Trout Cove

I’ve lived almost 11 years in my current home in northeast Tennessee. In the tradition of many gardeners, I have named my property to reflect what continues to draw me to this place. The name Trout Cove has several origins. It is partly for the trout that swim in the sheltered waters of Sinking Creek flowing downstream from an adjacent park. It also stems from the most common wildflower here, the trout lily. Beginning by early March, thousands of these flowers blanket the hillsides in my woods, often continuing for a month or more in the various microhabitats. These ephemeral wildflowers race the light, blooming and fruiting before the trees fully leaf out above them. Finally, cove represents both the miniature indentations of the creek, and the special cove forests unique to the central and southern Appalachians. My yard at 10 acres is too small to hold the entire valley between ridges conveyed by the scientific definition. Still, the backside of my yard, where the land rises on either side of the trail I built meandering through the woods, captures the feel of the archetypal cove forests of the Smokies just a couple hours away.

My property descends from the road to Sinking Creek, a tributary of the Watauga River. From there the yard slopes up to my house, and then continues uphill. In areas where I am gardening it is a gentle grade, but there is also a rocky cliff where native wildflowers flourish. I can only access this by a climbing rope since it is too steep to hike, which at least for the moment means I haven’t tried gardening it. But of course, all gardeners eventually run out of space so I may yet need to explore the world of cliff gardens.

Most of my yard is regenerating temperate hardwood forest, which I have left largely untouched other than building trails and removing invasive plants. I have been shaping areas closest to the house into gardens with the goal of providing enriched habitats for animal visitors. Most of these visitors are polite, though rabbits and deer sometimes are overly exuberant in their appreciation of my garden and view it more as a leafy buffet.

I think it was inevitable I would garden from the time I was born. I was named for my dad’s sister, Ruth Smiley. Many years ago, my dad told me a story of the first time his family visited Mohonk, in 1936. My aunt had recently earned a master’s degree in horticulture and landscape design from Cornell, at a time when few women were conducting such studies. Mohonk Mountain House, 90 miles north of New York City, was founded by the Smiley family in 1869, and included a stunning garden. As they were enthusiastically admiring the gardens my father said their mom casually said to Ruth “You should marry the man who owns these gardens.” And in a fairytale twist, she married Keith Smiley, owner of Mohonk Mountain House, and began a lifetime of nurturing their gardens. During my visits with her over the years, I was shaped by her love of nature, gardening, and photography, and feel she has passed to me the gifts of her enthusiasm for all things wild.  

This website will record my photographs and descriptions of the land as I found it, and the gardens I have created. I want to share my efforts to make my corner of the planet a better place. I have an especially big backyard, but all of us can work to be stewards of the places we call home. Millions of tiny lives are counting on us.

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