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COVID-19 In Appalachia: A Gardener's Devotion

Kami Ahrens/Foxfire Museum
Mignon Durham has created a garden of native and non-native plants at her home, which she calls,"Devotion."

Nature has been a solace for folks in Western North Carolina long before COVID-19. But during the pandemic, local trails and forests saw record-breaking numbers of visitors who wanted to find a quiet place to safely escape the masked reality of crowded public spaces.

Credit Kami Ahrens/Foxfire Museum
Mignon Durham at her home in November 2021.

Some people where lucky enough to escape in their own backyards, BPR’s Lilly Knoepp and Foxfire curator Kami Ahrens visited one such garden in November 2021 as part of BPR and Foxfire Museum’s COVID-19 Oral History Project. Mignon Durham was board chair of Penland School of Craft before retiring to Ashville around 2012.

She created a diverse garden of over 500 native and nonnative plants at her environmentally conscious LEED certified home near Biltmore Forest. She chronicled the process of building her garden in her book,” Devotion: Diary of an Appalachian Garden.”

Durham spent much of her time during the pandemic sitting by her creek and working in her garden. She recalls one particular day watching the chokeberry bush in her yard.

“I witnessed at least a hundred birds land on these shrubs and eat those berries. I had never seen these birds before but there was a yellow spot that you can’t miss,” said Durham. “I looked it up and it was a cedar wax wings. Oh my gosh, it was like going to church.”

A longer version of this interview was featured on the Foxfire podcast, “It Still Lives.” Listen on any podcast platform.  

BPR is gathering stories with Foxfire Museum for our COVID-19 Oral History Project. Even the smallest moment offers insight into this time in our history. Find out how to submit your memories here.  Or share your experience by calling 828-253-6700 and leaving us a voicemail.

Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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