Western North Carolina Woman

jack jarvis
story and photography by sandi tomlin-sutker

Sometimes you find the most unexpected people in the most unexpected places!

Imagine an old tobacco farm in eastern Madison County. The Jarvis family has lived on this piece of land since just before the Civil War. Jack Jarvis’ father had stopped farming years ago but Jack, his love for the land just budding, decided to take it back up after high school; he started with the obvious and lucrative crop of tobacco. For several years he leased the land for tobacco farming. But at some point in the early 90’s, Jack realized he no longer wanted tobacco on his land. For the next six years he worked to mend and renew the farm. He took up landscaping and digging wild azaleas to sell as he slowly rebuilt the soil and paid attention to the land.

Then, propitiously, a Mars Hill woman asked him to do a Japanese-style landscaping job for her. He knew nothing about Japanese gardening, but resourceful and curious, he went to the public library and some local bookstores and began to read all he could—and fell in love with Asian art and style.

Today Jack is an expert both in the art of Bonsai—he has one of the best collections I’ve seen—and the subtle art of Japanese gardening. In only six years he has transformed the depleted tobacco land into a lush canvas of lotus ponds, flowing hillsides of fragrant juniper and the intriguing combinations of color, form and texture typical of Asian style.

But Jack has created so much more than a beautiful landscape. His sensitivity to the land itself and the creatures that inhabit it led him to embrace organic methods. And that has resulted in a rich diversity on his four acres. Tiny brown frogs sprang from the grass everywhere we walked. Wild rabbits and purple martins and muskrats are all at home here. The lotus ponds (started with three wild Hindu lotus) are full of Koi that swim to the edges and big frogs that croak and plop into the water as we walk along.

And the plants! There are of course the requisite maples, pines, blue spruces, many varieties of cedar and juniper and barberry. Large swaths of daylilies in a hundred colors nestle into conifers or stand alongside an ever-blooming magnolia.

Jack’s love of and knowledge of plants is well-known enough that arboretums and nurseries bring unusual plants to him to nurture and “zone” (determine if they will survive in our USDA zone 6B). He showed me a “sport” winged elm and a weeping Red Bud named Parasol Tree that the Arboretum regularly comes to take cuttings from; and several plants that he rescued before they could be discarded are thriving now, fitting beautifully into the serene, lush surroundings.

Jack Jarvis is truly an artist; he has created an enduring and evolving work. He is a gentle man, one who so obviously loves creating and sharing. As we walked through the gardens, I noticed a nearly white daylily. When I told him “oh, my grandma was always after a white daylily” he immediately offered: “the best time to dig them is in the fall, come back and I’ll give you a piece of it.” I plan to do just that and I’m scouring my garden now to see what I can offer back.

Jarvis Landscaping [689-3859] does much more than Japanese Gardens; they do waterfalls, ponds, and most types of landscaping. Watch your TV listings for a future HGTV special featuring Jack’s gardens and lotus ponds.






Western North Carolina Woman
is a publication of INFINITE CIRCLES, INC.

PO BOX 1332 • MARS HILL NC 28754 • 828-689-2988

Celebrating the Spirit of Place in Western North Carolina