Joslin Garden: 2016 Open Garden Day

Joslin Garden
pic from Joslin Garden in 2012

It’s always fun and interesting to re-visit a place you haven’t been to in awhile and I look forward to exploring Joslin Garden for Open Garden Day this upcoming Saturday.  Joslin Garden is a private residence inside the beltline that features over four wooded acres of rare and native plants.  William and Mary Coker Joslin have gifted their home and garden to the City of Oaks Foundation and City of Raleigh Parks & Rec Dept.  Currently, the garden is open one day a year, but in the future, the garden will be opened year-round.

When I first visited the garden four years ago I was blown away by all the flowers, vegetables and plants, little pathways, streams of flowing water, and cute garden decor.  The gardens felt enchanting, romantic and whimsical.  It’s hard to believe a private garden of this size exists inside the beltline. I was happy to share it with Ashley back then, even if she was only 13 months old at the time and I look forward to re-discovering this secret garden this weekend, hopefully with a little one at my side.

Joslin Garden Open Garden Day Infoimg_1073

  • Saturday, April 23, 2016 from 12pm-5pm
  • 2431 West Lake Drive, park only on one side of West Lake Drive
  • features self-guided tours of private gardens
  • there are no public restrooms
  • event flyer

Mini Post: Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet

IMG_3704After our visit to Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet, we headed across the street (literally) to Brookgreen Gardens to spend time at the zoo, storybook playhouses and nature playground.  Brookgreen Gardens is located at 1931 Brookgreen Drive off US-17 and features thousands of acres of gardens and sculptures, a low country zoo, beautiful light displays in the evenings at Christmastime, educational programs and much more.

We didn’t have time to visit the gardens, but spent about an hour walking the 1-mile+ loop and visiting the animals through the zoo.  We saw domesticated animals such as cows, horses, turkeys and several native animals such as alligators, bald eagles, foxes, otters.  The aviary features a boardwalk elevated over a swamp where you walk through the birds’ habitat to see several different types of birds including herons and egrets.

After seeing the animals we walked over to the Storybook Playhouse area where the kids explored every inch of the storybook-themed houses for Cinderella’s Castle, Hansel & Gretel’s gingerbread house, Snow White’s cottage, Dr. Seuss, and Rapunzel’s tower.  Then the kiddos climbed, jumped and banged around the nearby nature playground.  They seemed to mostly enjoy making music with the pots and pans secured to the wall.

Brookgreen Gardens is an enormous place; we hardly dusted the surface of this Lowcountry garden and zoo.  In looking at their website, they have lots of cool exhibits and events scheduled for their 85th anniversary this year, including LEGO sculptures on display at the zoo.

Thumbs up: variety of activities, native animals, aviary exhibit

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Blue Jay Point County Park

IMG_2125Blue Jay Point County Park is an outdoor mecca for people of all ages!  We visited Blue Jay Point County Park about a month ago after hearing so much great news about the new Go Ape Zip Line & Tree Adventure course.  Even though this park visit was more for the little ones, I can’t wait to head back here for some adult time on the adventure course.

Blue Jay Point County Park is a peninsula located at 3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd in North Raleigh.  It is surrounded on three sides by Falls Lake and just south of the intersection of NC-98 and Six Forks Rd.

We first drove to the back of the park and scoped out the playground area, which was huge!  The ages 5-12 playground has at least 8 slides in total, long ramps for running up and down, monkey bars, climbing ladders, tunnels and more.  The ages 2-5 playground has several shorter slides, an arched climbing ladder, and nearby teeter totters and standing sand tables.  There is a restroom area, small covered pavilion, benches and picnic tables near the playground.  Most of the playground area is in full sun, but we were able to score a little shade on the benches under the trees.

IMG_2124After some playground time, we headed towards the covered pavilion where the Laurel Loop nature trail begins.  This was such an ideal walk for young kids – it is a well maintained unpaved trail with lots of shade, has several benches and picnic tables throughout, is only 0.2 miles, allows for a short walk by adjacent Falls Lake, and loops you back to the playground area.  All of the girls from ages 18 months to 4 years old loved exploring this trail, especially finding the dozens of caterpillars along the trail.

After our hike, we got back in our cars and headed to the front of the park to explore the main building’s Nature Discovery Room.  After recently visiting Rockwood Nature Center in Richmond, VA where we saw several live animals, the girls seemed disappointed they didn’t have any live creepy, crawly native animals to gawk at.  However, they did enjoy learning about the water cycle at Falls Lake and playing with some of the interactive tree and plant exhibits.

IMG_2139We then headed outside to the nearby fenced-in garden area for a much deserved picnic lunch.  After our lunch we walked all throughout the gardens learning about the different herbs, flowers and vegetables they’ve planted.  The biggest highlight for me was the “pizza garden” where they planted lots of basil and tomatoes.  The biggest highlight for the girls was spotting butterflies and checking out the resident turtles and water snake in the small pond area.

Even though we spent about 3 hours at Blue Jay County Park, I feel as if we barely scratched the surface of this park.  With so many nature and hiking trails (some that connect to Mountains-to-Sea trail), a natural play area, a tree-top adventure course, lots of open space, and tons of educational programs I can’t wait to come back very soon!

Thumbs up: nature trails with varying lengths for all ages, gardens, playground area, proximity to Falls Lake, so many outdoor activities to do

Thumbs down: signage around park

Haywood Hall

IMG_5289In early May I took some time by myself to visit Haywood Hall, a recommendation from friends who were married there over 10 years ago and a lesser known public garden in the Triangle according to’s list. Having spent a lot of time in Downtown Raleigh, I had never heard of Haywood Hall and was excited to explore it for myself!

Haywood Hall is located in downtown Raleigh at 211 New Bern Pl, two blocks east of the state capitol building.  Completed in the early 1800’s, Haywood Hall was built by John Haywood (Raleigh’s first Treasurer and Intendant of Police/Mayor) as a home for his family.  This Federal-style house was occupied by descendants until 1977 when the property and furnishings were given to The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of North Carolina.  Despite a presumably busy May wedding season at Haywood Hall, I happened to visit on a quiet Sunday afternoon.  Even though the house was closed (see their hours), I wondered around the public gardens and gazebo for a closer view.

IMG_5254The house faces south and on an early May afternoon the front lawn was mostly shaded.  Both sides of the gorgeous brick herringbone path were outlined with yellow and orange flowers and remnants of previously bloomed daffodils and azaleas.  A white picket fence outlines the perimeter of the property with large oak and magnolia trees, small patches of grass and shady spots for benches and walks on the front lawn.

IMG_5284I followed the brick path towards the side property where a white tent for special events was erected over a large brick patio with nearby pergolas.  Another brick path leads to the back of the house and the outside restroom facilities, where a kitty was sunning.  Roses and irises were in bloom and hostas were beginning to pop out.  I followed another brick path to the gazebo shaded by nearby trees where I noticed several bricks surrounding the gazebo and pathways contained personalized messages.  In visiting Haywood Hall’s website, I learned more about purchasing commemorative bricks, which would be a nice way to remember a special memory or person at Haywood Hall.

Whether here for a special event or taking a stroll through the extensive gardens, Haywood Hall is a thrilling place to be.  I look forward to coming back again soon to stroll through the main house.

Thumbs up: gardens, special event venue, quiet spot in Downtown Raleigh location

Thumbs down: limited open hours in main house

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E. Carroll Joyner Park

IMG_4982With our red wagon and balance bike in hand, we headed out on a clear, sunny winter day to explore E. Carroll Joyner Park in Wake Forest.  E. Carroll Joyner park is located about 20 minutes from Raleigh, just off Rte. 1 at 701 Harris Rd.  Upon arriving into the park you immediately notice the expansive rolling fields and stone ribbon wall.  Follow the main road towards the back of the park where you’ll find the parking lot.

After parking we studied the information board to better understand the park’s layout.  With over 100 acres, this park has a lot to offer: three miles of paved trails, grass amphitheater, a pecan grove, farm buildings, a perennial garden, and a performance garden.  We spent most of our time walking and biking on the paved trails, which proved to be great balance bike practice for Ashley; the rolling trails are wide with gradual declines and park benches and swings along the way for resting.  The trails have great visibility, which is necessary for inexperienced young bikers who swerve all over the trail.

IMG_4994Along our walk/ride we passed several beautiful settings including the refurbished farm buildings.  This park was originally a working farm as recently as the 1940s, owned by the Walker family who grew produce to sell to local merchants.  It was sold to E. Carroll Joyner who raised cattle until the 1990s and then bought by the Town of Wake Forest in 2003 and opened as a public park in 2009.  The original farm buildings include a tobacco barn, log cabin, chicken coop and mule barn.  The girls had a fantastic time exploring the different buildings, especially the chicken coop.  Several of these buildings and the nearby settings also offer great photo opportunities.

After exploring the old buildings we followed the trails south around the pond.  We continued along the greenway past the pond, but after consulting the GPS we turned around since it was going to take much longer to get back to the parking via the greenway.

Before heading to the car we stopped for a short picnic at one of the bench swings and then stopped for a quick bathroom break in the very clean and comfortable public restrooms.  Make this park a must-visit for 2015 – whether walking, biking, running or out for some photography this park is your setting!  It’s also part of the Kids in Parks Track Trails program which encourages kids to have fun outdoor adventures.

Thumbs up: trails, photo ops, farm buildings, gardens, beautiful settings

Thumbs down:  greenway signage

Durham & Raleigh 24 Hours of Kid-less Freedom


About 6 weeks before Claire was born, we had the ultimate luxury of dropping Ashley off with good friends for a day and overnight visit!  Ashley is about the same age and besties with their little girl so we knew she’d have lots of fun (she’s still talking about seeing Elmo on stage)!

Not having a toddler overnight made our minds crazy with ideas…Projects around the house? Nah, need to chill out! Beach trip?  Nah, I may never come back. Vegas? Nah, too crazy!  So, in the end we decided to enjoy what we have here and stay in the area.  Then came the outpouring of ideas on our shared Google doc.  You mean to tell me we could fill our day with 24 hours of uninterrupted together time that didn’t involve having to go home in the middle of the day for naptime or needing to be home by 7:30pm and then under house arrest until 8am the next morning?  Get out!

img_3319After lots of options we decided to spend our morning in Durham and our afternoon/evening in Raleigh exploring places and doing things we had never done before.  After dropping Ash off with friends we headed out to the Sarah Duke gardens because Bill had never been before.  We walked through the Asian gardens and then made our way around to the new (to me) rose garden.  The morning was beautiful and within 45 minutes we were done…no one had asked for a snack or to be held or to be put down or for a toy, etc, etc, etc.  To kill some more time at the gardens we decided to stray from our original plans and try the ultra nerdy pastime of geocaching.  Bill scouted the Geocaching website and found several in the immediate area of the gardens. Geocaching is like being on a treasure hunt except you use GPS coordinates and helpful online hints to locate the “treasure” that you don’t actually get to keep.  Growing up, my aunt and Mimi frequently sent us on treasure hunts around their houses, so it brought back some fun memories for me.  Being geocaching virgins we decided on one with an easy skill level that had been previously discovered the day before.  After spending way toooo much time looking for this geocache we finally found it hidden under a rock on the northern side of the gardens.  It was a small plastic container with little trinkets (stamps, toys, journal).  We signed our names and dated the log and made mental notes to try this again with Ashley.

img_3336After the gardens, we headed to Bull City Burger and Brewery in Durham.  For Raleigh folks, think Chuck’s except with a larger menu and hand crafted beers.  We both didn’t think the burgers held up to the Chuck’s standards, but agreed the food was still delish, the beers were refreshing (I just had some sips), company was excellent and the patio out back was super relaxing.  Pickle chips and fries are must-have complements to their gut-busting burgers!

After our mega lunch we headed home for some quiet time at our neighborhood pool…in the pool chairs beside the big pool.  We didn’t even glance over at the baby pool to see if our sucker friends were there with their kids.  We just sat and it was marvelous!

Post-pool we went to Glenwood Grill for dinner.  The food was delicious but based on recommendations we thought the restaurant’s atmosphere would been more upscale.  Some patrons were dressed up, but for the most part it was a random collection of people in jeans and flip flops or jumpsuits (not kidding) and then families with toddlers.  We had their pork belly appetizer and scallops and fish dinners, which was all delish!

img_3731After Glenwood Grill we headed south about a mile to Hayes Barton Cafe for dessert.  Bill had a piece of dark chocolate cake and I had the lemon blueberry cake.  These pieces of cake were about $9 each and very dense, but so amazing!  We took to-go boxes home and slowly devoured them for days.

At this point it was about 7:30pm and we couldn’t possibly call it a night.  With amazing weather, we decided this night needed a finale of something outdoors.  After some extensive googling we decided on an outdoor movie at the NC Museum of Art.  After a quick outfit change at home, we grabbed our lawn chairs and blankets and arrived just in time to see “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”  The movie is a must-see with a great cast of British actors (think Downton Abbey explores India). It was a jam-packed night for outdoor movie watching so we ended up sitting on the hill just past the entrance and couldn’t have gotten a better view.

The entire day and night were absolutely wonderful and a great time for reflection on our marriage and growing family.  We felt more united than ever and were so happy to see Ashley the next morning and so anxious to meet little soon-to-be Claire.

Thumbs up: Sarah Duke gardens, Bull City Burgers & Brewery, Hayes Barton Cafe, Glenwood Grill, NC Museum of Art’s outdoor movies

Thumbs down: Almost not being allowed to bring my own non-factory sealed water into the NCMA

Exploring Durham: Strawberries, Donuts & a Picnic


Living in Raleigh has spoiled me over the years with such close proximity to outdoor events, great restaurants, parks, live entertainment, etc.  Other than the dozens of trips to see a Durham Bulls baseball game, I never really make the short trek to Durham.  My intentions are always to explore Durham more, but it just never seems to happen.  However, with the countdown to baby number two being less than two months away my Durham radar is on high-alert so Ashley and I set off to do a special mommy/daughter morning in Durham.  You may ask, “What does that entail?”  Well, if there’s something I know about two year olds, it’s that they love attention and to eat; lucky for Ashley she is in good company.

img_3175On stop #1 of our morning in Durham, we headed to Waller Family Farm to pick strawberries!  We love strawberries in this household and with May being the prime month for this delicious fruit, it couldn’t have been a better fit for a two year old.  I found Waller Family Farm through the NC Ag’s website and also started following them on Facebook to get their daily strawberry picking updates.  Waller Family Farm is located at 5005 Kerley Rd in Durham.  Unbeknownst to me (and the farm owners, I think) a local church (all 100 of them) also decided to go strawberry picking this morning!  As we arrived at the farm, the man directing traffic was super helpful in making sure we could find a parking spot because the church did not come in typical church vans or buses…every family drove separately!  So, we parked in the field, lathered in sunscreen and set off to pick strawberries.  The ladies at the cash registers were also very helpful by noticing we were not part of the church group and telling us the ripest strawberries were closest to the white flags in the fields.

As you can tell by the pictures, Ashley is all about some strawberries!  She quickly discerned the green strawberries from the red ones and sampled plenty of Waller Family fruits.  Our bucket full of strawberries yielded about 4 pounds and with it being only $1.99/pound you can’t beat the price and experience!  The picking is still good at Waller Family Farms but be sure to check in with them before you head out there.

img_3660After strawberry picking we headed to downtown Durham for some local donuts at Monuts Donuts!  After reading a recent suggestion from local blogger Triangle Explorer about Monuts Donuts I knew I had to try them and being pregnant gave me the justification.  Durham has become quite the foodie city and having a speciality donut shop helps prove why.  Monuts Donuts opened its brick and mortar store earlier this year at 110 East Parrish St.  Before having a store front, they sold donuts at the farmers market and food truck rodeos.  This particular morning we shared a strawberry lime poppy seed donut and classic marble donut.  Both were out of this world!  Other than donuts, they also serve coffee, beer, and breakfast and lunch sandwiches.  I can’t wait to go back for more!

img_3188After filling up on donuts, we took a short drive over to the American Tobacco District for a quick picnic at stop #3, the Diamond View Park.  This park is located adjacent to the DPAC and Durham Bulls baseball stadium on Blackwell St.  There are several FREE short-term parking spaces (30 min, 1 hr, 2hr) nearby and also several long-term pay parking garages…just be sure to take note of the signs.  It’s a rather large park for being in the middle of the city and doesn’t have many features other than open green space, trees along the perimeter, and benches along the pathway.  On this particular day the park’s perimeter was lined with short, temporary gates – probably for the upcoming outdoor concerts held in the park.  Being that Ashley and I had mostly filled up on strawberries and donuts, we didn’t have much of an appetite for a real lunch, but I still enjoyed watching her run around after the frisbee while I relaxed on the lawn.  We also took in some good people watching as folks hurried to lunch at the various nearby restaurants.  To learn more about the history of the American Tobacco District, visit their website.

Wow, what a jam-packed morning of fun little adventures.  It was nice to get out of our normal routine and try something different.  Exploring new things in Durham was such a treat that I want to create a Durham Bucket List similar to my Raleigh Bucket List!

Thumbs up: strawberry picking, donuts, open space at park, availability of parking around park, mommy/daughter time, exploring Durham

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Trip to Keswick, VA

Bruce with his Mr. Toad hat

Last weekend, we headed to Keswick, VA for a three-day celebration of my father-in-law’s 60th birthday.  The Montgomery family converged on the area, coming in from MD, NC, and MN for the festivities.  Even my mom, sister, brother and their spouses came in from the Ruther Glen area on Saturday and Sunday to celebrate as well.  Being a Hokie, it’s hard to admit that Keswick and Charlottesville are gorgeous places to visit, but they truly are and I can’t wait to come back again in July for Janet & Adam’s wedding at Veritas!

While in Keswick we took a day trip to Monticello with grandparents and great-grandparents.  I hadn’t been to Monticello since probably 5th grade so it was nice to visit again after so many years.  We checked out the main house, stables, and Jefferson family gravesite.  With a 13-month old our time was limited, but that also meant we have more left to explore the next time we visit.  I also found some time on Friday for a little pool and wine time, which was fabulous!

On Friday night, we had a delicious 8+ course meal and wine pairing in the private wine cellar at Keswick.  We ate delicious courses of tuna, ribeye, cheese, sorbet, mushrooms, etc all paired perfectly with champagnes, pinots, zins, cabs, etc.  Everyone at dinner also got to learn about my new fav wine, Orin Swift’s The Prisoner!

On Saturday afternoon, after a fun morning photo shoot with my Kristen Garten Photography (check out Kristen’s work), I headed to three different wineries with my sister and sis-in-law.  We visited First Colony, Trump Winery, and Carter’s Mountain Orchard & Winery.  All three were very unique, but I think the red wine sangria slushie at Carter’s was our unanimous favorite.  July at Veritas can’t come soon enough!

On Sunday morning, we explored the walking trails and gardens of Keswick followed by some romping time at the nearby playground. And, yes, even little Ripken got to come and enjoy some pampering at Keswick!

The entire weekend was such fun…seeing family from all over and having them get precious time with Ashley was a great joy!

Thumbs up: reservation system/flow at Monticello, food and wine at Keswick, pool time, walking trails, playground, pet-friendly hotel, nearby wineries
Thumbs down: nothing to report

Joslin Gardens

Bill being in Blacksburg this past weekend meant that Ashley and I were on our own for a girl’s weekend!  Years ago, a girl’s weekend would’ve been much different than what it is today, but nevertheless we had a fun weekend.

img_1037First we visited the Joslin Gardens in Raleigh.  The gardens were part of a private residence that Mr. & Mrs. Joslin donated to the city and established the City of Oaks Foundation.  The gardens sit on a 4+ acre lot at 2431 West Lake Dr.  Not knowing what to expect once we arrived, I carried Ashley in the baby bjorn, which proved to be the right choice.  The paths throughout the property were very clear, but narrow.  There is a small stream running through the rolling hills on the property, so we had several bridges and steps to walk on.

img_1038We started the self-guided tour by heading north along the trail through the pine woodland area.  There were several helpful maps highlighting the suggested tours throughout the gardens.  I was amazed at how many plants and shrubs were identified.  We slowly made our way over the rolling hills, across bridges, around the streams and eventually up to the formal gardens next to the house.  The formal gardens were my favorite, maybe because they had the most flowers in bloom, but also because it seemed very whimsical.  The pergolas were covered in vines with new rose buds, the gorgeous irises were in full bloom, and the vegetable garden was in the middle of preparing for a busy summer.

It was pretty amazing to witness all the flowers, plants, and shrubs this couple had cultivated over the years.  It truly is a secret garden in the middle of an enchanting city.

Carrying Ashley up and over the gardens exhausted me, so we headed down to the Historic Oakwood area for an early lunch. Ever since I can remember first spotting the restaurant, I’ve been wanting to try Side Street Restaurant.  It’s an adorable neighborhood restaurant with a great selection of sandwiches and desserts.  Ashley was an angel and devoured her first grilled cheese sandwich.  It was very much the perfect mother-daughter lunch spot!

A lot of what Ashley and I did on Saturday morning reminded me so much of my grandma, Mimi.  Maybe it was the quiet creek flowing through the gardens of the Joslin residence; Mimi was infamous in her neighborhood for having a gorgeous water feature and surrounding it with her neighbors.  Or maybe it was the gorgeous spring weather; Mimi’s birthday was April 1st and until a few years ago, she made an annual trip with my aunt to visit us during this time of the year. Or maybe it was the neighborhood cafe with its white-linen tablecloths and regular customers that Ashley and me had lunch at; Mimi loved getting to know her servers and would’ve loved Side Street’s selection of sandwiches.

For more information about the inspiring work Mr. & Mrs. Joslin have done for the City of Raleigh read about their 2011 induction into the Raleigh Hall of Fame.

Thumbs up: quiet girlie weekends, peacefulness of the gardens,

Thumbs down: wished the gardens were open at the peak of the Camelia blooms

Boyce Farms

Looking for a way to spend a gorgeous Sunday Funday outside while celebrating the Christmas season?!  Why not pack up the family (don’t forget the dog) and head out to your local Christmas tree farm at Boyce Farms in North Raleigh. Since volunteering here as part of the Raleigh Jaycees fundraiser, I’ve made choosing our tree at Boyce Farms part of our Christmas tradition.

Boyce Farms is a family-owned and operated farm located at 2813 Mount Vernon Church Rd. The tree farm is open Mon-Fri from noon-7pm and Sat-Sun from 9am-7pm.  You can choose from a huge selection of fresh cut fraser firs from the NC mountains or choose and cut your own tree right on the farm.  Every year I’ve gotten a tree from Boyce Farms, I’ve always been incredibly pleased with the quality of the tree.  The tree needles stay on longer, the fresh fir scent lasts through the New Year, and even with our slack watering the tree doesn’t dry out.  The prices are also incredibly reasonable…this year our 7ft tree only cost $42!

The experience at Boyce Farms wouldn’t be complete without the help from the friendly staff.  Once you pick out your tree, they carry it to the tree shaking machine to clear away the few dead needles, cut off any branches near the trunk, run it through the netting machine, and then securely tie it to your car.  They also have a great selection of pine roping, fresh wreaths or centerpieces, tree stands, and more.

The Raleigh Jaycees will be out there again today selling treats and helping folks find the perfect tree, so be sure to stop by and you’ll quickly make it part of your Christmas tradition too!

Thumbs up: friendly staff, quality trees, reasonable prices, fun Christmas atmosphere

Thumbs down: nothing to report