Mountain Gardens and Joe Hollis
Written and Photographed by Juliet Blankespoor
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.
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.
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.
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.
Meet The Green Mastermind Behind Blog Castanea:
JULIET BLANKESPOOR founded the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in 2007 and serves as the school’s primary instructor and Creative Director. She's been a professional plant-human matchmaker for close to three decades. Juliet caught the plant bug when she was nineteen and went on to earn a degree in Botany. She's owned just about every type of herbal business you can imagine: an herbal nursery, a medicinal products business, a clinical practice, and now, an herbal school.
These days, she channels her botanical obsession with her writing and photography in her online programs and here on her personal blog, Castanea. She's writing her first book: Cultivating Medicinal Herbs: Grow, Harvest, and Prepare Handcrafted Remedies from Your Home Garden. Juliet and her houseplants share a home with her family and herb books in Asheville, North Carolina.
Learn more about cultivation, identification, and uses for medicinal herbs in our 1,000-hour Herbal Immersion Program, which is the most comprehensive handcrafted online herbal course out there.