Garden Variety

A Southern Mountain Garden

A revival landscape in Highlands, North Carolina

Ali Harper

A garden cottage, tucked into a revived landscape in Highlands, North Carolina.

A Louisiana cotton broker named Henry Worrell Sloan built a home on the side of Satulah Mountain in Highlands, North Carolina, at the turn of the twentieth century, set off by a remarkable garden of his design. Between his main house and stable were seven terraces that he created as a fantasy of stone walls and grand staircases. His plantings ranged from native rhododendron to purple beech and ginkgo. Sloan went on to become a town benefactor and was buried along one of the terraces, between his two wives.

By the time the Atlanta landscape architect Jeremy Smearman took on a restoration of the garden in 2010, it was in ruins. “All the pieces were there, but it had all tumbled down due to erosion,” Smearman says.

His first order of business was to establish flow through the garden’s eighty feet of elevation gain. The new owners, Chris Carpenter and Cathy Henson, lived in the converted stable downhill and had purchased the garden to keep it out of the hands of developers. So Smearman built a new entry that would encourage guests to descend through the terraces, via the gorgeously restored main stone staircase. Although he made every effort to bring the hardscape back to its late Gilded Age glory, the plantings around it needed to reflect a more modern notion of formality, without the rigid cypress border. So he opted for monochrome, planting the area around the staircase all white, with hydrangeas and flowering bishop’s weed—a vivid contrast to the surrounding riot of green.