Paula Blazier Welborn: Creating urban sanctuary

Beth KinnaneGet Up & Go, Inside 640

North Hills has a newly designated tree sanctuary thanks to Paula Blazier Welborn. The private sanctuary in her yard is a nice addition to the neighborhood’s arboretum that was designated a year ago (read story here).

Welborn, 67, is north Knoxville born and raised.  She attended Belle Morris Elementary, Whittle Springs Junior and Fulton High schools. She was among the first women to graduate from the University of Tennessee’s forestry program in 1975.

Paula Blazier Welborn Tree Sanctuary

“There were three or four before me,” she said. “But I was usually the only woman in most of my classes.”

Welborn said she has always loved being out in nature, adding that her pursuit of a forestry degree was also driven by the environmental movement of the 1970s and her love of the Smoky Mountains.

While at UT, she met her husband, Tom, who is chair of Trees Knoxville. They married the year after her graduation, and, after the birth of twin daughters, agreed she would be a stay-at-home mom and follow his career where it took them.

“The reality was whatever I earned would have been eaten up with day care costs,” she said. “We’re not extravagant people, we decided we could live on one salary. Besides, I liked being room mother.”

Though her husband’s job moved them around a lot (the twins were born in Missouri), Welborn said that not working in her degree field did not mean she was uninvolved. While she often had part-time jobs, she also volunteered with various environmental groups wherever they lived, such as the Sierra Club and Audubon Society. Currently, she volunteers with Trees Knoxville and Wild Ones-Smoky Mountain Chapter.

The family eventually landed in Atlanta, where they remained for 25 years. With her husband’s retirement from the Environmental Protection Agency 10 years ago, the decision to return to Knoxville was an easy one, Welborn said.  For one thing, they already had a house waiting for them, because the property that is now the Paula Blazier Welborn Tree Sanctuary is where she grew up.

“My parents built this house right before I was born,” Welborn said. “I thank them for leaving the trees. I remember some of these trees from my childhood.”

The property on Kantebury Lane is also a Certified Wildlife Habitat. At just under half an acre, it features over 50 native trees from 40 distinct species.  Welborn said she usually adds three to four dogwoods every year.

“The lifespan of a dogwood is from 60 to 80 years,” she said. “I add more right under where they’re older or dying. My mother was big about the dogwoods.”

While Welborn focuses on native plants and trees with anything she adds to the property now, she cherishes the remaining ornamentals put there by her mother many years ago.

“Gardening was different. Nobody was really thinking or talking about using native plants back then,” she said. “Every now and then in some random place in the yard, I’ll find a tulip blooming. I think of it as a little hello from beyond.”

Welborn’s property was certified by the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council. To find out more about certification for arboretums or sanctuaries go here.

Beth Kinnane is community editor for

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