By Sara Truitt, Urban Farm School student.
Many people may visualize paradise as a beach with coconut trees and white sands, but the way they define paradise may shift if they were ever to step into the magical realm of Mountain Gardens in Western North Carolina. Mountain Gardens was established and developed by the local alchemist and herbal wizard Joe Hollis. For the past 25 years he has been working to create what he calls a Paradise Garden: “For me, Paradise Garden is both a place to live and a way to live, and, above all ‘visionary ecological theater.’ I am trying to act on deep instincts and archetypal images related to human habitat and niche as a way of providing a sustainable values system with sufficient appeal to challenge the dominant consumer culture.”
The students at the Urban Farm School were fortunate to spend an entire day exploring this ecological theater with Joe Hollis as our personal director and teacher. From the moment we stepped onto the property I could feel the enchantment of the forest whispering from every living thing in such a gentle manner, very much a reflection of the way Joe speaks and interacts with the surrounding environment. Each plant has a story, a history, and a purpose for being and Joe can tell you about every single one as if he were speaking about close friends. As we walked through the forest garden we learned not only about Appalachian herbs, such as Solomon’s Seal, but also about the vast variety of Chinese herbs and wild edibles.
The diversity is incredible and can be seen not only in the flora and fauna but also in the many unique and hobbit-like structures throughout the property that house several interns, as well as a community library and herb shop. The little shop is more like a wizard chamber where alchemy is created using the huge selection of herbal ingredients and transforming them into medicine for the people.
Since leaving Mountain Gardens I have been reflecting on the idea of paradise. My filter of perception tells me that paradise would be a place of true harmony with every living thing … a perfect dance between the essence and the manifestation. At Mountain Gardens with Joe Hollis I could see how the connection with the forest helps to foster both the internal and external landscape. The paradise being created on this land in North Carolina is a model for the potential we have as humans to bring peace back to our home, planet earth.
For anyone interested in learning more please visit www.mountaingardenherbs.com. I highly recommend taking a pilgrimage to see this sacred landscape yourself.