Thursday, April 10, 2014

2014 Painters Greenhouse Herb Festival is April 12-13

Last year's Festival [photo credit: Painters Greenhouse Facebook Page]
Since the Inn on Mill Creek Bed & Breakfast is getting a little herb garden makeover this year (more on that later this month), we are super excited about the 10th Annual Painters Greenhouse Herb Festival, the weekend of April 12-13, 2014. Painters Greenhouse is one of our favorite locally-owned nurseries, located near the Inn on Mill Creek, in Old Fort, NC.

The Painters Greenhouse Herb Festival is much more than a sale on rosemary and basil plants and the opportunity to sample the famous Painters Pesto: more than 25 talented local artisans will also be at Painters Greenhouse that weekend for the festival. Handcrafted furniture makers, painters, photographers, jewelry artisans, soap makers, local authors, and many more will have booths set up for you to peruse their items.

And what would a festival be without food and music? The 2014 Painters Greenhouse Herb Festival will have food vendors selling all kinds of local treats, and beverages as well. Local musicians will also be entertaining festival-goers on Saturday and Sunday, with a lineup that includes blues, jazz, rock classics, original songs, and even a Native American flute performance. In addition, Painters will feature a petting zoo on Saturday and a clown entertaining the kiddos on Sunday.

Then there are, of course, the herbs. Painters Greenhouse is known for having an awesome variety of plants and their herb selection is no exception. They'll be offering sale prices on different sizes of herb containers, from $1.50 for a 4" container to $6 for 8" containers. Perfect for taking one or two or ten home with you to start or add to your own herb garden. Just leave a little bit of rosemary for your innkeepers.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Swannanoa Valley Museum 2014 Season Opening

Photo Credit: Swannanoa Valley Museum
If you're a history geek like your Inn on Mill Creek innkeepers, we have news for you: The Swannanoa Valley Museum in the town of Black Mountain opens for the season on Saturday, April 12, 2014. Buncombe County and Western North Carolina have a diverse and interesting history, with early settlement by Native Americans followed by American colonists around the time of the Revolutionary War, the growth of farming and agriculture that influences our foodtopian society today, the significant impact of the railroad's construction through the mountains, the area's beauty inspiring the arrival of many religious and spiritual retreats, manufacturing and development, important historical figures being born, having lived in, and having relocated to the area shaping history, and so on. And the Swannanoa Valley Museum is a terrific place to learn all about it.

Visitors can take advantage of free admission on Opening Day at the SVM on April 12, as well as see a preview of new exhibits on African American History and Culture, Valley Sports Heroes, Black Mountain's Sister City of Krasnaya Polyana, which hosted all the snow events during the 2014 Winter Olympics, and Moonshining. Quite the variety, right?! We told you the history of the area is diverse.

And not only can you tour the museum's exhibits, but the SVM also offers guided hikes throughout the year to allow for a more in-depth history lesson of the area: The Rim Hike Explorer Series includes hikes on the third Saturday of each month. Each hike covers a portion of the 31-mile Swannanoa Rim that includes the mountains around the town of Black Mountain and the surrounding area. Also taking place on the third Saturday of the month is the Valley History Explorer Hiking Series, a set of eight 3-mile hikes to historic locations within the area's different communities.

Rim Hike Group [photo credit Joe Standaert, SVM Facebook Page]
The Swannanoa Valley Museum is located next to the Dripolator coffeehouse on West State Street in downtown Black Mountain, about 15 minutes from the Inn. Fun fact about the SVM's charming brick building for our fellow history nerds: The museum is housed in the old Black Mountain Fire House, which was designed and built by the supervising architect of Biltmore Estate, Richard Sharp Smith, in the early 1920s. It's one of only two remaining structures in the Swannanoa Valley designed by Sharp and his partners.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Hop'n Blueberry Farm Tours in April of 2014

Hops drying [photo credit: Hop'n Blueberry Farm]
Here's an activity for those of you who dig agritourism and local farm tours and who want to get a behind-the-scenes look at hops production: Hop'n Blueberry Farm in Black Mountain, one of the first hop farms in the state of North Carolina, is offering one-hour specialty tours at 2pm every Saturday in April. The farm is about 20 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek B&B.

Hops are flowers and one of the basic ingredients in beer brewing, providing the bitter counterbalance to the sweetness of malt, while also acting as a preservative. During the tour, you'll learn how hops are grown and managed and see why Hop'n Blueberry Farm is a leader in hops production research in the state. The tour also includes samples of beer crafted by Black Mountain's Lookout Brewing Company, using Hop'n Blueberry Farm's hops. After the farm tour, head into Black Mountain and check out Lookout Brewing Company to see how their beer is made and see why when we say the best beers in the area are our local brews, we really mean it.

For information on the tour or to get tickets, call Hop'n Blueberry's Van Burnette at 828.664.1166. Van is the seventh generation to farm his family's land at Hop'n Blueberry Farm. The farm is, of course, producing hops, and will begin harvesting blueberries in 2015. The farm is also actively involved in pollination research, especially involving the migration of Monarch butterflies, and has earned a designation as a Certified Native Pollination Habitat.


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Monday, March 24, 2014

Guest Favorites Garden Update for March 2014

Just a quick March update on our newest garden space at the Inn on Mill Creek, the Guest Favorites Garden. While the daffodils in the Pool Garden have heralded in spring right on schedule at the Inn, located near Asheville and Black Mountain, North Carolina, the daffodils that we planted in the Guest Favorites Garden are a bit late to emerge.

Daffodils in the Pool Garden at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, March 20
While we wait for the Guest Favorites Garden (GFG) daffodils to bloom, we continue to plan the remainder of the garden, installed on a slope near the main drive. Still deciding on astilbe colors for the shady section, but the decision has been made regarding hostas and the choice is American Halo. Three of these will be planted next month to start the hosta collection in the GFG (photo courtesy of ecgrowers.com):

American Halo Hosta
We've also landed on our choice of peony for the other, sunnier end of the garden. It's called Monsieur Jules Elie (photo by Clemson University):

Monsieur Jules Elie peony bloom

Stay tuned for next month's update when we start planting!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

North Carolina Mountain Birds: American Robin

American Robin at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, 2012
If ever a bird had the ability to make winter seem a distant memory while frost is still very much on the ground, it would be the American Robin. It seems like as soon as we see robins doing their stop-and-go flutter across the grass in the apple orchard at the B&B, it's like winter never happened. Interestingly, the American Robin is a year-round resident in most of the United States, but it spends most of the winter tucked away, roosting in trees.

American Robin in the orchard at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B

American Robins are easy to spot come springtime, with their flashy, orange-red chests, dark heads and yellow bills. They're also fairly large and fairly loud compared to other songbirds. The whistling song of an American Robin is clear and according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is often described as "cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up." The pitch rises and falls, but the rhythm is steady.

Posing for the camera

Other fun facts about the American Robin from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:
  • The oldest recorded American Robin was almost 14 years old, but typically, the entire population turns over on average every six years.
  • Robin roosts in the wintertime can be as large as 250,000 birds.
  • Females build their nests from the inside out, pressing dead grass and twigs into a cup shape using the wrist of one wing. They also use paper, feathers and moss to build nests.
  • The American Robin's diet changes depending on the time of day. They like earthworms for breakfast and fruit later in the day. Robins can actually get drunk on honeysuckle berries.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ten Reasons To Visit the North Carolina Mountains in Springtime

With Spring just a week away, we're daydreaming of warm breezes, verdant mountain vistas, wildflowers galore, spring songbirds and...well, we thought we'd go ahead and make a list of ten reasons to visit the mountains of Western North Carolina in springtime. What is there to see and do in Spring in the NC mountains?

1. Let's start with those verdant mountain vistas. With elevations ranging between 1,000 and almost 6,700 feet above sea level, the North Carolina mountains wake up gradually. Beginning in April and lasting through May, vibrant spring green unfolds along the hillsides and ridges from lower elevations to higher until every tree bursts forth in fabulous shades of green, one of our favorite colors. You can't help but be happy when you see this kind of beauty:



2. Wildflowers. As you can see from the video above, western North Carolina features beautiful mountain scenery, and native plants and flowers, such as azaleas, mountain laurel and rhododendron, redbuds, lady slippers and trillium, are all part of the spectacular Spring show. Early April brings tulips, daffodils and dogwoods. Redbuds and trilliums join the show in April, with azaleas blooming between late April and early May. Mountain laurel and rhododendron start blossoming in May. The rhododendron is generally in full bloom on the Blue Ridge Parkway by Memorial Day weekend, and wildflowers are also a sight to see at that time. Earlier in the season, you can see flowering trees and shrubs as well as wildflowers starting to bloom at lower elevations near the Inn on Mill Creek, such as Asheville, Black Mountain and Chimney Rock.

3. Fresh air and water...OK, this is a year-round perk for our area, but springtime brings the added bonus of warm breezes, the return of that awesome smell after it rains, and the chance to get outdoors and breathe in all that fresh air. Plus, you can hike some great waterfall trails, such as Catawba Falls in Old Fort, that are given a little springtime water boost after the snow melts.

Photo credit: Catawbafalls.com
4. Hiking trails become more accessible in the Spring. Facilities along the Blue Ridge Parkway start opening for the season on April 1, 2014. And although that's a little early to be hiking on the Parkway trails in terms of seeing signs of Spring at higher elevations, you do get the advantage of great views unobstructed by foliage. So just put on some layers and go! For what it's worth, leaves are generally out on the trees along the Blue Ridge Parkway by May. And then come the blooming rhododendron by late May. Here at our elevation (2,300 feet), you can hike or bike trails such as Kitsuma, Young's Ridge and the paved Point Lookout Greenway and get your Spring fix by mid- to late-April. Chimney Rock State Park, 30 minutes south of the Inn on Mill Creek and lower in elevation, is another great early Spring hiking location.

5. Speaking of Chimney Rock State Park, the park has reopened after repair work was completed on the entrance road earlier this year. Chimney Rock State Park has well-maintained trails, rock climbing, kids' activities, nature programs throughout the year, and more. And it's not too far from the Inn on Mill Creek, making it a popular daytripping destination for guests.

6. Art events in the North Carolina mountains are as abundant as flowers in springtime. Asheville has been named one of the best small cities for art lovers, and for good reason. It seems as if there is a gallery, shop or studio around every corner and every art medium is represented - painting, glass, fiber and textiles, wood, sculpture, photography, ceramics and pottery, jewelry, and so on. Art events in the Asheville area include downtown Asheville art walks the first Friday of every month, Arts Mart at the Old Fort Depot every first Saturday of the month, Lunchtime Art Breaks at the Asheville Art Museum (a series of gallery talks and presentations), the 17th Annual Black Mountain Art & Craft Show on May 31, and the 8th Annual Art in Bloom event in Black Mountain June 12-14, just to name a few.

7. Festivals are a big happening in the Spring in the mountains of North Carolina. Spring festivals in the Asheville area include:
8. Spring is a terrific time to visit Biltmore Estate in Asheville. Biltmore Estate is awash in flowers in springtime, outside and indoors, thanks to Biltmore Blooms, the estate's celebration of Spring. Read more about it at our 2014 Biltmore Blooms blog post. Two places not to miss at Biltmore during the spring season: the balcony outside the Tapestry Room at Biltmore House, where you can sit and relax and take in beautiful mountain views that the Vanderbilts and their guests would have enjoyed, and the Walled Garden, where you can walk among thousands of tulips (April) and other spring flowers.

Just a few of the 2013 tulips at Biltmore Estate
 9. Stargazing opportunities abound in springtime. We always say one of our favorite things about having a Bed & Breakfast inside Pisgah National Forest in the mountains of western North Carolina is the lack of light pollution. Dark skies are lit up with thousands and thousands of stars, and you can even see the Milky Way Galaxy some nights stretching across the sky from the Inn's south lawn and over the Main House. Celestial events in spring of 2014 include a total lunar eclipse on April 15, the Lyrids Meteor Shower on April 22-23, the Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower on May 5-6 (also known annually as "Innkeeper Brigette's Birthday Meteor Shower"). In addition, new moons (when the moon is not visible, making it easier to see more stars) happen on March 30, April 29 and May 28.

10. Seasonal farmers' markets and nurseries open for the season. The Asheville area has a handful of year-round farmers' markets; however, the closest tailgate market in proximity to the Inn on Mill Creek, the Black Mountain Tailgate Market, is a seasonal market and opens May 1, 2014. This is a perfect place to pick up some locally-produced food, flowers, and handcrafted items to enjoy as a memento of your time in the North Carolina mountains. Also, one of our favorite plant nurseries, Painters Greenhouse in Old Fort, opens for its season on March 1, and is also a place our guests like to pick up a locally-grown, lasting keepsake of their trip to our area.

Photo credit: Painters Greenhouse Facebook Page

Thursday, March 6, 2014

2014 Biltmore Blooms is March 20 - May 23

Azaleas usher in spring
Springtime in the mountains of Western North Carolina... there's nothing quite like it. While we always suggest late April through the month of May as the prime time in spring for maximizing your enjoyment of the area's colorful flora and fauna, the season really does magically kick off each year right around March 20, with daffodil and forsythia blooms, among some other early spring flowers. And Biltmore helps out, too, with its Biltmore Blooms celebration.

Forsythia blooming at Biltmore in April

Lasting from March 20 through May 23, Biltmore Blooms showcases the ridiculously beautiful spring landscaping at Biltmore Estate, allowing plenty of time to see different blooms at different times.

The Spring Garden at Biltmore, early April





The Conservatory at Biltmore in springtime
Biltmore kicks off Biltmore Blooms with an orchid display in the Winter Garden room inside Biltmore House from March 20 through April 6. Normally separated from the room by ropes, you have the opportunity to actually step down into the Winter Garden room during this time, and walk among the gorgeous orchids. We had the opportunity to see the orchid display last year at Biltmore Estate and it was very well done and just a neat experience to walk around in the space of the Winter Garden and see the house from a different perspective.

Mid-April is usually a pretty good time to enjoy the thousands of tulips, as Csaba the Innpug is demonstrating:

Thousands of tulips to see at Biltmore, and sometimes pugs, too
Tulips as far as the eye can see
And late-April to early May can be a wonderful time to see the Azalea Garden at Biltmore:
Part of the Azalea Garden at Biltmore Estate
The month of May is perfect for a "stop and smell the roses" moment at Biltmore. Their rose garden has quite the variety of color and type, from climbing to shrub to floribunda and everything in between.

International judges will judge roses at Biltmore on May 23, 2014
 We highly recommend taking this path under the wisteria if you visit Biltmore in the spring:

Wisteria blooming at Biltmore during a previous May

Here's a sampling of what you'll see at various times during spring at Biltmore Estate, from Biltmore'swebsite:

Early April
Darwin Hybrid Tulip varieties begin blooming in the Walled Garden and Estate Entry. Other estate blooms include early flowering shrubs and trees, forsythia, spirea, magnolia, and flowering cherries.


 Mid-April
Darwin Hybrid Tulips are usually at peak in the Walled Garden and Estate Entry. Other estate blooms include spring bulbs, dogwoods, and redbuds.


Late April
Single late tulips fill the Walled Garden, Estate Entry, and Winery beds, until the last week when poppies, snapdragons, and pansies are planted. Other estate blooms include hybrid azaleas and various flowering shrubs.


May
In bloom are poppies, snapdragons, and pansies in Walled Garden, Estate Entry, and Winery beds. Other estate blooms include native azaleas (first week is usually the peak), and various flowering shrubs.


Other activities besides flower watching include spring seminars at the Gardener's Place behind the Biltmore Conservatory, live music inside Biltmore House, in the Conservatory and at the Antler Hill Village Bandstand, grape stomping at the Winery, and of course, the specialty tours of Biltmore House (we recommend the Architect's Tour).

Guests of the Inn on Mill Creek Bed & Breakfast can purchase discounted Biltmore tickets that are also good for a free second day so you can take your Biltmore visit at a leisurely pace.