Longstreet Highroad Guide to the North Carolina Mountains
By Lynda McDaniel
[Fig. 8(15)] From its cultivated roses to long stretches of native wildflowers, the gardens on the campus of Wilkes Community College provide a peaceful yet colorful respite from a busy world. A number of themed areas make up the gardens, such as the Native Garden, with its 1-mile walking trail through growths of native trees and wildflowers; the Japanese Garden; a 600-bush Rose Garden; and the Merle Watson Garden for the Senses.
In 1987, world-renowned musician Arthel "Doc" Watson founded the Merle Watson Garden for the Senses to honor his son and performing partner, Merle, who died two years before in a tragic accident. A benefit concert at the college to raise funds for the memorial garden has become an annual event known as Merlefest, a premiere outdoor concert performed by the biggest names in blue grass and folk music.
The Merle Watson Garden for the Senses has steadily grown over the past decade and is now close to completion. The emphasis on design and plant materials suitable for the visually impaired offers a tribute to Doc Watson, who lost his eyesight as a boy. Designed with gently sloping walkways, the garden hosts plants rich in fragrance and texture, Braille plant-identification signs, and a semirelief wall sculpture depicting animals and objects beginning with each letter of the alphabet.
Numerous varieties of native witch-hazel grace the garden. These deciduous shrubs are particularly beautiful in the spring when clusters of pure gold to deep yellow flowers bloom before leaves appear. Just to be different, one variety (Hamamelis virginia) blooms in the autumn with small, fragrant blossoms of crumpled, straplike petals that are creamy to bright yellow. Many of the plants are exotics and cultivars, from countries as far flung as Turkey, Iran, Japan, and Belgium.
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