Name: Nan K. Chase
Place of Residence: Asheville, North Carolina
Background and Personal History: Although she has lived in western North Carolina nearly 35 years, Nan Chase spent her childhood in California, and much of that in the Central Valley, with a backyard filled with fruit trees and nut trees. She has never forgotten the sight of the almond tree covered in pale pink blossoms or the plum trees loaded with dark, juicy fruit.
Nan's college degree was in economics and journalism, and for some years she was an investigative reporter in a small town in North Carolina (she also covered weddings and beauty pageants). But as a stay-at-home mom living in rural North Carolina, she learned from the farm women around her how valuable it was — in many ways — to grow and preserve her own food. Since she moved to North Carolina, she has always lived within 5 miles of the magnificent Blue Ridge Parkway, with its endless array of wildflowers, flowering shrubs and flowering trees. She's a self-taught gardener who learned from other gardeners rather than from formal coursework.
After she joined a garden club about 20 years ago, Nan learned more and more about growing things, and started combining those two aspects of gardening: food and beauty.
She has been married since 1974 to her high school sweetheart, Saul, and they're still going strong, with three grown children and four grandchildren. She and Saul have moved tons of dirt and rocks over the years, and have planted hundreds of trees — and now she's happy, she says, to get to share the joy with the grandchildren. Somehow, gardening is new and different every day.
About her writing, Nan says:
"Writing has been my passion all my life. I always thought I would stay with newspaper and magazine work, and being a freelancer allowed me to work in short bits of time between domestic chores. But when my youngest child left for college I suddenly had the time for longer projects, and jumped into book writing with a big, serious history of Asheville, called Asheville: A History, I was hooked. Then came the collaboration on Bark House Style, and following that, the publisher asked me to consider doing another book. So I looked around for a topic and figured I had enough “edible landscape” experience from my own gardens for a book. That project became Eat Your Yard! Edible trees, shrubs, vines, herbs and flowers for your landscape. Now it looks as though I am a garden writer for keeps, and my next book, Drink the Harvest: Making and Preserving Juices, Wines, Meads, Teas, and Cider, with amazing co-author DeNeice C. Guest, comes out in June 2014. We’re so excited about this book, the first of its kind, about creating landscape beauty and a high level of beverage production and self-sufficiency at the same time.”
Current Projects: In addition to writing magazine articles (she loves travel writing), Nan has started work on still another new garden. She and her husband recently bought a distressed vacant lot near their own house in Asheville, and are building another house. The landscape is an all-mud construction zone but she has confidence in a two-year plan. Nan also belongs to the Asheville E-Z Gardeners, a garden club that combines good deeds with wine.
Other Fun Facts: Nan lives in a bark house! While collaborating on a book about bark architecture, an unusual rustic style that originated with chestnut bark in the North Carolina mountains in the 1890’s, she was so impressed with its energy-saving qualities that when she and her husband had the chance to build a new house on a vacant lot five years ago, they chose to cover the house in poplar bark shingles. The house will never need to be painted, and the bark acts as phenomenal insulation, she says. Wasps and bees like to make their nests in its quiet corners, and the wasps in particular do a lot of pest control in the garden while also helping pollination. (The book, by the way is called Bark House Style: Sustainable Designs from Nature, and the co-author is Chris McCurry, “The Bark Queen,” who owns the company that makes the bark shingles, Highland Craftsmen.)
Nan doesn't garden on Saturdays. Ever. "Because I observe the Jewish Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, I am prohibited from disturbing nature in any way during that time, even pulling a weed or deadheading a spent flower. So I make sure everything is just so by Friday afternoon so I can enjoy a carefree day with the plants. In this case less really is a lot more."
More Places to Find Nan on the Web:
The online profile of her work as a writer
Her articles in Carolina Gardener magazine
In this interesting garden profile Nan co-authored for the Smithsonian