Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sarah P. Duke Gardens

SARAH P. DUKE GARDENS [ Durham, North Carolina ]

I took a weekday morning off back in April to visit the Sarah P. Duke Gardens on the campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. I parked the car in the lot and headed passed the visitor center, fountain, gift shop and cafe to the garden's entrance. A volunteer was sitting on a bench outside the front gate greeting visitors and handing out maps, there to answer any questions. She knew the 55 acres of gardens inside and out and was more than happy to offer advice on where to head based on the season and how much time you had to spend.

I meandered along five miles of trails. I passed stacked turtles basking in the glow of the mid-day sun, and faceless photographers with their macro lenses buried in new blooms. I traveled on dirt paths through the woods and up the steps of manicured flower beds. I avoided the group of photographers standing guard with tripods, all pointed towards a single bird feeder, clearly waiting for that rare photo or species to drop in. If I were to guess, they were going to be there a long time. I rounded the corner to find a sprawling open lawn where Duke students were catching a few z's and meeting up with friends before their next class.

On the lake nearby there were some ducks congregating, so I thought I'd stick around for a few minutes. I took a seat on a rock at the waters' edge waiting to see if anything would drop in worth shooting (with my pocket camera, that is). Sure enough a beautiful Blue Heron swooped in from the other side of the lake and landed there right in front of me, posing as it had probably done so many times before. I looked around as if to say "Really? What are the chances?" I wondered if they were having such luck back at the bird feeder.

There's no doubt why weddings are photographed here on a weekly basis ~ the gardens are considered among the top ten public gardens in the country. It's a good thing that the original plans for this space back in the early 1920's fell apart. It was intended to be a lake. Sarah P. Duke was later persuaded to fund the the gardens and by 1935 there were 100 flower beds planted. Unfortunately, that summer a flood wiped them out. Sarah died the next year. The gardens of today are dedicated to her memory.

There's no fee to enjoy this place and it's open 365 days a year, a true gift to the folks of North Carolina. Be sure to visit in late spring or summer.

Resources #1

1. Several times a year, the Raleigh Parks & Recreation Department publishes an impressive course guide called the Leisure Ledger. The catalogue is over 100 pages and includes an endless list of course offerings — from pottery classes and Bridge meet-ups to tennis instruction and sailing lessons — appealing to all age groups and abilities. 2. Yelp (app) is used everywhere, but I couldn't have survived without it when I first moved here. It's great for finding that tasty Thai restaurant, dependable dry cleaner or recommended hair salon. 3. Bands-In-Town (app) lets you know what bands are currently in town and when tickets go on sale for acts coming down the pike. It provides ticketing information, directions to the venue and best of all, provides a play button to listen to their music. What a great way to learn about new bands and expand your play lists. 4. Our State is THE official magazine of North Carolina.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Harvest Season

North Carolina

I picked these tomatoes and basil from my patio this weekend. You have to love NC sun. Everything grows in abundance. To see the full North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Chart for "What's in Season", click here

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pullen Park

Pullen Park [ Raleigh, NC ]

When I first arrived in Raleigh, Pullen Park was undergoing a massive renovation. It was a big ol’ pile of dirt, fenced in, boarded up, and bulldozers were the only sign of life. It reopened in November 2011. It wasn’t until the following spring on April 26, 2012 that I finally drove into the parking lot to explore by foot.

What a sweet place (the first public park in North Carolina). Frankly, I think parents use their children as an excuse to visit. There are winding paved trails and a playground, but it has so much more. A working miniature train carries ticketed passengers of all ages around the park, whistle tooting along the way; a vintage, indoor carousel (relocated from a park in the Five-Points section of Raleigh) with 52 hand-carved animals spins at the sound of a Wurlitzer organ; a bright red, Norfolk Southern Railway caboose stands proudly as folks climb in and out; and a lake beckons boats which can be rented.

There’s a statue of Andy and Opie, from the Andy Griffith Show, in the park. But shhhh, don’t tell the folks of Mount Airy, NC, the fictional town that Mayberry was based upon. Apparently, the residents aren’t happy this statue found its home in Raleigh instead. 

I visited the park early in the morning, so I did not have a chance to check out the Café. I went online later to discover the gem that is was, offering the basics (hot dogs, hamburgers and popcorn) that you would find at any amusement park, but also a few unexpected treats. It’s not everyday you find hummus, baked sweet potato topped with cinnamon spice butter, chai tea, s’mores and carrot muffins on a menu…in the middle of the woods! Citing the café’s website, ““At Pullen Place, we believe everyone should have access to affordable, local, healthy, and most importantly, delicious food”. The prices are more than reasonable. Picnic tables or the shade of a nice oak tree provide great places to chow down. I look forward to returning, bringing with me an appetite.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Market Imports

Market Imports [ Raleigh, NC ]

I'm ready to pack my bags and just move in. I fell in love the moment I walked through its doors. This place is both a furniture and accessory shop as well as an outdoor space (two acres in total) with row-after-row of garden pots and planters in ever shape, size and color.

The furniture is from all over the world. There are antiques here, along with vintage pieces and reproductions, covering all price points. The furniture is rustic and comfortable. No need to worry about putting your feet up on that coffee table you bought here. It just gets better with age and abuse.

Inside the rooms are decorated with farm tables and accent furniture; mirrors, signage and giant clocks hang on the walls; scattered among it all are candle holders, lanterns, old medicine bottles, copper pans, wooden trays, drawer pulls and ceramic vases to name just a few of the items available here.

The stone work outside is diverse and not going anywhere without the assistance of a forklift or four of your muscle-head friends. There are benches, buddhas and birdbaths, gargoyles and garden urns. Whimsical metal work in the shape of farm animals keeps Market Imports from taking itself too seriously, despite being surrounded by "mansion" garden decor.

If you've been to the State Farmers' Market in Raleigh, you know where this place is. It's right across the lot. Be sure to build in some time; this could take a while. Here's a link to their website:

Welcome Center


I always make a point to stop at the North Carolina Welcome Center on my trips home from CT. It's a short distance south of the NC/VA state line on Route I-85. There's a wealth of information here from city catalogues, town brochures, event calendars, coupon books, magazines and maps. I pile up at least two to three times a year.