Every year thousands of visitors from around the world are awed and inspired by the beauty of the Lake Junaluska gardens. From the historic Rose Walk to the sedum garden of Inspiration Point, the horticultural surprises are never ending.
What does it take to plant and maintain these glorious grounds? According to the Lake Junaluska landscaping team, it’s a labor of love that’s shared by staff members, volunteers and donors for the enjoyment of all.
The landscaping team numbers two full-time horticulturalists, Landscape Manager Roddy Ray and Landscape Assistant Donna Ewart, and two part-time seasonal employees. Ray has been a landscaper with Lake Junaluska for 24 years, while Ewart, who is also a certified forester, joined the team three years ago.
Both graduates of Haywood Community College’s horticultural program, the two women had ties with Lake Junaluska long before they were employees. Ray grew up attending summer Bible school at Lake Junaluska, while Ewart often brought her family to walk and play on the grounds.
The landscaping team is responsible for about 800 acres, which includes the Rose Walk, eight gardens and 42 flower beds. Ray and Ewart make their rounds with their hand tools in an E-Z-GO Workhorse golf cart that was purchased for the landscaping department by the Junaluska Associates. They work closely with the Lake Junaluska grounds and mowing crew, who provide enormous support.
The landscaping team spends winter pruning back the grounds. Then, between the end of February and April, Ray and Ewart grow all the plants that they will use on the grounds. Maximizing every inch of a 40-by-70-foot greenhouse and a small cold frame, they annually raise seven thousand coleus plants and seven thousand annual and perennial plants, the majority of which go into the ground. Extras are grown for their annual plant sale in May, the proceeds of which help to subsidize the landscaping budget.
“Roddy is why the budget works,” said Ewart. “She stretches it so that we get real bang for our buck.”
The team grows plants by division or from cuttings, plugs, seeds and bulbs. When the plugs arrive via mail, 528 to a tray, they must be potted right away.
“By April, the greenhouse is packed,” said Ray. “It’s a juggling act.”
Water, soil and pots are used sparingly and recycled when possible, resulting in minimal waste. Cuttings are taken and propagated in September, ready for the next year when they will become the mother plants.
Due to the enormity of the task, Lake Junaluska contracts a group of landscapers to help with the annual planting in May. Once Ray and Ewart have placed all the greenhouse-grown plants in the gardens and beds to which they are assigned, the contractors follow behind and put the plants in the ground. The process takes about a week and a half. When the greenhouse is empty and planting season is over, Ray and Ewart turn their attention to weeding, watering and maintaining the grounds.
Care and maintenance of the grounds is where volunteers and donors make their greatest contributions. Volunteers include Lake Junaluska homeowners, the Junaluska Associates, community members, and local and national organizations such as NOMAD. Many homeowners and community members participate in the Adopt-A-Spot program in which small groups adopt a Lake Junaluska location and care for it by weeding beds, deadheading plants and picking up trash.
“We simply couldn’t do our job without the volunteers,” said Ray. “We’ve had hundreds of volunteers over the years. And the homeowners, many of whom are master gardeners, are huge in making the place work.”
Donors allow the landscaping team to continue their work beyond the bounds of their budget. Both groups and individuals make donations that Ray applies to wherever there is the greatest need. She also makes sure that donors get a thank you letter for their tax-deductible donations. Historically, the Junaluskans provide the funds necessary to maintain the historic Rose Walk, which can cover anything from pine needles for mulch to chemicals and fertilizers.
During the fall, Ray and Ewart scout the grounds every other day, looking for the telltale signs of insect-related diseases. In doing so, they get to know the cycle of insects, which chemicals to apply and when to apply them. Both Ray and Ewart are licensed in the use of commercial pesticides, and Ray is responsible for training the landscaping and grounds staff in commercial pesticide safety.
Whether weeding beds, potting plugs or giving a garden tour, Ray and Ewart love the work they do and the opportunity to wow visitors with their horticultural skills.
“We’re always learning,” said Ray. “New plants are constantly evolving, which means new ways of doing things. Also, it’s a blessing and a morale booster that there’s always someone thanking us while we work. That’s why we love to thank our volunteers with roses. It plain makes us feel good.”
For more information on Lake Junaluska landscaping, contact Roddy Ray at [email protected] or 828-454-6774. The annual plant sale takes place May 2, 4 and 6, 2016 from 9 a.m. until noon at the Lake Junaluska Greenhouse, 82 Sleepy Hollow Road, Lake Junaluska. Customers must pay with checks; cash or credit not accepted.
Lake Junaluska is open to the public for vacations, group retreats, weddings, reunions and more. The grounds include a modern hotel, a historic inn, a campground, a golf course, vacation rental homes, meeting spaces, food services and recreation opportunities. Lake Junaluska also hosts concerts and other events throughout the year. To learn more about Lake Junaluska, visit lakejunaluska.com.