How Mellie Mac followed the Appalachian Trail to her Garden Shack
At first glance there is no direct link between Mellie Macsherry’s early love of dance and her flourishing Mellie Mac's Garden Shack on West State Street, but as her recollections unfolded, a thread began to appear and take hold.
“At an early age in middle Tennessee I appreciated that my mom loved gardening even though she didn’t know plants and planting, but I loved dance first of all," she said. "In fact, my majors in college were Outdoor Recreation and Dance at Ole Miss. At the same time, to earn money, I naturally gravitated to physical activity and working in greenhouses and landscaping. At Rolling Hills Plant Farm we grew thousands of chrysanthemums and had a greenhouse just for orchids.”
By extension, she recalled her prep school experiences at St. Andrews Sewanee (Tennessee) were outdoor-education based. Macsherry also noted working at Yellowstone Natural Park the summer after her freshman year at Ole Miss and a stint the following summer at Glacial Natural Park — both amid the majestic vistas of Wyoming and Montana respectively.
She realized that all her experiences so far related in one way or another as a series of free-spirited adventures as she completed her undergraduate training at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, her home town.
The following summer, she had the choice of an internship as a dance instructor on a cruise ship or becoming a fly-fishing guide in Southern Utah. She was reminded that a male friend of hers went the cruise ship route and was sick the whole time, done-in by the cramped quarters and the relentless activity schedule, and she chose the Utah option.
It was then, 20 years ago after the guide venture, she decided to hike the entire Appalachian Trail.
“At that point,” she said, “I just needed to get away from society, people being mean to one another, and go on a long walkabout.”
And it was this venture that truly shaped her consciousness and way of life.
“As it happens,” she continued, “while walking the trail with just me and my dog, I discovered there are really a lot of kind people out there. At one point I met this man who was a botanist and I hiked with him for three days. He taught me all about native plants, as much as I could absorb in my brain.
"I drew pictures in my journal and I already loved nature, but at that juncture everything clicked," Machserry said. "It was so cool. The name of everything I was walking past, growing wild, used by native Americans for healing or to dye their clothing or to make the sting of nettles go away.”
Later she visited friends from Hendersonville she met while hiking. She trekked on northward from there and found herself at rustic Wolf Creek Café by the trail, at the northwest corner of Madison County. There, she bought a whole blueberry pie, fit it atop her backpack and moved on.
“Further up,” she said, “I caught sight of this beautiful ski reserve and said to myself, ‘this is a welcome place to live, right on the trail.’ ”
At that point, she became the ski school instructor, did some waitressing, ran a landscaping business in the summer and eventually came down with a touch of cabin fever. She chose Black Mountain as “the best welcome place to live.”
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t say that we live in such a beautiful part of the world," Macsherry said. "You feel that these are some of the oldest mountains in the world. The Cherokees had their hunting grounds nearby. We are very blessed to live here.”
After a stint working at Ridgecrest, the previous owner of this garden center, asked Macsherry to take it over and she readily came up with a vision of “community, proximity and joy," she said.
"People come in to tell their stories and they feel better surrounded by the color and so many things that are alive," she said. "I just want people to come here and get happy.”