We are a family of homebodies who are perfectly content to stay home almost all the time reading, working in the garden, cooking, playing games. We live in a location where we can walk to almost everything and we really appreciate that. Still, we love to explore the larger world around us whether that is through nature walks or taking in new places that are less nearby. Now that we are 2/3rd’s fully vaccinated (my daughter is almost fully vaccinated herself), we are starting to embark on day-trips where we don’t necessarily have to spend the night but can still see new things. I had been wanting to check out a variety of gardens in Winston-Salem, NC, which is a little under two hours from us in the Raleigh, NC area so on a day that was overcast and temperate we jumped on the chance to take a daytrip/road trip.
Our first stop was the Paul J Ciener Botanical Garden in Kernersville, NC a few miles outside of Winston-Salem. It is a garden that is still developing but already has a significant amount of plantings on their 7 acres of land located right in the downtown. The sidewalk leading into the garden is landscaped with an abundance of plants and the parking lot is surrounded by a wall of espaliered ginkgo trees which creates the effect of picture frames looking into the grounds.
I loved this combination of evergreen huecera and grasses in repurposed shipping pallets.
Next, we stopped for lunch in the Reynolda Village Shops & Gardens which is an enclave of shops that were once part of the estate of the R.J. Reynolds family. While there we got a hot, made to order doughnut from Dough Joe’s which was decorated like a cozy home with leather couches and perfectly karate chopped pillows (perhaps a nod to their name), gallery walls of vintage art and lots of pendants overhead and natural light streaming in from their windows. We just happened upon it and I think the best trips are the ones where you uncover naturally unique finds just through exploring the place and asking locals if you get the opportunity.
Because we were unaware at the time that the shops connected to the museum and grounds that we were planning to see later we got in our car and drove next to SECCA (The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art) which is just up the road. Next time, we will just walk from the shops (if we go there again for lunch) to the Reynolda gardens and museum that are all on the same property which is also part of the Wake Forest University campus. At SECCA we walked through a surrealist exhibit that mimicked being underwater alongside moveable swimming puppets.
Also at SECCA were a couple of Art-O-Mats. Art-O-Mat’s were started about thirty years ago by Winston-Salem native Clark Whittington who takes decommissioned cigarette vending machines and collaborates with artists to create tiny pieces of art that you can purchase from the machine. There are currently over 100 machines at locations around the country.
Just beyond SECCA is the Reynolda House Museum of American Art and Reynolda Gardens. The “house” is a sprawling mansion that was the former home of tobacco magnate RJ Reynolds and his wife Katharine Smith Reynolds and later one of their grown children. The house was built in 1917 around the dawn of the Arts & Craft Movement / Art Deco period so there are lots of beautiful light fixtures, pieces of furniture and wallpaper evocative of that era. When I was in design school I fell in love with that time period and it’s usage of poster design, wallpapers, fonts, beautiful ornate objects, feminine muses, and the philosophies and patterns of William Morris (he famously said “Have nothing in your homes that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”) so I especially loved seeing them in a period appropriate home. My own style is heavily influenced by this time period.
Because the owners were obviously obscenely wealthy in the roaring twenties when cigarette smoking was especially glamorous there are quite a few ostentatious touches, especially the game rooms and bar in the basement. Apparently, guests would roller skate between the bowling alley, the shooting gallery, the billiards room, the bar, etc. and on particularly wild parties the indoor pool would have macaws on display inside bird cages at the edge of the pool. Today the estate houses a collection of modern art inside and in a newly created gallery attached to the house.
On the grounds just beyond the house is Reynolda Gardens a 134 acre garden currently filled with blooming roses and punctuated by dark painted structures and supports and a greenhouse (which was currently closed).
Since I made the trek to Winston-Salem for the gardens there were still more that I wanted to check out. In Bethabara Park you can see the ruins of one of the first European settlements of North Carolina. On the grounds is also the Bethabara Community Gardens which was started in 1759 and is the oldest known and documented community garden in the country and beside that is the first medicinal garden ever planted in America as well.
There are lots of fun things to check out in downtown Winston Salem but on this trip we were only able to check out the bookstore Bookmarks (which was recommended by Jennings of Parker & Otis in Durham who I just happened to run into while she was on her own away trip here). I love this cute little alley behind the shop and like how it brings multiple businesses together with an outdoor gathering spot.
Last stop before driving home for the evening was the gardens at Old Salem. Typically, the buildings here are filled with reenactors but we were able to walk around free of that and the added tourists by going after hours. We walked around looking at old buildings and trudging through the garden spaces we could find.
It is worth nothing that Old Salem participates in the International Coalition of Sites of Conscious. As per their website: “A Site of Conscience is a place of memory – such as a historic site, place-based museum or memorial – that prevents erasure from happening in order to ensure a more just and humane future. Not only do Sites of Conscience provide safe spaces to remember and preserve even the most traumatic memories, but they enable their visitors to make connections between the past and related contemporary human rights issues.”
In a few hours we were back home and ready for sleeping in our own beds.
Photos by Michelle Smith Creative for Gather Goods Co