Thursday, August 28, 2014

North Carolina Mountain Birds: Eastern Wood-Pewee

Eastern Wood-Pewee [photo credit: Phil Fowler]

Adding a dash of adorable to the Inn on Mill Creek Bed & Breakfast in the summertime, the Eastern Wood-Pewee gets the nod as our August 2014 bird in our 12 Months of Birding at the Inn series on the blog.

As a flycatcher, the Eastern Wood-Pewee's diet is mostly insects, including flies, crickets, grasshoppers, butterflies and moths, and even bees and wasps. You can often find the Eastern Wood-Pewees perched on branches of trees and rhododendron that line the pond at the Inn on Mill Creek, waiting for a little snack to fly by. They are amazing to watch when they catch insects in mid-air! They also eat small berries and seeds.

It can be a challenge to identify the Eastern Wood-Pewee since a lot of flycatchers look similar, especially the Eastern Phoebe, another mainstay at our B&B. Some differences to watch for:
  • The Eastern Wood-Pewee is more olive-gray, while the Eastern Phoebe is more brown
  • The Eastern Wood-Pewee is slightly smaller than the Eastern Phoebe
  • The Eastern Wood-Pewee has strong wingbars (lines of contrasting color on its wings)
  • The Eastern Phoebe has a serious tail wag while perching, flitting its tail up and down

Another way to single out the Eastern Wood-Pewee from other birds is by identifying its song. They tend to sing, loudly and often, during the day. Listen for three sliding notes that sound like "pee-a-weeeee" and you'll know who the afternoon's performer is: the Eastern Wood-Pewee.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Guest Favorites Garden August 2014 Update

As summer winds down, our Guest Favorites Garden planning is going full speed! Spurred on by the lovely late August color palette of our hydrangea and coreopsis in the garden, shown below, we're looking into spring blooming favorites of our guests that would have similar and complimentary tones.

We already have daffodils planted, and are now looking at varieties of columbines for the sunny, lower section of the garden. For summertime, we're perusing different colors of cosmos and hope to add more coneflowers as well. Small daylilies are also on the list for planting.

In addition to plants and flowers, we're hoping to start work soon on our "green stream", which will run from the top of the Guest Favorites Garden and meander toward the middle of the garden. This section is mostly shade beginning in May, so hosta plants and other shade lovers will line the "banks" of the stream and we'll have hardscaping in there as well.

Here's what we have to work with, an area that slopes downward toward our baby quince bush:

For the "stream" part, we're considering moss and pebbles, but we also like the look of grasses like this, from Fine Gardening magazine:

Flows pretty nicely, right? We're really excited about how this garden is going to look!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Taking the Garden Paths to the Bass Pond at Biltmore Estate

Exploring the outdoors at Biltmore
We know that most people who visit Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, can't wait to go through the 175,000 square-foot, fully furnished and ornate, Downton Abbey-esque house, but we tend to recommend heading outdoors at Biltmore, especially in late summer/early fall.

With thousands of acres of both cultivated gardens and pathways through naturalized park-like outdoor spaces designed by New York's Central Park and D.C.'s Capitol Ground designer Frederick Law Olmsted, Biltmore has a little something for every gardener and garden lover.

To make the most of your outdoor stroll around Biltmore, start at the house and walk through the Italian Garden, which are three water pool gardens that really show their stuff in late summer. If you are facing the house, the Italian Garden is to the left, below the South Terrace.
Italian Garden at Biltmore
Then proceed along the Shrub Garden just beyond the Italian Garden, making your way on the path to your right to get to the stairs that lead down to the Walled Garden. The Walled Garden has four acres of formal flowerbeds with an grapevine-laden arbor leading down the middle. It looks divine in late summer!

Biltmore Walled Garden side view in August
From here, you can head through the Walled Garden and through the adjacent rose garden, into the Conservatory (Brigette's favorite place at Biltmore), which is a gigantic glassed-in building filled from floor to ceiling with amazing plants and trees year-round.

Biltmore Conservatory (photo from May)
Once you get through the Conservatory, head to the left, go across the road and head down the stairs to the 15-acre Azalea Garden (gorgeous in springtime) and then on to the Bass Pond, about a third of mile away. The trail system beyond the Azalea Garden is a criss-crossing set of paved nature trails that are great for bird watching and it's also hard not to notice all the detail that has gone into the plantings along the pathways.

Pathway made from stones across a small stream
Pathway under a hydrangea archway
Summer blooms on the way to the Bass Pond
When you reach the Bass Pond, the first thing you'll notice is the Boat House, which is a great spot for sitting and relaxing.

Almost to the Bass Pond and the Boat House
The Boat House at Biltmore's Bass Pond
The other side of the Bass Pond looking toward the Boat House

The Bass Pond Bridge
A helpful tip: Biltmore House sits at a higher elevation than the gardens, so when you walk through the gardens to the Bass Pond, keep in mind that it will be uphill all the way back. It's not steep, it's a gradual incline, but you will notice it. So be sure to wear comfortable shoes, and take it at a leisurely pace.

Another helpful tip: We recommend exploring the gardens in the morning or late afternoon. Even in late summer and fall, daytime temperatures in the afternoon can be pretty warm and many of Biltmore's outdoor spaces are sunny.

There are plenty of outdoor activities at Biltmore as well, including bike trails (you can rent bikes there), horseback riding, Segway tours, Land Rover School, shooting clays, fly fishing, rafting and kayaking, and more. Check for details and remember that you can purchase tickets to Biltmore that are good for any day and the following day here at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kiva 2014 Loans (so far...)

Can't believe we're more than halfway through 2014 and we haven't done any Kiva loan updates this year! As you may recall, our goal as the owners of a small business is to assist with loans to small business owners in every country represented on Kiva, which is currently 78 countries. So far in 2014, we have helped with four microloans. We decided to go with a farming theme this year and are helping out those in the agricultural industry in developing countries, including Walter Alexander in El Salvador, Suurakan in Kyrgyzstan, Chamnan in Cambodia, and the Tei Pin San Village group (63 farmers) in Myanmar/Burma.

These loans bring our country count to 37. We're hoping to make it 40 countries this year. Every time one of our borrowers pays on his or her loan, we receive our money back and are able to reloan it.

For more information on Kiva and how you can get involved with helping small business owners to lift themselves out of poverty and improve the economic conditions in their communities, visit

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Mountain Laurel Guest Room Redecorating Project

Earlier this year, we revamped the Mountain Laurel guest room at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, replacing the queen bed with a king bed, putting in all new furniture, and adding a hand-painted mural on the wall. So let's see what we did!

Here is a before photo of the Mountain Laurel Room. It was a nice room to start with, but there's always room for improvement... in this case, upgrading the room from a queen to a king and updating the furniture. We also wanted to bring some of nature indoors.

We decided that it would be cool for us to build a custom headboard for the new bed. "We" meaning Brigette and "us" meaning Dave. So we checked around the internet and found one similar to what we had envisioned, drew up some plans from that, and then off we went to purchase lumber from our local building materials supplier, Hensons in Black Mountain, NC.

We used Dave's man cave a/k/a the Inn's garage as our base of operations for building the headboard. In no time at all, we (OK, Dave) had cut the boards, and then we arranged them and nailed and screwed them together. Of course, we're throwing a photo in here of Brigette since she did help with putting the boards in place. This was in March, hence Dave in a t-shirt and Brigette in fleece!

It only took a couple of hours and presto, headboard! Here it is in place, prior to staining:

Good news, tall guests: no footboard on this bed!

Around the same time that we built the headboard, our talented artsy friends, Yosafa and Maggie from Atlanta, helped us to bring a little bit of nature indoors by hand painting a tree branch and leaf mural on the wall above the bed. It turned out awesome as we knew it would!

Finally, we ordered furniture from one of our local furniture suppliers, Penland's Furniture in Swannanoa, NC. New desk, new dresser and new end tables arrived between April and June. Dave was able to match the headboard stain exactly with the furniture, and the room was done! Here's what it looks like today:

The Mountain Laurel Room has quickly become one of our most popular guest rooms. To see availability for your next stay at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, click here.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Fall's coming...

Don't know about you, but summer is flying by here in the mountains of western North Carolina! Our guests are enjoying this year's ridiculously pleasant weather (high of 75 degrees on July 31, ahhhhhhh), and the fresh mountain and forest air.

But... we're just seven short weeks away from the fall season, and not long after September 20 begins the fabulous slow-motion color show provided to us by Mother Nature over a six-week period. Start thinking ahead to your fall getaway and check our room availability as October reservations are steadily coming in!

The road to the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, October 24, 2012
Peak color at our elevation (2,300 feet) is typically Oct. 21-31
In the past, we've provided a little bit of info about when the leaves change in the North Carolina mountains, and take note: our 2014 weekly fall foliage reports for our area near Asheville, Black Mountain and Old Fort, NC, will start on September 30.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

North Carolina Mountain Birds: Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee, time for your close-up! [photo: Wikipedia]
Last month, we featured one of our sparrows as part of our 12 Months of Birding at the Inn series on the blog in 2014. This month, our sparrow love continues, with our July pick: the Eastern Towhee.

The Eastern Towhee is a year-round resident here in Pisgah National Forest east of Black Mountain, NC. They're more often heard than seen, although you may catch a flash of reddish orange and black scurrying on the ground around the Pool Garden and the birdfeeders as that's where the Eastern Towhees like to scoot out from under the burning bush hedge to graze. Eastern Towhees prefer to forage on the ground, often in leaves, and also through dense shrubs. They're omnivores with a varied diet of seeds, insects, snails, fruit (blueberry thieves), grasses and also spring flower buds.

The Eastern Towhee is pretty easy to identify. It's a medium-sized, chunky bird with reddish orange sides and a white belly. Males are jet black on their heads going down their chests, as well as on their  backs. Trade the black for brown with the same orange and white pattern on the sides and belly and you have the female Eastern Towhee.