Since living in Winston-Salem, I have enjoyed the gardens and trails of both Historic Bethabara and the Town of Bethania. These original Moravian settlements have rich history, stretching back to the mid-1700s. And both are just a short distance from my home, so I visit regularly.
Bethania is North Carolina's first planned Moravian settlement, and its 500-acre historic district is the largest National Landmark in Forsyth County. According to the Town of Bethania's website, “Historic Bethania exists as the only remaining independent, continuously active Moravian village in the southern United States, and is the only known existing Germanic-type Linear Agricultural village in the South.”
There are four distinct hiking trails in Bethania, each of which cuts through original Moravian agricultural parcels and fields. Along these trails grow an abundance of native trees, vines and wildflowers — which I find especially interesting mid-spring and late summer. These trails and the natural landscape of Bethania are a real treasure to our area.
For the past few months, Bethania Visitor Services Manager Michele Williams has been working on a small native plant project that aims to spread a few wildflowers around the town.
“We have a lot of fields, and I thought it would be fun to get out here and try and grow seeds,” Williams said. “I have someone I hike with all the time, she and I would go out, and I would collect seeds.”
“I thought it would be cool to document the process, and I thought it would be cool to work on repopulating some of the areas. My big goal is to encourage other people to do the same. It was something to do and also something the community has expressed interest in. So why not show them how to add these species to their yard?”
Williams has gathered seeds from four native wildflowers so far. These include common partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata), Southern crownbeard (Verbesina occidentalis), beggarticks and spotted touch-me-nots (Impatiens capensis).
All of these plants are growing in abundance in the Walnut Bottoms area of Bethania. With the exception of the touch-me-nots, Williams collected all the seeds in the open meadows of this area. The touch-me-nots were collected in deeper shade, close to Muddy Creek.
The plants Williams chose to collect seeds from are common N.C. native plants, which would benefit the local ecosystem if planted into different areas around town. Bethania has recently gotten its Bee City USA affiliation, which is a commitment by a town, city or municipality to conserve native pollinators in various ways. Williams' seed project is one small way to make progressive strides toward this goal.
“As part of being a Bee City, we're supposed to do education programs for the community,” Williams said. “And this is part of it. I picked things that would be good bee plants.”
One way Williams is documenting her native seed project is through social media posts. Called "Will It Grow Wednesdays," the program features updates about what Williams has collected, how she'll germinate seeds and the results. Other than getting the public excited about native plants, Williams is hoping that the posts will educate about the process of growing natives from seed.
“I have in the past done seed starting when I've worked at botanical gardens,” Williams said. “But I'd never done native plants, and I know they're fussy. It's a very different process to do native plants than it is domestic plants. Domestic seeds — one of the characteristics of being domestic is a reduced seed coat thickness. It makes it germinate as soon as you plant it.”
Seeds from many native plants have a thicker seed coat, which in itself makes it harder to grow. As Williams put it, native seeds often need to go through chemical and mechanical processes to successfully germinate. These processes include what they would be subjected to in nature, such as heat, cold and wetness.
After germination, Williams will be start the plants in flats, then later bumped up to larger pots. One big goal is to take native plants from seed to plug and transplant them into other natural areas of Bethania. Planted along the trails in the town, the public and the pollinators can both enjoy them.
If you've never visited the trails of Historic Bethania, I encourage you to do so. Even in winter, the trails reveal the health and vibrancy of the local ecosystem. On my recent visit, the Walnut Bottoms Trail revealed dozens of praying mantis ootheca (egg sacs) along the edge of the meadow. Deer prints were abundant, and the bird watching was ripe. It was a perfect morning for reflection.
Many of Bethania's trails can be accessed from the centrally-located visitor center at 5393 Ham Horton Lane, Bethania.
Amy Dixon is an assistant horticulturist at Reynolda Gardens of Wake Forest University. Gardening questions or story ideas can be sent to her at www.facebook.com/WSJAmyDixon or email@example.com, with "gardening" in the subject line. Or write to Amy Dixon in care of Features, Winston-Salem Journal, 418 N. Marshall St., Winston-Salem, NC 27101.