Peggy on the Greenway

The rain forest growing season has been kind to the Highlands Plateau, particularly in the newly established pollinator gardens at The Peggy Crosby Center.  Made possible by the generous support of The Laurel Garden Club and other special donors from within the community, and under the direction of noted landscape designer, Canty Worley, the garden has truly begun to flourish with a beautiful array of flowering perennials and native warm season grasses.  Many of the local plant favorites include Salvias, Purple Coneflower, Yarrow, Coreopsis and Black-eyed Susan, to name a few. In the spirit of roadside beautification, the planting adds a splash of beauty to an otherwise busy intersection. In the hopes of education, the planting serves as an example of natural landscape design and the ecological benefits associated with this style.  

Intended as an alternative to the traditional lawn or landscaped beds, this new style of naturalistic design involves dense plantings of flowering plant communities that provide not only seasonal interest and beauty, but much needed habitat and food sources for a diverse range of pollinator species.  Many different bees, flies, wasps, moths, and butterflies have been observed in the garden this season.

The combination of varied flowers and forms at different times of the season, overlapping in a natural succession not only creates a beautiful landscape, but one of function as well.  We begin to see that the flowers in this garden are not just eye candy for us humans, but also, a vital necessity in the web of life that is necessary for healthy ecosystems. In a world of ever increasing urban development, small amounts of species rich habitat can go a long way to support biodiversity. 

While the garden was intended to attract and support pollinators, many other forms of life are benefiting from the planting as well. Birds, reptiles, amphibians, and a host of soil microbes are now frequenting the site.  There is even a rabbit den in the middle of the garden and, miraculously, they haven’t disturbed the new plantings.

The nature of the planting is in the spirit of a time before weed eaters, mowers, and blowers, a time when the edges retained some of the wildness inherent to these mountains.  Ecological plantings like these at The Peggy are low maintenance and environmentally beneficial.  The operational costs of mowing and blowing have been alleviated in this scenario, and in turn those expenses have been replaced with a self-sustaining, resilient blend of hardy vegetation that will provide attractive seasonal interest.  And, just think of all the noise, fuel, and fumes that have been replaced with the sounds of birds, bees and butterflies! 

Since the plantings in this garden are perennial, the quality and vigor of the plants will only improve with age. In addition, many of the plants are easily divisible and will be spread to enhance the density of the planting. So, not only do the plants return each year without the need for replanting, these perennial favorites can be stretched and spread to make the very most of these valuable donor contributions.

Peggy’s Heritage Trees

As luck would have it, PCC is home to some of nature’s most valuable trees.  A Franklinia tree, considered to be one of the rarest in the world, anchors the front of the property.  Also in residence are a Nordman fir, a well-known indicator of environmental change, and a European fir - likely planted by early pioneer, Thomas G. Harbison, as was the Franklinia tree.

  • European Silver Fir (Abies alba)

Planted by Thomas Grant Harbison, long before the original Highlands Hospital was constructed, this specimen is located on the southern side of the property.  Believed by local arborists to be one of the largest and oldest of its kind in North Carolina, this specimen continuously needs of professional attention. As it continues to thrive, many of its long-reaching branches are repeatedly struck by larger vehicles, as they travel through the parking area.  In addition to pruning by an accredited arborist, this piece of Highlands heritage benefits from soil aeration and pest control.

  • Nordman Fir (Ables nordmanniana) – 

The large firs near the street, along the exit of the PCC’s southern drive, have been listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a threatened species.  The Nordman Fir is very sensitive to pollution and climate change and therefore is a very good environmental indicator.  Although the original grouping (which borders the Nurses’ Quarters of the original hospital property) now rest on the property of our southern neighbor, they have naturalized on the property and there are quite a few seedlings, some up to 30 feet tall, located between the PCC and the condos located on the easterly property border.  Although the Nordman Firs remaining on the PCC property are young and healthy, we must remain proactive in the maintenance and care of this endangered species.

  • Franklinia Tree (Franklinia alatamaha)

A beautiful specimen of this breed is located at the front of the PCC property and is registered with Historic Bartram’s Garden. Once native only to Georgia, these are considered to be one of the rarest trees in the world; so much so, that all Franklinia trees today are considered to be descendants of Mr. William Bartram’s efforts to propagate the species.

The Franklinia is a deciduous small tree to large shrub growing fifteen to twenty feet high and ten to fifteen feet wide, with elongated dark green leaves that turn red, orange or pink in the fall.  Its most striking feature is its showy two- to three-inch snow-white flowers, with clusters of golden yellow stamens in the center. The tree flowers from late summer to frost.

Due to the rarity of this breed and beauty of its history, the founding directors of the PCC had no hesitation in choosing its bloom as the Peggy Crosby Center’s logo.

We now consider how much the Franklinia tree and the Peggy Crosby Center are alike.  Both are unique and rare entities that have been given life from their extraordinary environments. 


1 “Thomas Grant Harbison House, Highlands, Macon County, MA0588” North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, Office of Archives & History, Sept. of Cultural Resources. accessed on 17 July 2013