loewer is the perfect choice to facilitate the walk, because his knowledge of the garden’s design goes beyond the merely academic: Doan Ogden, the man who planned the 10-acre Botanical Gardens back in the late ’60s, was Loewer’s neighbor (Ogden also designed Loewer’s personal garden).

“Ogden was one of the most brilliant landscape designers that North Carolina has ever produced,” explained Loewer in a recent interview. “He lived in a time when there were no major magazines or anything like that devoted to gardening, so a lot of people had no idea [who he was]. To give you some sense of his ability, he designed the campus of Haywood Tech, and if you’ve ever been out there, you’ll realize you’re standing in one of the most beautiful college campuses in America.”

Ogden came to Asheville in the late 1940s and bought a 9.5 acre tract of land in Kenilworth (now owned by a prominent Asheville resident). “If you want to see the best Japanese garden outside Washington, D.C. or St. Louis,” Loewer noted, “there’s the most beautiful moss garden you’ll ever see, here [on the property]. It’s true Japan.” Loewer now lives next door, on an acre that Ogden also designed in his spare time.

The designer, who died in 1990, was also a meticulous draftsman, Loewer relates. “He did these incredible layouts, with everything beautifully labeled. His collection is in Raleigh [at UNC], in the history department. There’s no money to display them, but at least they’re being held for perpetuity. He was a truly brilliant man.”

While Loewer’s “Designing a Garden” walk on the 25th will address several aspects of garden planning, special attention will be given to the use of native plants. “One of the reasons why native plants are so valuable,” Loewer explains, “is that no matter what kind of year we have, no matter how bad the rain, the drought or the heat, the majority of native plants will survive, because they are native to the area. I try to convince people they can have beautiful gardens by incorporating Ogden’s design principles. We’ll stop and look at plants that are specified for a certain environmental niche, so that in Asheville, even when we have a terrible summer, they’ll bloom and do wonderfully.”

For more information, call the Botanical Gardens at 252-5190.

Two heads are better than one

It’s no great secret that teamwork gets things done. Two state-government agencies relearned that valuable lesson recently, when the Department of Transportation and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources signed a partnership agreement to protect the state’s wetlands and streams. Under the agreement, signed by DOT Secretary David McCoy and DENR Secretary Wayne McDevitt, the DOT will pay DENR’s Division of Water Quality $17.5 million during the next seven years, to identify wetlands and streams most in need of restoration. The partnership will help ensure that areas with the severest water-quality problems are given top priority for restoration.

Since the creation of DENR’s Wetlands Restoration Program in 1996, the two agencies have been independently identifying sites in need of restoration; this agreement seeks to eliminate duplication of effort, while speeding up the water-quality certification process required when DOT builds mitigation projects — improvements meant to offset the environmental impacts of local highway-construction projects.

“In addition to signifying a new era of interagency cooperation,” said McCoy, “this agreement makes solid financial sense. Our partnership enables DOT to complete highway-construction projects in a timely and environmentally responsible way, and continues our commitment to minimize impacts [on] our state’s natural resources.”

The agreement also calls for establishing the NC Watershed Restoration Policy Committee, a statewide panel of environmental experts that will review the local watershed-restoration plans recommended by DENR that could be used to replace wetlands and streams lost to road construction projects, as required by federal law. “It’s a win-win agreement for the environment and transportation,” declared McDevitt.

To learn more, call (919) 733-2522.

Recycle and you shall receive

Sometimes, it pays to give … or, in this case, give back. The city of Asheville is once again asking residents to recycle their old phone books, as the new BellSouth directories appear on our doorsteps. Place your old book in your curbside-recycling bin (or blue recycling bag) for collection. Phone books will also be collected at the recycling centers at the Tunnel Road Wal-Mart, the Buncombe County landfill and the Buncombe County transfer station.

What can you get in return for that ratty old phonebook? Well, first off, you can exchange it for a free admission to the July 21 Asheville Tourists game at McCormick Field. And then there’s the satisfaction of contributing to Buncombe County’s recycling program. More than 35,000 phone books were collected and recycled last year; today, those old books are being turned into such commodities as paper towels, insulation, animal bedding, egg cartons, shipping-envelope padding, sheet rock and newsprint paper.

For more information, call Karen Rankin at 259-5936, or Ann Jacobs at 254-1776.

High tech … and darn cheap, too

North Carolina schools are about to get a good deal on some new technology. In a recent press release, Sen. John Edwards announced that ExplorNet — a Raleigh-based nonprofit organization that enlists businesses, individuals and government agencies to put computers in schools — will receive $2 million to update computer technology in schools across the state, through a program that teaches students to upgrade and refurbish old computers. “Our schools need access to the latest technology,” Edwards said. “If we want to prepare our children for the 21st century, we need to give them the tools they need.”

The money, a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, will fund the ExplorNet Learning Project (which teaches students how to build and maintain computers), enabling the program to expand nationally. When businesses donate outdated computers to schools, the program teaches students how to install new hardware, upgrading the equipment at a cost well below retail prices. In 1998-99, for example, 1,000 students rebuilt 4,000 computers in North Carolina, saving school districts $4.3 million.

“We owe it to our kids to expose them to the latest technology available,” Edwards explained. “By providing students with this chance to learn, we are giving them a greater chance to succeed in school, [in] the workplace, and in whatever endeavors they choose.”

For more information, contact Michael Briggs at (202) 224-1545.

— clubably compiled by Paul Schattel

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