Highland Lake Inn in Flat Rock, North Carolina, was built as a private home in 1845 and named Solitude. It has shed many identities, lodged its share of famous people (like Joanne Woodward), and harbored its share of spirits on its way to becoming officially “historic.”
Over the years, stone cottages and clapboard bungalows joined the original mansion, the forest of hemlocks, oaks, and laurels retaking the disturbed land until the buildings looked like nature-crafted puzzle pieces in the wooded landscape. It seemed removed from a world of chaos, offering those retreating there respite from their everyday lives.
And on a fine day in May, it was offering a horticultural society-sponsored symposium. They had invited me, the owner of The Herb of Grace Gardens, Nursery, Shop & Tearoom, to be one of the speakers. Scheduled to talk about the highs and lows of running a nursery and retail shop, I jostled alongside my fellow speakers to the Inn’s main dining room to partake of a lunch of fresh greens and tomatoes, local cheese, and artisan bread; then stepped out to roam the two-acre organic vegetable and herb garden behind the Inn. It lacked an historic wall and a parterre, but the long rows did step pleasantly down the hillside toward the lake.
In a row dedicated to tomatoes, I saw my first tomatillo and a purple basil with a licorice flavor I later learned belonged to the variety ‘Rubin.’ I’m ashamed to admit I felt a twinge of satisfaction when, even in this iconic garden, I saw knotgrass sneaking into the row of thymes.
Directed to a conference room overlooking the lake, I stepped in to see every chair occupied, jiggling beneath the posteriors of eager acolytes. They all wanted a piece of the dream.
My notes never made it out of my pocket—because my lecture was instantly hijacked by 45 minutes of Q & A.
“How much start-up money do you need?”
“More.” I heard tittering from the back row.
“You’ll always need more than you think.”
“How many hours do you work?”
“Twelve. Except when we have a large lunch crowd scheduled, then it’s 14, maybe 15. And, oh yeah, in Spring, it’s more like 16 hours, because I have to be in the potting shed by six and in the garden after closing time till dark.”
The chairs had stopped jiggling. I had not so much lost my audience as stunned them speechless.
“Okay. Right. It is true I’ve never worked harder in my life, and it’s also true I’m the last one to get a paycheck, and it’s usually rather pitiful.” The chairs were on the move again.
“Wait. But it’s true, too, that not for one minute of even one of those 16-hour days in all the years I’ve been working them, have I ever been bored. And I still wake up every morning feeling like a little girl getting up to go outside into the sunshine and play make-believe.”
I now heard the sound of chairs shifting a little and saw a fair number of smiles ripple through the room. I even saw a few stars glisten again in a few eyes. But the most heartfelt thank you I received that day came from a slender brunette with a beautiful creamy complexion—untouched by either blistering sun or raging wind—and a killer manicure.
“Thank you. Really. You’ve saved me from one disastrous mistake.” ❖
Reprinted with permission of the author from Growing Grace: Stories from The Herb of Grace Gardens, Nursery, Shop & Tearoom by Bobbie Cyphers (ParterreWilde), copyright ©2021 Bobbie Cyphers).