Another Season for Southern Season

Southern_Season_ExteriorOne of my favorite places in the area is Southern Season in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (It must be true! This is my second post in as many years!) Southern Season is a specialty shop for all seasons, but it’s especially fun this time of year.

I stepped into Southern Season earlier this week, and the store had been transformed into a Thanksgiving and (mostly) Christmas emporium. True, throughout the place were many of the usual delights: an abundance of fragrant coffee beans, an array of teas, shiny kitchen gadgets, glistening-glass jars of old-fashioned candies…and, of course, Tar Heel Sugar Cookies and Chapel Hill Toffee. But there was more. So much more.


The selection of sugars was mesmerizing. Sugar Crystals. Sanding Sugar. Shimmer Sugar. Even Edible Sugar Confetti. Something tells me that my old-fashioned sugar cookies are gonna look especially festive this year, Sugar Lumps.


I was resistant to cheese straws for many years. (How un-southern of me!) I didn’t see the appeal, but I’ve since warmed to their charms. And now there’s a charming little box of pimento cheese straws sitting in my kitchen.


Oh, the joy I had peering at the Christmas gifts and studying each ornament. (Sadly, I did not see a single nativity, but it’s possible that I overlooked it.)


The bowl was full when I got there. Just kidding. Okay, I DID have one or two…okay, THREE…pieces of the south’s—nay, the WORLD’S—best peppermint bark EVER. Southern Season Peppermint Bark. Try it, if you can! Fans of peppermint and chocolate will love it, I think.

There were other samples scattered throughout the store. (What a great way to try before you buy!) Besides the cheese straws and the peppermint bark, I saw ginger cookie samples, as well as nuts for anyone so inclined—some all spiced up, and others down-to-earth-plain but plainly delicious.


This was my favorite display. Maybe it was the pretty, plaid toffee tin. Maybe it was the cardinal theme. Or the berries and boughs. But it was probably all of the above. …And Southern Season’s famous gift basket section can be glimpsed just beyond.

Here’s a bit of trivia—and a puzzle, too! Check out the store’s exterior photo from my first post two years ago and compare it to the store’s exterior in this post (found at the top). Do you see the difference? They’ve dropped the “A” but kept the “Southern Season.”

With stores now in Chapel Hill, Richmond (VA), Charleston (SC), and online, Southern Season spreads its southern appeal to the masses. And continues to grow. Raleigh and Charlotte, it looks like there’s a Southern Season coming your way in January 2015!

Wherever you are, enjoy the season.

Wait for It. Wait for It: Autumn in the Piedmont


Every year, I seem to forget that Autumn comes late here in central North Carolina. I’m ready for it by September! I pull my thriving summer annuals up by the roots and chop my perennials down to the ground. This year, when I ordered new bulbs for fall planting, my online greenhouse was the voice of reason, tempering my excitement—as best it can be tempered—with a courteous email advising that my bulbs would ship when appropriate for my planting zone.


Every year, despite all my pulling and pruning, warm-weather holdouts pop up in my front garden.

One day last week, I stepped out of the house and knew that Fall had arrived. It was a smell. It was a feeling. But mostly, it was the sight of crimson leaves the size of my hand peppering the walk and a vibrant, yellow-orange glow about the general landscape. That’s also the day my bulbs arrived.

Right on time.

Autumn here in the piedmont region will never compare to the mountainous, westerly region of North Carolina, but it’s beautiful in its own way. Here’s a look:


The American Tobacco Trail at the New Hope Church Road trailhead. — Cary, NC


The Virtue Peace Pond in the Doris Duke Center Gardens (at Duke Gardens) is peaceful and picturesque this (and every other) time of year. — Durham, NC

Go, sit upon the lofty hill,
And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymn an autumn sound.

Come autumn’s scathe — come winter’s cold —
Come change — and human fate!
Whatever prospect Heaven doth bound,
Can ne’er be desolate.

Excerpts from Elizabeth Barret Browning’s poem, The Autumn. (1833)

Feed Me, Seymour: A Plant Trap Close-Up


Carnivorous pitcher plants thriving at Duke Gardens in Durham, North Carolina

I was crossing a wooden footbridge in the H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, and there it was. The sign. …And them: the busy eaters.

To my right and to my left, tubular plants swayed in the gentle Autumn breeze, their throats opening toward the Carolina blue sky. Alongside them, low-lying plants with lobular leaves lay in wait, their prickly protrusions—teeth of sorts—a testament to their craft. Pitcher plants and Venus flytraps, they were.

“Carnivorous plants busy eating,” I murmured as I leaned in for a closer look. But not too close. After all, the sign had warned, “Please do not touch.”

Carnivorous plants are plants that eat meat—insects, mostly. In unusual cases, if online reports are to be believed, they can even devour frogs and mice.

But for now, we’ll stick to the facts…and some photos.

Carnivorous plants thrive in low-nutrient, acidic soil. While most plants obtain much-needed nitrogen from the soil, carnivorous plants, on the other hand, absorb nitrogen from their prey.

The Venus flytrap grows natively in the bogs and coastal plains of North Carolina and South Carolina.


A Venus flytrap awaits its unsuspecting prey: Hairs on the outside of the trap close quickly when an insect brushes against two or more of them. The trap snaps shut in less than a second, but at this point not fully. When the plant has determined that the food is worth eating, the trap seals completely. Once the insect is digested, the leaf opens back up. — Duke Gardens, NC

Research has shown that the trap can only open and close about seven times before the leaf turns black and dies, and a trap can only catch about three prey before it dies. (Remember, not every time that the trap closes is a prey actually digested.) This rather short lifespan likely explains the “no touching” sign that I encountered at the Gardens.


The lid of the pitcher plant is lined with fine hairs that point downward and guide prey toward its mouth. Enticing nectar along the lip of the pitcher, combined with the plant’s appealing color, further attract prey toward the opening. Inside, the long tube of the plant contains coarse hairs that trap the prey, while bacteria and digestive fluids absorb nutrients released from the insect. — Duke Gardens, North Carolina


“Don’t do it!” I found myself advising this ant. But nature operates by sovereign care, and what was about to happen must happen. I watched with guilty interest as the smell of sweet nectar lured the ant up the stem and into the opening of the pitcher. — Duke Gardens, NC

Carnivorous plants are rare and protected in the state of North Carolina. If you come across them in the wild, resist the urge to pluck them out of their natural habitat. (Not because they’ll eat you—that only happens in horror movies—but because it puts them at risk of endangerment.) If you’d like to try your thumb (er, hand) at growing them, purchase don’t poach! Also, be sure that the plants are coming from a reputable supplier who has followed the proper, legal guidelines for conservation and sale.

The Kitchen Garden

No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. — Thomas Jefferson

A kitchen garden was an essential element of living in early America. Typically, kitchen gardens were fenced areas consisting of herbs and vegetables, as well as edible and decorative flowers.

Montecello, Thomas Jefferson’s picturesque, mountaintop home in Charlottesville, VA, had a “1,000-foot-long kitchen garden terrace [which] was an experimental laboratory where he cultivated seventy different species and 250 varieties of vegetables.”[1]

I’ve had the pleasure of touring Montecello twice, but both times were years ago and before I became a shutter bug. Nevertheless, the gardens surrounding Jefferson’s dwelling are paramount in my memory.

It’s not surprising, then, that on a recent visit to Historic Stagville, I was especially enamored with the kitchen garden behind the plantation’s historic Bennahan House. It wasn’t a very large space—just a modest, rectangular plot surrounded by white fencing—yet its delightful charms occupied me for long minutes on end.


Perennials, which were used in cut-flower arrangements, added beauty to the kitchen garden’s look and design.

Kale and other green vegetables grew in the kitchen garden as representations of the native plants grown at Stagville. I, however, was preoccupied with the busy pollinators intent on their weighty task:




As well, I was captivated by a delicate flower that appeared to be surviving the cool, late-October mornings and evenings, turning its dainty head toward the warm sun during the many hours in between:


The trellis overtop the entry gate to the kitchen garden was resplendent with beautiful passion flowers. — Historic Stagville; Durham, NC

As I left the garden, I stepped on something green and squishy that sent me heading with mounting curiosity toward the visitor’s center for an explanation:


Just past the outer edge of the kitchen garden lay this odd looking fruit. Hedge apples. And not edible. They fall (as nuisances of little to no use) from the hedge apple tree, which is a hard wood that was used for making furniture and fence posts. The trees were kept low–like a hedge–by careful pruning.