Sautee Nacoochee Center’s Native Peace Garden – A Unique and Hidden Treasure
At Art of Stone Gardening, one of our interests and specialties is native gardens. The use of native plants in any landscape is a major bonus because native plants support local fauna (insects, birds, other critters, etc.), bring resilience against pests, and have a tolerance to local weather conditions that non-native plants can only dream of. To see this in action, let me direct your attention to the Native Peace Garden located at the Sautee Nacoochee Center (SNC) in Sautee, White County, Georgia.
I became aware of and involved in this unique garden through my service on the Sautee Nacoochee Community Association (SNCA) Board of Directors. “The Center”, as it is known, is a member-based, non-profit organization entering its 40th year of service to White County and Northeast Georgia. Renowned for its visual and performing arts programs, one of The Center’s most recent projects is the creation of the Native Peace Garden.
The Native Peace Garden was dedicated in June of 2019 and is an acre of bottomland through which a small branch flows. When the land was donated to The Center in 2015, it was overrun with privet and other invasive, non-native plants. Have you ever heard of privet? You may know it most commonly as a type of bush used for privacy hedging and ornamental foliage in strictly manicured European gardens. However, species of privet also come from Asia and have many different variants (Japanese, Chinese, and Common.) From Going Native we learn, “Privets invade lowland and upland sites and form dense thickets. These invasive shrubs colonize by root sprouts and seeds that are dispersed primarily by birds. Privets form dense stands in the understory of bottomland forests and exclude native plants, drastically altering wildlife habitat.” That, my friends, exactly describes this little plot of land six years ago. Plants that can now be found in the garden include passion flower (Passiflora), blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum), oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) and more.
The centerpiece of the garden is a massive white oak that holds forth above the creek. Its ancient arms form the bulk of the canopy of this lushly shaded space. The circumference of the oak tells us that it is probably 200 years old, an acorn in the early 1800s. The family that donated the land for the garden did it, partially, in atonement for the loss of land and culture experienced by Native American peoples. Cherokee and Creek tribes were living in the Sautee and Nacoochee Valleys at the time that white settlers arrived in the 1820s. This oak was witness to those who lived here originally and those that came and live here now.
Designed by Alan Stovall of Athens, Georgia, the garden has benches and a simple gravel walking path that creates a place for quiet meditation, observation, and communing with nature.
Reclamation of the woodland took many hours of work by many volunteers. Art of Stone Gardening contributed to the creation of the garden by donating labor during that time. Days were spent pulling privets, planting natives, and sculpting the landscape. And as you may know, with a garden, the work never ends. We are always still cultivating the space today!
When you visit the Native Peace Garden, you can identify the native foliage by metal ground tags set adjacent to the plants.
A local financial beneficiary has funded the salary for a part-time naturalist to oversee the garden and develop educational programming. The programs range from winter tree identification and spring birding, to a wildflower wander and gardening for butterflies. The programs are open to all and are either free or require a modest enrollment fee.
Native plants are so important to a balanced ecosystem. They are a joy to behold and offer food and shelter to the creatures that live in our midst. While native plants thrive in their native habitat, in truth, they can be easily overrun by invasive and non-natives, as the story of the Native Peace Garden tells us. They need us to be their advocates in our ever-changing world.
We hope you will visit this little treasure in Sautee. It is free to the public from dawn until dusk every day and is located behind the Sautee Post Office, 93 Hwy 255 N. You can find a list of programs and upcoming events by visiting www.snca.org or calling 706-878-3300.
Art of Stone Gardening is also a financial supporter of the SNC through their Corporate Partnership Program. Consider supporting The Center becoming a member or by making a donation of time or treasure. The Center’s mission is to value and nurture individual creativity, along with the historical, cultural, and environmental resources of the Sautee and Nacoochee valleys and surrounding areas.