Autumn at The Umstead

It arrived last week.

Autumn.

Every October, I fret that the fall foliage will fail to impress here in central North Carolina. Then, as Thanksgiving draws near, the leaves do their thing and it is spectacular…and I remind myself to remind myself next year to hold my horses.

Saturday afternoon, I found myself at The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, North Carolina, for a late lunch with my older sister.

If you’re a fan of coffee, I recommend the Espresso Fizz. It was delish and went surprisingly well with the pickled fried chicken.

In case you need some convincing:

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The ice cubes were made of frozen coffee, and a dash of cinnamon gave the Espresso Fizz a pleasing punch of sweet-spicy flavor.

After lunch we took a walk around the hotel, which is always a treat. (I’ve written about the Umstead before.) Although this five star establishment is right off of Interstate 40, it’s tucked into a wooded haven.

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A view from inside the hotel hinted at the beauty awaiting outside.

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Gas fire pits and heaters make the back porch at Umstead attractive to guests nearly year-round.

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These roses were a reminder that it was actually 75 degrees on this particular Saturday in latish November.

Umstead’s lake, located at the rear of the 12-acre resort, is tranquil and offers walking trails and benches. This time of year, these amenities were encased in vibrant colors of autumn.

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Locals and visitors alike are fortunate to enjoy this lovely place, which U.S. News and World Report has ranked as #1 in Best North Carolina Hotels.

Ayr Mount (Hillsborough, NC)

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There’s a big world out there, and sometimes you don’t have to venture too far from home to encounter something new in it. All that might be required is a slight detour; such as the one I took today after church to flee the I-40 bustle.

I took the Hillsborough exit (261), which promised a laidback route through one of North Carolina’s oldest towns. The historic borough was abuzz with activity near the River Walk and local restaurants. A brown sign for Ayr Mount that I’d never noticed before caught my eye. Intrigued by the name, I followed it. (Note to reader: If a sign said, “Jump off this bridge,” I probably would not follow it.)

I parked in a gravel lot. As I surveyed graceful, weeping trees and acres and acres (about 60 to be exact) of meadows, woodlands and gardens surrounding a brick plantation house, I wondered how I had lived in the general vicinity for eleven years and not known that this place existed.

Let me say this now in case I forget later: Anyone can walk around Ayr Mount or sit on the grounds any time they want to! Well, at least until closing, which today was 6pm. (There is a $12 fee to tour the house. Parking is free.)

Now for a little history, the rest of which can be found here. Ayr Mount was the home of the Kirkland family, whose patriarch, William Kirkland, immigrated to North Carolina from Ayr, Scotland, in 1789. Despite humble beginnings, William Kirkland became a well-respected merchant, amassing wealth and building Ayr Mount in 1815. The plantation remained in the family until 1985. In 1993, after extensive restoration, the new owner donated the house to the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust. Today, thanks to the Trust and those who came before them, Ayr Mount stands representative of early American architecture, culture, and heritage.

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Ayr Mount was built in the Federal style. Its all-brick exterior was rare for the time–most houses in the region were wood frame. I found the rear of the house (shown here) to be just as pretty (prettier?) than the front. The interior, which I did not tour, possesses unique features for the time as well, such as 14-foot ceilings, intricate woodwork, and plasterwork.

A small garden edged the rear of the house. The most vibrant showing this time of year was a profusely laden yellow Angel’s Trumpet bush.

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Beyond the stone patio stretched acres of meadows and woodlands, with views like this one:
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Visitors can either walk through the grass and get their feet nice and wet (like I did) OR the grounds can be seen to their full advantage by traveling Poet’s Walk, which is a one-mile walking trail that loops around the property from the house down to the banks of the Eno River and back.

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Poet’s Walk at Ayr Mount

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Bird houses, plantings, and seats are peppered all along Poet’s Walk. I didn’t go down to the Eno River (which would have made for a nice picture) for fear of totally (as opposed to partially) ruining my good Sunday shoes.

The Kirkland family cemetery is right along Poet’s Walk (and is the first sight seen from the parking lot).

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Generations of Kirklands were laid to rest in the family cemetery on Ary Mount.

In my humble (and arguably morbid) opinion, the cemetery was one of the most striking sights on the property. The trees and plantings, along with the wrought-iron gate and stone perimeter came together to produce a sense of tranquility. Amidst this reminder of the end that we each face (if the LORD tarries), an epitaph rose high with this faithful proclamation: “Resting in hope of a joyful resurrection.” …And hope, believers in Jesus Christ know, does not disappoint.

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Elon University: A Botanical Garden

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Alamance Building, a National Register Historic Place in the historic district of Elon University. (Alamance County, North Carolina)

Elon University, a private liberal arts school founded in 1889 and located in Alamance County, North Carolina, has the unique distinction of being classified as a botanical garden. It doesn’t have a botanical garden. It is a botanical garden. And not only that, six buildings of the Colonial/Georgian Revival style and one monument on campus are on the National Register under the designation Elon College Historic District.

Intrigued by these recent discoveries, I paid the campus a visit and was not disappointed. Take a look at some of the beautiful flora and architecture I saw as I meandered winding brick pathways and surveyed lush green lawns:

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Could anyone ever be late for class, I wondered, with this pretty reminder posing at the intersection of two brick walkways?

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Columns and arches, such as those behind this lovely lily, were prevalent practically everywhere on campus.

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The floral splendor attracted butterflies galore, such as this black swallowtail.

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But the butterflies were not to be outdone. I also spotted a hummingbird and even this hummingbird moth.

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The porch of the alumni house looked like it would be the perfect place to stop for a spot of sweet tea.

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You can’t stop progress! Elon’s campus is growing, as the orange construction fencing in this photo portrays. I encountered many folks, such as these leisurely dog walkers, who were taking advantage of the shady sidewalks and beautiful scenery.

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A showy hibiscus bloom flaunts a raggedy petal near the historic O’Kelly monument, which I photographed very poorly and therefore did not make the cut.

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Bees were busy in the lovely flower bed near the historic Carlton Library.

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The relentless heat of a southern summer couldn’t wilt these hearty rudbeckia.

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…and more coneflowers, because I’m crazy for coneflowers. Plus there’s the historic library in the background–nameplate and all.

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Seemingly subtle accents, such as this ivy-covered brick wall, added to the charm of Elon’s campus. I wanted to go back to school all over again!

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“E” is for Elon. (Believe it or not, it took me a moment to put two and two together. …Lightbulb!)

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So many of the places on campus were prettier in real life than through my camera lens. One such place was here by the pergola and Lake Mary Nell.

I left Elon University decidedly appreciative of its visual appeal and southern charm.

Cherry Allée

Which comes first, the leaf or the bloom? For the Akebono cherry tree, the “usual” order of events is reversed—the bloom precedes the leaf. The botanical term for this sequence is hysteranthy.

The intriguing nature of this tree, (a cultivar of the Japanese Yoshino cherry), doesn’t end there: the blossoms appear first as pale pink in early spring, then turn to white as the flowers open in the following days, only to turn pink again before wilting. The first dawn of pink that these petals display are likened to pink morning skies, resulting in the Japanese name “Akebono” which means “daybreak” or “dawn.”[1]

Akebono cherry trees are one of several varieties on display during the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., and these striking beauties bestow their branches on other parts of the country as well, North Carolina included.

In 2012, Duke Gardens redesigned their main entrance—the Gothic Gate entrance—to include an Akebono-lined cherry allée. Last year, I photographed the fruits of this labor while the trees were pretty in pink. (You can view that photo here.)

In early March, I made my way over to the allée to check things out. The trees weren’t in bloom yet, but I thought I detected a pinkish hue in the works on the trees at the far end of the allée. …Soon and very soon, it would appear! (As a volunteer photographer for the Gardens, the urge to camp out there morning, noon and night was irresistible but obviously impractical.)

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Do I detect pink cherry blossoms in the making?! (That’s the Duke Chapel in the sunset.) — Durham, NC

Less than two weeks later, I received word that the allée was in bloom! I high-tailed it over after work that very same day…then the next morning…and a couple days after that, too.

Here’s just a sampling of the photos I took. Enjoy!

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The allée was designed to resemble a stream descending gradually toward the Mary Duke Biddle Rose Garden and its focal piece, the historic Roney Fountain.

At the top of the grandiose stairway leading to the Rose Garden, the cherry blossoms create a striking contrast to the rustic stone arbor below.

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Merely descending into the Rose Garden does not mean bidding farewell to the slightly fragrant, oh-so-lovely Akebono blooms. Even a backward glance is breathtaking:

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A view of the cherry allée from the Rose Garden. — Duke Gardens

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Coming or going, morning or evening, it’s been a magnificent spring for Duke Gardens’ cherry allée.

 


[1] https://www.nps.gov/subjects/cherryblossom/memorial-loop-trail.htm