“So, to remember our changing garden, we
Are linked as children in a circle dancing…”



2017 Apprenticeship Program is full.  You may inquire for 2018 Apprenticeships.  Details will be similar to the following update from 2015.


UPDATE, March 1 2015:

Apprentices are expected to have the equivalent of a year (9 months) of gardening experience. If interested, please send an email mentioning your age and sex, educational and work experience, and any other life experience / skills which relate to the apprenticeship, also what your particular goals are for the apprenticeship.  As described below, there are many different specialties here: vegetable garden, fruit orchard, medicinal herb cultivation, wild foods garden, food preparation & preserving, website & social media, workshop promotion, mushrooms, brewing, bees, etc. – please indicate which of these you are interested in taking a lead role in.

Additionally, we always welcome WWOOFers and other short term visitors – especially those who are considering applying for the following year. Please contact us in advance to let us know when and for how long you plan on visiting.


The ‘School of Paradise Gardening’ – a utopian fantasy.

Once upon a time there was, or will be, a small community of persons who shared a goal: to create a Paradise Garden, develop it, maintain it, live in it, enjoy it.

It is an anarchist garden community; there are areas of responsibility: vegetable, herb and fruit gardens, structures, water system, nursery & seed collecting, kitchen & food preservation, bees, mushrooms and many more.  The fellows know what they are responsible for.  Whatever they need is provided, including help (apprentices) and guidance (elders), tools, materials, texts.

On a typical morning, everyone (apprentices, fellows, elders) will be working together in one part of the garden: planting, weeding, harvesting, pruning, propagating, fertilizing, grubbing, labeling, terracing, mulching, etc.  On a typical afternoon, the fellows and elders are engaged with projects in their own domains; the apprentices assist where needed.

The apprentices rotate between helping in all the sectors, and in the course of a year come to understand how it all works, learn where everything is kept, how to anticipate and deal with the usual problems, how to distinguish the garden plants and the weeds, and what to do with each, etc.  Apprentices are provided room & board (board means groceries – everyone shares in the food preparation); at the end of the year, apprentices may be invited to return as fellows.
Fellows receive room & board, a modest monthly subsidy, and the opportunity to earn income either by taking on a pre-existing ‘business’ or by starting a new (garden-related) one. Examples would include: selling seeds, seedlings, plants, produce or value-added products, marketing information, landscaping, promoting workshops & tours, etc.  Fellows may also, if they wish, construct their own shelter (using primarily materials available on the land -clay, stone, wood – other materials are provided), or improve an existing one.

The garden has its own income stream, which provides whatever food we (thus far) can’t grow ourselves, tools, materials, books, utilities (phone & internet), truck, etc. as well as the subsidy to fellows  Everyone pitches in to help the garden earn money; that’s part of the morning shared work.  But the garden also affords an almost infinite number of other opportunities to generate a modest income (and how much do you really need, if your shelter, food, medicine, lights, music, internet, phone, shower / hot tub, companionship, transportation, etc. are provided?), and it is these opportunities which fellows are encouraged to explore.  An expected outcome of this program is that participants will leave with not only a thorough knowledge of how to develop and maintain a Paradise Garden, but with a specific ‘product’ and indeed an established ‘business’ (website) to generate the unavoidable amount of $ needed to survive (and hopefully a little extra to thrive).

A prerequisite for apprentices is ‘basic gardening knowledge / experience’.  Meaning a full season gardening apprenticeship or the equivalent.  Fellows are expected to have considerably more experience.  The best and most natural way to become a fellow is to be an apprentice here for a year and then, by mutual agreement, move up to become a fellow the following year(s).  As indicated above, fellows will choose (or be assigned) areas of responsibility (veg gdn, fruit gdn, herb gdn, kitchen, apothecary, structures, water system, etc.) Individuals with considerable garden experience plus the necessary specialized knowledge and experience may move directly to fellowship.

This is a small community, say six to twelve adults.  There is much interaction and camaraderie. There is a shared interest in Paradise Gardening, i.e. the development of a way of living on earth that is sustainable, democratic and satisfying. Sustainable means beneficial, or at least not injurious to Gaia, the planetary ecosystem.  Democratic means beneficial, or at least not stealing from, our fellow humans (which requires considerable restraint since, as Americans,  we are born with a license and it sometimes seems even a mandate to steal).  Satisfying means beneficial to our health and happiness, and herein lies the crux of the matter: it is above all essential that we consider our lifestyle, with its implied limitations on, say, gasoline (use as little as possible, ideally none), or purchased food (use as little as possible, ideally none), etc., not as ‘self-sacrifice’ but as liberation.

Beyond health and happiness, the personal goals of Paradise Gardening are ataraxy and enthusiasm. Ataraxy means calmness, or tranquility; more specifically, the peace and contentment which follows from having a certain knowledge of the world and one’s place and role in it.  Ataraxy was the main goal of the School of Epicurus (a rival of Plato’s Academy in ancient Athens), and this utopian community is partly based on his ‘garden school.’.  John Lennon’s lyric ‘Imagine’ hints at the pleasures of ataraxy, and at how quickly the world could change if we could change our worldview.

Enthusiasm (latin ‘inspiration’) refers to freeing the ‘God within’ to act.  Not just at occasional periods of creativity, in the studio, or worship, in church – we seek to infuse our lives with enthusiasm: to wake in the morning, the God within eager to engage with the world, the God without.

To live in a Paradise garden, in the company of enthusiastic gardeners….

I have openings (housing) for 6 full-time, live-in apprentices, from mid-March to late October. I’m also open to shorter stays (WWOOFers, college students on break, etc.) – but you may have to bring a tent to sleep in. (Part-time apprenticeships are discussed below)

Full time means 30 hours / week, plus a share of the chores (like cooking, cleaning up, firewood). I provide room and board – basic staples, mostly from our neighborhood food coop, plus what we grow & gather. Sorry, no stipend.

The work is extremely varied and creative, including in addition to the herb growing, seed saving and medicinal preparations mentioned elsewhere on this website, vegetable garden and food preservation, rough carpentry, cob, bamboo and rockwork, maintaining and upgrading photovoltaic and irrigation systems, wildcrafting, library research, mapping and record-keeping and all the varied tasks which compose a ‘simple’ lifestyle. Recent projects as well as our advanced apprentice program, are described on our blog.

The botanic garden, research library & apothecary, and adjacent natural environments add up to a unique educational opportunity, which I created for myself but delight in sharing.

If you are interested in applying, please email or post a letter describing yourself, educational, employment and relevant life experience, skills and interests, and objectives / goals in working here, as well as any dietary requirements or food avoidances. (Our diet is generally vegetarian by default, although we enjoy wild game when occasionally available)

A visit prior to making a commitment is best for both of us and required except in unusual circumstances. Sorry, no dogs.

Part-time apprenticeships: I am very open to people who live in the area (we are about 1 hour from Asheville) and would like to apprentice one (or more) days / week, but not live here. Housing is limited, but interesting work is not. Most of the time, it should be possible to accommodate particular interests (garden-making, medicinal herb cultivation, herbal preparations, etc).


Yes, there is an apprentice program for 2013 and below are some thoughts about it. (Below that are last year’s thoughts, and below that the previous year…  It’s all pretty much still relevant, except Steve is gone).

2012 was the best year yet for the apprentice program, and I’m hoping to build on what was accomplished.  Since three are returning, I only have openings for three (possibly four, if a couple) new apprentices.  Of course there will be a steady stream of WWOOFers and short term visitors.

2012 was a building year, with a lot of emphasis on organizing and expanding the garden, especially to increase the sunny areas suitable for food production. So an objective this year is to see how much of our own food we can produce: vegetables, fruit, staples (corn, beans, potatoes, etc.) and eggs (ducks).

We also greatly increased the photovoltaic system and bought a computer for the library and I’m hoping this year to do a lot of information recording (E.g. harvest calendars, fermentation & distillation experiments, MG database of useful plants & garden guidebook) and website improvement (posting photos and information, shopping cart).

Some areas of the garden were relatively neglected: seeking a curator for the wild (woodland, mostly) food garden, the Chinese & Native medicinal herb collection and the perennial vegetables.  Everything you need is here, or will be provided. These are world-class collections and very avant-garden (chefs are clammering for new wildfoods); we need to increase (multiply, add new varieties), record growing & harvest information and post it @ website. Oh, and do some marketing  (see below)

Need someone with beekeeping experience (although may have to settle for a ‘keen desire to learn.’)

The best way to earn what money we need (not that much, but there are always books to buy) is by staying home, teaching workshops and sharing this amazing facility (the environment, the gardens, the plants, the library, what’s inside my head / our heads).  This year I’d like to teach a series of 3-day workshops, on Chinese med herb cultivation, harvesting, processing and preparations, wildfoods & perennial vegetables and ‘Paradise Gardening.’  And it would be great to have someone here with experience in managing and (especially) promoting workshops – I don’t do social media, but I  gather that’s where it’s at.

This could be a money-making opportunity for someone, and there are others: last year we shipped $1000 of Chinese herb plants, bare root – the apprentices did it in a weekend, and pocketed the receipts.  We could triple that, if someone wants to take it on. There is similar demand for our unique selection of wildfoods Money-making opportunities abound here, and  I’ll be happy to share  the proceeds (you’ll get the bigger share) with anyone who wants to develop something.

I turned 70 a few months ago, and no longer want to supervise everything that goes on here: I’m looking for folks who can take on certain areas / projects and take them to the next level; this will be, of course, a collaboration.  I see Mtn Gdns as a community (if of transients).  My ideal model is still: we work together for half day on communal projects and then individually (or small groups) for the other half day on our particular projects.

Another  large area of responsibility is the kitchen – not just making meals (everyone helps with cooking / stovewood / dishwashing), but all the experiments with new foods, fermenting, brewing, distilling and preserving.  All kinds of crazy, innovative stuff goes on in the kitchen, and we need someone to keep track and keep records.

Here  is a list of additional goals for 2013:




  • More food production: potatoes, corn, beans, squash (Resilient Gardener)  Grow out heirloom seeds (esp. beans) from Jim Veteto’s collection.
  • Finish pond (needs ferro-cob reinforcement) and fill
  • Get a flock of ducks going, probably Anconas. (need house, fenced yard, pond)
  • Continue expanding terraces on ‘food slope’, add poles and wires for fruit terraces.
  • Budding & grafting dwarf fruit trees on our rootstocks
  • Set up micro-brewery and perhaps host regular (weekly?) neighborhood pizza-brew events
  • bury water, phone & electric lines.
  • Record keeping: calendar for wildfoods harvest, propagation, seed-collecting, herb harvesting. Log all fermenting, brewing, distilling, tincturing experiments, and results. Update garden map.
  • New, informative labels for herb jars & tinctures.
  • Use new herb drier: Chinese herbs, tea blends, sales to coop
  • Make better compost, and compost tea
  • Website development: more info & pictures. Simplify ordering. list bare root plants and seasonal availability.  Seed list & prices.
  • Accumulate a lot of mulch & manure
  • More and better organized & promoted workshops; series of 3-day events
  • Improve a few camping spots (posts and rails, for a tarp covering)
  • Make up formulas for common complaints from our large selection of single herb tinctures


I expect to have openings for 4-5 apprentices (several are returning from last year). There are always more applicants than openings; selection is based primarily on relevant experience: the more you bring to the table, the more you will take away.

To apply: please send me an email joehollisherbs@gmail.com answering the following:

  • your age and present location
  • education past high school
  • employment history
  • gardening experience
  • other relevant experience / skills (E.g. cooking, construction, herbs, primitive living, computer, office, writing, photography…see below)
  • applying for the whole season, or session?
  • available for visit / interview?
  • dietary restrictions?
  • your particular goals for this apprenticeship

The information below and at left is still relevant.


This year, I am dividing the apprentice program into three sessions, with a one week break between sessions. You can apply for any one, two or all three sessions; you can also take a session and then, by mutual agreement, join the following session. ( I’m counting on at least some continuity, otherwise it will be tedious to teach how everything works here, where everything is kept, etc. three times.)

The work commitment is 6 hours / day (9-12, 2-5), M-F. Weekends off, plus up to three workdays off per session. If you need more time off than that, or can’t arrive for the first day of a session, please apply for a different session.

Session 1: March 14 – May 20

Session 2: May 30 – Aug 5

Session 3: August 15 – Oct 28

These are advanced apprenticeships. I imagine the applicants to have sampled a variety of approaches to an earth-based life, and ready to go deeper into a particular specialty. This year, each apprentice will be in charge (manager) of one (or more) components of the project, these are listed below. In your application, please indicate which one(s) of these you are applying for.

The general pattern of work is: all together in the morning doing maintenance / development / harvest in some part of the garden; afternoons, individuals or small groups working on your particular area(s). Of course, everyone will get an opportunity to do all the different tasks: make tinctures, plant vegetables, build with cob, cook dinner; the role of the manager is to know what the goals are and make sure the work gets done, correctly and on time.

In addition, this year each of you will create a book for the area(s) you are managing. This will be part instruction manual, record-keeping, diary, personal observations, art & poetry, scrapbook, etc. and will be added to from year to year, but this year’s apprentices will be setting it up and setting the tone and I hope for a lot of creativity. We will allocate an afternoon a week to working on these books, records and calendars. Hopefully, one of our group will be able to publish all this (it will add up to an operating manual for a Paradise Garden) on the website as we go along. This is important: at present Mtn Gdns relies on the fact that I know where everything is and how everything works; over the next few years my chief goal is to set it up to be self-maintaining, even though the personnel are constantly changing. (I’ll be 70 in 2012).

I will work closely with apprentices / managers to share and document what I know. There will be a weekly meeting at which each of you will report on progress, problems, etc in your area, and we will allocate work projects for the week. Although this program offers no $ stipend, I do undertake to provide whatever you need: seeds & plants, supplies, tools & apparatus, books and help. What you can achieve should be limited only by your own ability and the number of hours in the day.

For the past two years, we have put a lot of energy into enlarging the garden and are now in a position to greatly expand both food production and plantings of perennial herbs, so those will be major themes this year. Another will be water catchment and usage: between climate change (dry summers) and garden expansion, water has become a limiting factor; we’ll be digging / installing ponds, channeling runoff, harvesting rainwater, etc. Other goals for the year are indicated below.

Taken altogether, the following constitute my latest utopian vision of how a Paradise Garden might work.

HERB PROPAGATION & CULTIVATION- New areas available for planting: expand medicinal herb collection from a few specimens (for propagation) to a small planting (for harvest) of important species. Landscaping with herbs (vines, shrubs, trees, etc) Planting / germination experiments / record keeping. Experiments w/cultural practices (Eg danggui). Prepare & submit herb samples for analysis. Trial marketing of fresh herbs.

INTENSIVE FRUIT & VEG – New coldframes, greenhouses: ‘kitchen garden’, modeled on oriental and French intensive food production. Make compost / develop vermiculture / experiment with compost tea, burnt earth-biochar, urine & wood-ash fertilizer. Inaugurate intensive fruit production on new S facing terraces: cordons, espaliers / propagation including grafting / landscaping with fruit (hedges, arbors, strawberry walls)

WILD GARDEN – Complementary to above: develop harvesting, propagation and semi-cultivation methods and calendar for a wide variety of edible & medicinal plants naturalized here. Develop selected choice wildfood plants as ‘gourmet’ crops. Increase offerings of seeds & plants of wildfood species.

NURSERY – Propagate by seed, division, cuttings, layering and grafting the plants needed for MG. Produce container plants for sale at herb events. Seed storage / germination experiments. Record-keeping and sharing (website). Formulate potting mixes for garden and woodland plants.

HERBAL PREPARATIONS- Work with fresh garden / wildcrafted herbs and Chinese dried herb apothecary.. Develop formulas. Make wide variety of herbal preps: ‘herbal CSA’. Develop herb tea line based on extract-enriched Gynostemma. Research ‘mountain herbs’ as specialties. Develop tonic/longevity specialty. Develop & promote ‘village apothecary / self-help health center’ for our neighborhood.

FOOD- New wildfood books: timing / part used. Develop cuisine and calendar: MG cookbook, week-by-week, wildfoods, perennial vegetables, oriental specialties, ‘wild mountain vegetables.’. Coordinate w/Lantern Restaurant (ABTech?), marketing? (internet). Grocery shopping, kitchen supervision. Fermentation & preserving. ‘Medicated cuisine’ with tonic herbs.

SEEDS- Restore & improve seed bank. Seed collection calendar. Efficient drying & storage. Update internet list. Seed germination experiments & record-keeping



BAMBOO / WOODLAND CRAFTS- Trellises, fences and bamboo/cob garden walls. Living willow hedges & sculpture, bentwood arches & rustic furniture. Bamboo/locust camping shelters. Bamboo & willow propagation & cultivation / develop plant collection with new varieties.

COB BUILDING – Supervise construction of another earth-sheltered cob / sapling dome for apprentice residence. Develop techniques for freestanding cob / bamboo garden walls for shelter and visual separation. Make bricks for mass heater. Cob bake oven and rocket stoves.

WATER- Organize water system. Water collection: from branch (stream) and rainwater; filtration; storage. Ponds for ornament & water storage. Create a variety of wetland habitats, develop plant collection (useful species for pond, bog, marsh)

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY, Solar cooker / herb drier, firewood (rocket stoves, cob oven/heaters), methane from outhouse? Upgrade photovoltaics. Solar water heater

WEBSITE /OUTREACH/WORKSHOPS, We could be putting out much more free info about our many innovative projects, but I don’t even know how to put up a photo.

Outreach to schools & universities

Workshop schedule & promotion

RESEARCH & DATA, 1000 most useful spp. database, garden map, labels & guidebook to garden.

DOCUMENTATION – Writer, photographer


I have been having apprentices at Mountain Gardens for more than ten years. At first, the intention was the same as most farm / garden apprentice programs: to get help for the tasks that we do in exchange for providing a learning opportunity. For many years my goal was to have three or four apprentices. Recently, I have been exploring the ‘carrying capacity’ of our facilities, having six and sometimes as many as eight interns. At the same time the focus has been shifting, with education becoming more central to my goals, to the point where I have begun thinking of Mtn Gdns as primarily a school.

From the very beginning of Mtn Gdns, 35 years ago, my goal has been to develop, demonstrate and promote a radical alternative way of living on earth, which I call Paradise Gardening; and over this time I have only become more convinced of the importance and urgency of this work. Turning 65 last year of course adds another dimension of urgency.

Elsewhere on this website, you can find plenty of information about the philosophy and how it works out in practice here. Over the years, I have assembled an extensive collection of resources (books, tools, apparatus, plants) which, combined with our situation (adjacent to the National Forest, at the foot of the tallest mountains in eastern N. America) make Mtn. Gdns. a unique laboratory to develop a truly sustainable way of living. If your idea of a good time (the best time) is to integrate your mind, body and spirit in such an endeavor, in the company of like minds, I invite you to join us.

At this point and going forward, I envision Mtn Gdns as an ever-shifting community of individuals dedicated to developing and maintaining a Paradise Garden, and learning how to do it by doing it. Thinking in terms of an ‘apprenticeship program’, I realize, has blinded me to the much more appropriate community / fellowship model.

Why community? Because we all have ‘social needs.’ Because working together with friends on a common, shared project is among life’s greatest pleasures. Because developing and maintaining a Paradise Garden is a group project. Because the basic unit of human society is not the individual, or the family, but the band.

VISITING / WWOOFING If we have room, you are welcome to visit for up to 2 weeks, extendable by mutual agreement. Visitors should anticipate sleeping in a tent.