Chestnut Herbal School

Mountain Gardens and Joe Hollis

Joe Hollis

Joe Hollis and Mountain Gardens just celebrated forty years of partnership.  Mountain Gardens is a botanical sanctuary in a small sheltered cove bordered by National Forest and nestled under the massive Black Mountains, including the largest mountain in the East, Mount Mitchell. The sanctuary boasts four acres of medicinal herbs and edible plants from all over the world flourishing in countless niches created by terrain, aspect, water, sun and shade. Joe has been acquiring useful plants for the past four decades by trading with other botanical gardens, gardeners, and seed saving/sharing organizations. In his estimation, he grows over one thousand species of plants, including the populations of native medicinals and edibles he has encouraged in the adjoining forests. Mountain Gardens is the kind of place where one cannot step off the path without trampling on an incredibly rare plant, such as the only Himalayan ginseng growing in North America.

Joe specializes in Asian and western herbs, perennial vegetables, and native woodland medicinals, such as goldenseal, ginseng, false unicorn root, unicorn root, black and blue cohosh, and angelico.  He brought jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) into the country from Japan, and has helped to educate other growers about its use and cultivation. The gardens are imbued with Joe’s grace and the loving devotion of those who have tended the plants over the decades.

The National Forest adjoining Mountain Gardens, enriched by plantings of native edible and medicinal herbs.

community building and deck

Personally, I have been deeply moved by Joe’s gardens over the years and inspired by the abundance possible with a little land, lots of help, and a healthy dose of insight. Joe continues to incorporate new plants into the gardens and develop new sustainable techniques of forest gardening, mushroom culture, and medicinal plant propagation. Every year he takes apprentices in exchange for room and board, creating a legacy of individuals touched by Joe’s experience and wisdom. All of the buildings are off the grid and simply built, which fits in with Joe’s worldview of simple living and integration into existing natural systems.

One of the fanciest outhouses I have had the pleasure of seeing - the composted human manure is used to fertilize fruit trees and vines

Joe’s garden, nursery, philosophy and buildings are eclectic and vibrant. His herbal livelihood is just as creative and diverse: Joe has a nursery, selling potted plants, seeds and bare root plants. He also sells tinctures and dried herbs directly to folks in an honor-system apothecary open to the public, specialty perennial greens to restaurants, and teaches at the local acupuncture school. His simple living allows him to shape his days as he wishes, instead of focusing on earning money for entertainment and unnecessary goods. One of Joe’s major expenses is his library, which he freely shares with the public.

The log cabin built with logs cleared from the land in the creation of the gardens

The nursery growing in hand-dug terraces, with a wide variety of useful plants

the nursery nestled in hand-dug terraces under the community building

goldenseal seedlings

I feel forever touched by Joe’s quiet wisdom and peaceful gardens, and cannot truly express in words the magnitude of this incredible project. I could easily write two whole books on the gardens and Joe, but will let my pictures tell a small part of the story. Please make an appointment to see the gardens or visit during one of their workshops or open house events. Mountain Gardens is a rare place on this Earth, a treasure and inspirational resource for all people interested in the future of the planet and humankind.

Tiger lily (Lilium sp., Liliaceae)

Baikal skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis, Lamiaceae) a beautiful Chinese medicinal; the root is antibacterial

Balloon flower in bud (Platycodon grandiflorus, Campanulaceae), an edible and medicinal garden ornamental

Dong quai (Angelica sinensis, Apiaceae) an important Asian medicinal which has widely naturalized in Joe's garden

Dang shen or poor man's ginseng (Codonopsis pilosula, Campanulaceae) Chinese medicinal tonic

Bog myrtle or sweet gale (Myrica gale, Myricaeae), this plant had its humble beginnings as root cuttings smuggled into the country in Joe's dirty socks

False Unicorn root (Chamaelirium luteum, Melanthiaceae), one of the rare plants Joe cultivates in his nursery, gardens, and surrounding common land.

Elecampagne (Inula sp., Asteraceae)

Joe sharing the story of Mountain Gardens with the students of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine

Relaxing with a book in the apothecary/ library/ common space

Herbal meads (honey wine) fermenting

Pipevine swallowtail pollinating Crocosomia sp., Iridaceae

Joe Hollis

Ginkgo biloba growing in Joe's nursery

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