Asheville Garden Bloggers Fling: Gentling Garden, a mountainside eden

The first thing you learn about gardens in Asheville, North Carolina, on the slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is that they have a lot of stairs. We’re talking serious elevation changes. What does this mean for the gardeners who live here? Well, for one thing they are fit and have great legs. For another, they are able to capitalize on stunning views that most of us can only dream of.

Last Thursday through Sunday I toured Asheville gardens with 90 or so fellow garden bloggers for the 5th annual Garden Bloggers Fling. (Previous Flings have been held in Seattle, Buffalo, Chicago, and Austin; next year’s will be hosted in San Francisco.) We were bused around Asheville and nearby Clyde on two buses, sometimes on mountainside roads with steep drop-offs and hairpin turns. On the second day we spent all morning and had lunch in the gardener’s garden of Peter and Jasmin Gentling, my favorite stop among many delightful gardens of the whole weekend. The Gentling Garden is big enough to ramble and get lost in, even with dozens of other garden bloggers, cameras snapping madly, fanning out to capture the scene.

Jasmin and Peter welcomed us into their garden with humor and generosity, giving us the history of their historic home and its terracing that was buried under rampant undergrowth when they moved in, explaining that Jasmin likes flowers while Peter values evergreen structure and foliage, and pointing out that there is plenty of seating throughout the garden because they believe in sitting and being in the garden, not just working in it.

We listened attentively with cameras at hand, ready to spring forth and capture the morning light. One nice thing about touring gardens in the mountains is that you can sleep in and still get great light, as the sun has to clear tall trees and maybe a mountain or two before it can light up the garden.

Two of our most excellent Fling hosts: Christopher C., aka the Planner Man, of Outside Clyde, and Frances of Fairegarden

Another thing you need to know about Asheville gardens is that they use a lot of stone and therefore often have a rugged, timeless character.

Christopher had instructed us that we would need sturdy shoes on the Fling, and he was right. Irresistible, primitive stone stairs like these beckon you to explore hidden overlooks and other secret spaces.

Above the house, along the driveway, sits Peter’s painting studio, a charming stone-and-wood-sided structure with a translucent roof for good lighting.

Inside, a peek at Peter’s artworks. Some of the pieces appeared to depict sumo wrestlers, and I noticed other evidence of Japanese influence in the garden…

…like this Japanese-style gate…

…and this fence, with a red-leafed Japanese maple blushing above it.

Peter said something rather extraordinary before setting us loose: he said that winter is their garden’s best season. How many of us can say that (assuming you have a real winter, as Asheville does)? Looking around the garden, I began to understand why. Rock walls and terracing, evergreen shrubs along garden paths, and graceful trees whose shapely trunks are revealed in winter must all contribute to the garden’s good bones, and I can imagine how lovely it looks under a soft blanket of snow.

Near the house, a collection of Japanese maples and other trees offers shade.

Grass paths lead from garden to garden, enticing you along.

I ran into Phillip Oliver of Dirt Therapy here; visit his blog for more gorgeous pics from the Fling.


In the sunny, open center of the garden, white rose campion, Arkansas bluestar, and roses offer seasonal color.

Another look at the rose campion and the crosshatched timbers that make up the stair treads

Pocket lawns appear here and there throughout the garden. Stone retaining walls frame the lawn and offer places to sit. In the surrounding garden beds grow giant allium and variegated grasses, punctuated by planters filled with succulents.

You can always find a place to sit and contemplate the garden.

Does anyone know what this flower is? The foliage is dark purple and lovely. Update: It’s possibly Clematis recta ‘Midnight Masquerade.’ Thanks to Freda Cameron for the ID.

An unseasonably early spring caused us to miss the big azalea and rhododendron display, but a few native azaleas were in bloom.

Poppies too

I like them just as well when they’ve gone to seed.

Small sculptures, thoughtfully placed, appear throughout the garden, like this nude striding through pink geraniums…

…and this one perched in a birdbath.

Plant curiosities abound too. This voodoo lily in bloom wafted its stinky odor a little way up the hill.

Silver-dollar plant. See the seeds silhouetted inside the flat, round pods?

Crosshatched timbers become nurse logs for other plants.

A pond with water lilies occupies a lower terrace, framed by surrounding trees.

What a great place to sit and watch dragonflies darting or birds coming in for a drink.

Another charming garden bench

Frilly pink columbines were blooming in front of a chartreuse-leaved plant…

…that also sported a few blushing-pink leaves. What a lovely shrub. Does anyone know what it is? Update: Corylopsis spicata ‘Aurea.’ Thanks to Scott Weber for the ID.

When lunch arrived, a group of us headed around back of the house to the rear terrace, passing this rustic, hip-roofed shed.

The large, brick terrace has room for several seating areas, including this oversized table and chairs…

…and facing gliders. A steep hillside on the left is held back by a series of retaining walls swathed in cascading foliage, which makes the terrace feel like a secluded hideaway.

Candy-striped amaryllis were blooming by the back door.

The front porch is equally charming, with rocking chairs galore. Rocking chairs are the official seating of Asheville, or so I believe after seeing them in the airport and on nearly every front porch in town.

After lunch it was time to say goodbye. Peter and Jasmin generously promised that any of us could stop by and visit again, should we find ourselves in Asheville. I hope to take them up on their kind offer one of these days, maybe one crystalline winter morning, if I’m lucky.

Tune in tomorrow for the lush garden beds and creatively recycled hardscaping of the garden at Curve Studios.

All material © 2006-2012 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

28 Responses

  1. Jenn says:

    Ahhh… the green the lush the sedum… my chest hurts with longing… so beautiful!

    “The lush”—that’s what our host Christopher calls it in the growing season. It really was. —Pam

  2. Looks beautiful, cool and shady!

    Could that white flower possibly be a shrub clematis such as clematis recta ‘Midnight Masquerade’ or ‘Lime Close’? I’ve been researching these for my garden.

    Thanks, Freda. I think it may be ‘Midnight Masquerade.’ —Pam

  3. Frances says:

    You have captured perfectly the peaceful and lush vibe of this wonderful garden, Pam. I could have stayed longer, for you have shown things that I missed. Ahhhh…..

    ps, tell Christopher to smile when someone points a camera at him!

    Christopher is the only person I know who gets more serious when a camera is pointed at him. :-) —Pam

  4. This is such a beautiful and peaceful setting. The mountains look more inviting as we head into the hot summer months here.

    The mountain air is like air conditioning, Shirley, especially in the shade. We did have some warm temps though, especially at Biltmore House, where the main gardens are largely sunny and unshaded. Still, nothing like Texas heat. —Pam

  5. Susan (gardensage) says:

    Great pictures Pam. Thanks for sharing. Makes me long to return to Asheville soon.

    It’s a lovely place, Susan. Thanks for stopping by. —Pam

  6. Kerry says:

    Again, you’ve done a lovely job of capturing the essence of this place. I have taken plenty of ideas away from this garden. Thanks!

    I also think the dark leafed plant is ‘Lime Close’ clematis. I have coveted this plant for quite some time. The rough lime leaves could be a viburnum or perhaps an elm. How big was the bush/tree?

    Thanks for the IDs, Kerry. Based on online pictures, I thought the shrub clematis was closer to ‘Midnight Masquerade’ than ‘Lime Close,’ but I’m not sure. The lime-leaved shrub may indeed be a viburnum. It had rough, corrugated leaves and stood quite tall, maybe 8 feet? —Pam

  7. Alison says:

    Thanks for the great pictures and excellent write-up about this garden from the Fling. It seems to have been a favorite of a lot of Flingers. I really appreciate you sharing your insights into the garden. Your comments always have a lot of substance. I hope you do get to see it in winter.

    Thanks, Allison. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! —Pam

  8. Stunning photos. I think this is the nicest overall garden I’ve ever had the pleasure of wandering through. The gardener’s graciousness just added to it.

    So true, Jim. The hosts couldn’t have been more welcoming, nor the garden more beautiful. —Pam

  9. jenny says:

    I can see why this was a favorite. Makes me long for some lush, shady setting. Wonderful to have all those seating areas and I loved the bird bath with statue doing press-ups. Sorry to have missed such a wonderful weekend.

    You’d have loved exploring this garden, Jenny. We all missed you at this year’s Fling. Maybe you’ll be able to join us again at the San Francisco Fling? —Pam

  10. Heather says:

    WOW. Awesome photos, and how I want to live there!

    If you did, you’ve never have to exercise again. So many stairs! ;-) —Pam

  11. Lynn Hunt says:

    Your beautiful photos brought back many happy memories of the day and that garden, Pam. It was great to meet you!

    So nice to meet you too, Lynn! —Pam

  12. Scott Weber says:

    Beautiful photos, Pam…looks awesome! I think the mystery shrub is probably Corylopsis (perhaps Corylopsis spicata aurea)…I only say that because I recently bought one ;-)

    You are good, Scott. I think that’s it! —Pam

  13. That garden is paradise! AND I saw some of y’all in LONG SLEEVES! Man….sounds like a nice retreat you must have had from the Texas heat :) Green…lush…and color too – so so so pretty :)

    It was so lovely there, Heather. Temps reached the low 80s during the day, but it was always pleasant in the shade. —Pam

  14. While enjoyed your photos and comments about this beautiful garden I especially liked the shot you took of the group before you all dispersed. So many familiar faces from last year. I wish I could have been there with you all, and hope I can be next year!

    I’ll have more people shots as I work my way through my posts, Loree. We missed you this year! —Pam

  15. Tina says:

    Will they adopt me?

    We were all asking the same thing, Tina. :-) —Pam

  16. Phillip says:

    This was my favorite too! Your photos are beautiful – they take me back. It was a wonderful experience.

    I think this was a favorite garden for many of us, Phillip. By the way, it was so great to meet you at the Fling. —Pam

  17. wow Pam, it’s flippin’ gorgeous. i’m just filled with yearning to get back in the woodsy mountains now!

    I’ll be looking at my Asheville photos over the summer to remind me of the cool, green beauty of the mountains. —Pam

  18. Becky says:

    The main word that kept coming to mind was LUSH! You were so lucky to tour this garden. Makes me want to become a garden blogger just to get to go on these Flings. Your great pictures of your garden visits are highlights for me, thanks Pam!

    You should start a blog, Becky! You’d hardly be the first gardener to start blogging in order to attend the Flings. ;-) —Pam

  19. Lola says:

    Gorgeous pics. Pam. I love it there in those mtns. Things are different but that makes it more fun.

    I grew up going to the Blue Ridge mountains for weekend visits, Lola. It has a special place in my heart. —Pam

  20. Great photos – and we did get a lot of the same shots. Interesting which of those we each posted, too. Such a beautiful garden and a fun time with good friends.

    Yes, it was, Diana. I had a great time touring with you! —Pam

  21. Indie says:

    Absolutely gorgeous. I would love to see it in winter! I’ve been to Asheville before, and it is such a beautiful area. I wish I could have gone to the fling and been there!

    Perhaps you’ll be able to attend next year, Indie. It’s to be held in San Francisco (no dates yet). —Pam

  22. I love your words reliving it all in the Gentling garden. Peter and Jasmin were so much fun and such incredible people. They must be to have that fantastic garden. I took that same photo of the girl in the birdbath. She was very unique. Your views from above are spectacular.

    Thanks, Tina! This garden really was the highlight of the trip for me. —Pam

  23. Wow! Thank you, Pam, for the stunning walk down Memory Lane, reminding me so well of the two years I spent in Asheville, gardening just a block from Grove Park Inn (hope you saw their gardens and SPA while you were there!). I personally had a hard time with the short growing season being from California, but I loved the quiet beauty and the chipmunks! You have captured the best of it. Glad you had fun! And, yes, the rocking chair is a permanent fixture in Appalachia!

    Kathryn, I saw as much as I could cram into a busy schedule over 3-1/2 days, but I’m afraid I did not get to the Grove Park Inn. However, I feel sure I’ll be in Asheville again one day, and I hope to see more then. What a lovely city. —Pam

  24. You captured the Gentling’s garden so well. Hooray for Freda and Scott for the ID’s.

    Yes, hooray! —Pam

  25. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Aaahhhh this was my absolute favorite. I could have moved right into the studio and awaited winter. Great presentation.

    You’d have been put to serious work, Lisa, but I do believe it’d be worth it. —Pam

  26. I’ve been to this garden many times, but have missed some of the nooks and crannies that you’ve captured in your photos. I bet the Gentlings will be proud of the lovely, very thorough way you’ve captured the essence of their garden. Have a restful week-end!

    Thanks, DJ. I do hope the garden owners get to read all the complimentary posts from various bloggers about their gardens. They were all so welcoming and generous with their gardens. —Pam

  27. Rose says:

    Pam, you have given us a stunning view of my favorite garden of the Fling! If I ever get back to Asheville, I may take the Gentlings up on their offer, too.

    I could have sworn I left a comment here last week…I seem to do a lot of flitting around all the Fling posts lately:)

    There are a LOT of posts to keep up with from the Fling, aren’t there? I am still making the rounds too. —Pam

  28. Skeeter says:

    You captured the Gentling Gardens with beautiful pictures! You have a great eye with that camera girl. I so want to return to this lovely garden again some day. Gee, what timeframe? Azalea time during Spring, Foliage time during Fall or Snow covered mountains in Winter? Decisions, decisions….

    I think any time of year this garden would be a sight to see, don’t you? It was so nice to meet you at the Fling, Skeeter. Hope to see you at another one in the future! —Pam