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New life coming to the Col. James Roberts Cabin at Cherokee Bluffs Park
Native plants offering a deeper perspective on Civil War-era life
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The Hall County Master Gardeners partnered with Hall County Parks and Leisure Services to install era-specific plants — shrubs, trees and herbs — all local to the area and what you would have seen growing when the cabin was first built. - photo by Austin Steele

Not only did the Col. James Roberts Cabin get its first furnishings, the landscape around the cabin also got a few updates, with even more planned for the spring. The Hall County Master Gardeners partnered with Hall County Parks and Leisure Services to install era-specific plants — shrubs, trees and herbs — all local to the area and what you would have seen growing when the cabin was first built.

“The cabin now just sits there, and there’s not any sort of landscaping around it that would make it look as though it would have been a residence,” said Becky Ruffner, spokeswoman for the Parks and Leisure department. “It’s just kind of sitting there. So we felt like, to really bring it back to what it once was, it needed to have some landscaping done.”

So the two groups went to work to beautify the area, draw more visitors and make the cabin a historical destination at the park.

“Of course, back then they didn’t have big-box stores to go get your landscape from,” said Patti Lewis, immediate past president of Hall County Master Gardeners. “Settlers would go into the woods and use native plants that they found appealing and useful, either as a food source or medicinally. So that’s where we started.”

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Becky Ruffner with the Parks and Leisure Department shows off aspects of the Col. James Roberts Cabin at Cherokee Bluffs Park in Flowery Branch on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

The Master Gardeners began pooling the knowledge they’ve acquired over the years, thinking of what would have been planted around the cabin when it was originally built and what would still look good now.

“Native plants have been all the rage for 10 or so years,” Lewis said. “Really, there’s a huge native plant movement. People are more and more all the time becoming more aware of how native plants are important, and how they tie into our well being.”

There are things like inkberry, dogwoods, wax myrtles, red buds, persimmons, spicebush and more planted all around the cabin. In the spring, they will add an herb garden that would have been used for cooking or medicine.

“It’s a wonderful cabin, and it’s in a beautiful place,” Ruffner said. “But to really bring it to life, we wanted to do the landscaping around it.”

Plans have been in the works since last spring when the master gardeners first got a look at the property they would help landscape. After that, they began looking for pants that would fit in and designed the scene on paper.

Lewis spent a few hours pricing out all the plants, then with the help of parks and leisure services and a Bobcat, everything was installed. Lewis said it only took about four hours.

“We dug the holes, amended the soil, planted everything,” Lewis said. “And all of that was after placing them in the right place and looking at them like you do your furniture and saying, ‘That one needs to go to the left 2 feet.’”

Lewis said she was personally excited to help with the job because it helps bring life to South Hall, an area she said is lacking in parks.

“There aren’t a huge number of those that have been developed, so those of us who live down this way were thrilled that there was something in our area,” Lewis said.

And apart from serving the community, which Lewis said is the main purpose of the master gardeners, she’s excited to show people who visit the cabin that incorporating native plants into a landscape should be exciting.

“People in many cases, they have a mistaken idea that native plants are ugly, or they don’t belong in an organized landscape at somebody's house or at a facility of some sort,” Lewis said. “But what this does, is the landscape at the Roberts Cabin illustrates that you can put in native plants that will support the native wildlife that we have, and they can be pretty, they can be useful and hopefully it will show that they’re not ugly, they really are pretty and they’re useful for medicinal purposes, food purposes, shade as well as for aesthetics.”

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The Col. James Roberts Cabin's new home at the 168-acre park is a return to its South Hall roots. Smith said his ancestors lived in the cabin for many years until his second great-grandfather, Isaac Smith, moved his family to Gainesville in the late 1800s to take advantage of public schools there. - photo by Austin Steele
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