Archive for May, 2013

Garden Week 2013 On Eastern Shore Virginia– The 80th Annual Event Sponsored By The Garden Club of Virginia

Monday, May 20th, 2013
Cape Charles Southern Tip aerial photo

The Beautiful Southern Tip of the Eastern Shore of Virginia

April, 2013 marked the celebration of the 80th Annual Historic Garden Week in Virginia, presented statewide  by the Garden Club of  Virginia each Spring since 1929.  This year’s official Garden Week book indicated that 178 homeowners all over Virginia, assisted by over 3000 volunteers from the 47  member clubs,  opened their homes and grounds to public tours last week.  Proceeds from the Tours help preserve the grounds of historic landmarks all over the state as well as to  fund scholarships in landscape architecture. The Eastern Shore of Virginia has so many beautiful historic homes that have been preserved and restored that going to the Garden Week open houses here is always a delight.  The homes that are selected  are always great and the last week of April is a perfect time to show gardens in full bloom here on the Shore. This year six waterfront  homes in Northampton County’s beautiful southern tip were opened for Garden Tours  and we devoted our  Saturday afternoon to visiting three of them, two historic and one quite contemporary home.  Each was gorgeous in its own particular way.  I only  wish that interior photos were allowed because the architectural detail is often remarkable in these homes, as is the  decor, including  some outstanding collections.

Old Castle Entrance

Old Castle’s Elegant Approach

Our first stop was at Old Castle, home of  Northampton County Supervisor Rick Hubbard and his wife, Kate.  It’s a lovely  traditional style home  located on the  Cherrystone Creek  inlet from the Chesapeake  Bay  near the historic little  town of Eastville,VA,  seat of Northampton County, well known as the oldest repository of continuous  court records in the nation.  The house itself is of a telescoping design,  a favored architectural style on the Eastern Shore in the 1700 and 1800’s, with a gambrel roof .  The approach to the front door is through a  double row of ancient  boxwoods, taller than I am, and pressing close in,  don’t think that someone the size of Pavarotti could have made it through without a bit of a push, not that I am the size of Pavarotti.  Once inside the spacious foyer, which features a striking custom floor covering by well-known local artist,  Mariam Riggs,  it quickly became clear that a lot of love and work went into the restoration of this lovely home.  My favorite interior architectural details were the two identical fireplace mantels in the  parlor and the dining room.  I’ve not seen any quite like them,  multiple layers of thin carved wood in descending size, sort of like thin steps in descending order, apparently created from a single solid piece of wood,  creating a remarkable effect, especially given the tools of that day.  As part of the Garden theme, each room in a Garden Tour Home has a floral arrangement custom created to compliment the colors and feel of the particular room in which it will be placed. Lots of lovely floral pieces throughout this home, clearly a great deal of  thought and effort went into these arrangements.  Interesting collections abounded, especially Kate Hubbard’s amazing collection of salt cellars — an entire room is devoted to  display shelves featuring nothing but salt cellars.  All shapes and all  kinds, crystal, silver, porcelain, from countries  all over the world– who knew that the Chinese even  used salt cellars or that German salt cellers were generally so ornate ?  But the real showplace was the backyard where Mother Nature  took over the limelight, including one of the most beautiful crape myrtle trees I’ve ever seen as a focal point. Fronting on the Cherrystone Creek inlet,  Old Castle’s fabulous views spread right out to the Chesapeake Bay, totally awe-inspiring, I’m sure  that sunsets are absolutely spectacular.

Old Castle FrontviewOld Castle BackviewOld Castle Crepe Myrtle Tree

Pleasant Prospect  Farm Front View of House

Pleasant Prospect Farm on Cherrystone Creek Inlet

Off next  to nearby Pleasant Prospect Farm, a 170 acre working farm,  home to retired 4 star Admiral  William J. Flannagan, Jr., whose distinguished naval  career included  the very  serious responsibility of being the  Norfolk, VA based  Commandant of the entire US Navy’s  Atlantic Fleet. True to its name,  Pleasant Prospect Farm is indeed quite pleasant, with a  quiet approach through fertile  waterfront farm fields , sun glinting off the glistening  blue waters all the way  down the  driveway.  Passing several outbuildings, including a two story garage with a castle-like  appendage, we arrived at the main house,  a very attractive Dutch  colonial style with two huge pin oaks heralding the front entrance.  The original section of the home can be dated back to the 1750’s. During restoration, support beams were found in their original, unfinished state,  revealing  a numbering system directing the order in which they were to be installed, a rare historic construction detail.  The original wainscoting is also still in place which I believe is fairly unusual. A new kitchen has been added, large, luminous, with a  lightly stained hardwood ceiling adding warmth and texture, a dream kitchen really,with every detail and convenience one could wish for right there, ready to take on anything from a simple omelet to  a large dinner party.  My favorite floral arrangement of the day was here,  the long dining room table the display surface for a striking  composition consisting of  5 small, dark green watermelons  (or maybe they were citrons ),  about 6 inches in diameter, handsomely striped, arranged in a zigzag pattern among fancy curled Lucky  Bamboo stalks which had been arranged  in  delicate vases of  a variety of sizes and shapes, but all  in various hues of  pale green, a pleasing contrast to the deep green of the melons.  Absolutely stunning, kudos to the ladies  who created it.  Once outside in the backyard, we took a few minutes to peek into several of the numerous outbuildings, my favorite being  an elegant little building, light-filled,  housing a built-in marble jacuzzi, waters steaming and swirling, neck muscles could unwind just by looking  at it.  From there, Mother Nature took over the limelight again.  If possible, even broader views of Cherrystone inlet and the Chesapeake Bay were on display here, simply inspiring, no other words  for  it.

Pleasant Prospect backview

Pleasant Prospect Marble JacuzziPleasant Prospect Waterview

Pickets Harbor House Waterside View

Simple Yet Elegant Describes This Pickett’s Harbor Beachfront Home

Then, as they would say on Monty Python, now for something completely different. Leaving  the Eastville area, we headed to the Eastern Shore’s very southern tip, past Cape Charles, nearly to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, to  the Pickett’s Harbor area and a new beach house nestled into the rolling sand  dunes of this unique topography.  Unlike most homes on the  Eastern Shore, this home is  very contemporary, a single story  home, almost a Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie style home,  appearing as if it had just grown out of the ground, looking as natural here as any of the numerous trees and shrubs which surround it.  Cedar sided, it blends  quietly into the  wooded setting right at the edge of the dune line. Yet immediately as you enter  the house you realize that instead of just simply being in a beautiful woods you are actually on the edge of an amazing beach, that although the house is nestled into woods on the front side, the rear of the home is balanced on sparkling, rolling dunes, nothing but sand and swaying sea grasses for hundreds of feet, ending only at water’s edge, where a view of infinite blues takes over the eye’s focus. The house itself, designed by its architect owner, Tom Goffigan, an Eastern  Shore native,  now transplanted to the bright lights of L.A., is long and narrow, basically one room deep in many places, but each of  these bright and airy rooms enjoy fabulous views of  sparkling waters, glistening  sands and  golden sunshine. What more could be asked of such a pristine  setting ?  My favorite room was the screened porch, full house wide, built- in window seats spanning one entire end, framed with wide cedar cross posts forming a soothing  pattern, breezes flowing through, laden with the tangy  sea aromas.   Outside,  a long, low slung  boardwalk zigzags unobtrusively from the house to the end of the dune line, providing an easy path to the beach and protecting the fragile  dune vegetation from being trampled. This is a very handsome home, decorated with all sorts of Eastern Shore memorabilia, old maps, photos, antique fishing reels,  a very restful space indeed, a great home to end our tour with.  From there,  after making a  quick stop at nearby Nottingham Farm Market  to pick up some  tender, picked-that-morning-fresh  local asparagus for dinner,  ever so yummy grilled with lemon butter, we set out for home, a delicious spring treat in hand, the end of an interesting day. (Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134 Wilsonia Neck Dr.,Machipongo VA)

Pickets Harbor Screened PorchPickets Harbor BeachPickets Harbor Board Walk To Beach


May Is Barbeque Month On Eastern Shore Virginia – Make Way For Savory & Delicious

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

Actually, May is BBQ Month nationally but I like to think we really do it up brown ( pun intended )  here on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.   For  such a slender little  peninsula as ours, I think we’re lucky to have several luscious BBQ  places here on the Shore, ( a  special shout-out here to StingRays ), plus  easy  access to several more in nearby Virginia Beach, Whitner’s BBQ being my personal favorite in Tidewater.  And  a really well-known place, Pierce’s BBQ near Williamsburg, try to stop there to bring some carryout whenever we visit  the historic area, at least 2 or 3 times a year. But some of the most delicious BBQ might be the homemade stuff, slathered with the family ” secret sauce”, ( the South being legendary for its love of BBQ and just about everyone has their special sauces and methods of cooking ), and served with time-honored  favorite side dishes.

The flavor of the  very first BBQ  sandwich I ever had in Virginia surprised me completely, being used to what I now  think of as typical Kansas City type tomato based sauces.  Anyway, shortly after we moved to Virginia  I was at  a business meeting in Richmond where many of  the other attendees were  locals.  When lunch break rolled around, they suggested what was described as  a ” great BBQ place” nearby,  which sounded good to me. At first bite  I was surprised, not  because it  was so  tasty,  because I’d had many tasty  BBQ  sandwiches,  but because it  appeared to have no sauce, a “special sauce”  being the holy grail  of  good BBQ.  But , as promised by the group, it was really delicious,  chopped pork,  tender, moist, very flavorful. I told  our server that I really liked it but wondered why it didn’t have any sauce.  Honey, you aren’t  from Richmond are you, said she, well, not only was I not from Richmond,  I was brand-new  to Virginia.  Which is no doubt why  I failed to recognize the premier BBQ  sauce of Richmond, VA, boiled vinegar Sooey Sauce.  Consisting  of just vinegar, salt, a smidgen of sugar, black pepper and red pepper flakes gently simmered together for about 15 minutes and left  to rest for at least  5-6  hours before tossing into fork tender pork which has been slow cooked in a smoker or covered grill and then coarsely chopped.  As one can likely guess,  this is now one of  my very favorite BBQ sauces for chopped pork. Ribs, of course,  are a different matter entirely and we’ll deal with ribs shortly.

So to make sure we are observing BBQ Month properly, very important indeed,  we are going to turn a combo Mother’s Day/Dad’s  B-Day party into a  little cook off/pot luck,  complete with whipping up several new and different sauces to  evaluate.  I am planning to try two great sounding sauces from, the Chris Lilly Spiced Apricot Sauce and the  Tennessee Holler Whiskey Sauce, both rib sauces.  The plan is to grill the ribs, mopping them with the vinegar sauce to keep them moist on the grill, then  glazing each rack of ribs  with a different finishing sauce. Of course, a great BBQ isn’t just about the ribs, it’s about the accompanying side dishes. In fact, as  I’m writing this little post,  I have one ear tuned to NPR’s  Sunday afternoon show,  America ‘s Test Kitchen, and Chris Kimball is discussing the history of cornbread and the differences between Southern and Northern styles of cornbread.  No question in my mind which is better,  Southern style wins hands down. Made with almost no sugar and very little flour,  just good ole yellow stone-ground cornmeal, eggs and buttermilk, it’s something you can sink your teeth into.  Topped  with a smear of butter and an ample drizzle of honey,  now that’s a cornbread so delicious I don’t even feel guilty about abandoning my Northern roots to declare it the winner. And you must have cornbread at a  BBQ, wouldn’t seem right without it, plus crunchy coleslaw, baked beans, potato salad with plenty of celery seed, fried apples and, of course, creamy, gooey mac and cheese.  And at our house, either green beans or collards to help  balance out all that starch !  So, we’re  planning to do our part to  celebrate BBQ Month 2013,  hope everyone else is ready to enjoy this savory and delicious outdoor food.  (Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed agent with Blue  Heron Realty Co, 7134 Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA )

Attending Cherry Blossom Festival 2013- In Virginia Beach VA

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013
View of the two spans of the 17 mile long Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel connecting the Virginia Eastern SDhore to the Virginia mainland.

The Beautiful Chesapeake Bay Bridge Seen From Fisherman’s Island area

Early April is the time of year when we usually look forward to going to the Cherry Blossom Festival in  Washington DC.   Unfortunately, this year we were not  able to go.  About three weeks ago, when I was bemoaning to a friend that scheduling conflicts were going to prevent us from going  to DC,  she mentioned that  nearby Virginia Beach, VA  also has a Cherry Blossom Festival,  why not check it out ?   There won’t be the fabulous blooms along the Tidal Basin, the National Mall or  Parkway Drive said she,  but it might still be interesting and fun.  I took her advice and after some research  found to my surprise that 2013 marked the Virginia Beach 9th  Annual  Cherry Blossom Festival.  Who knew ?  Anyway, that  Saturday  dawned bright and sunny, most welcome after all the spring rain we’ve had this year, a little breezy but expected to be near 60 degrees, a very pleasant day.   So after lunch we decided to go for it,  jumped in the car, zipped over  the Chesapeake  Bay Bridge  Tunnel, waves sparkling in the  afternoon sun,  making a bee line for Redwing Park , about an hour’s drive from our house, planning to get there in time for most of the program,  including the Taiko ensemble’s  performance. (Another little plug for life on the Eastern Shore of Virginia is how close we are to the Hampton Roads area which is the 32nd largest metro area in the US.  It’s like having your cake and eating it too– enjoy  a low-key, relaxed rural feel here on the Shore but be able to access virtually every known metropolitan amenity in less than an hour in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, etc.  Love it, love it, love it ! )

Taiko drums at Cherry Blossom Festival

Taiko Drums At The Virginia Beach Cherry Blossom Festival

I was especially looking forward to the Japanese drums,  called Taiko, which are  really amazing, nothing like what we are used to as drums in a regular  band. A  Taiko drumming performance  is something really special.  Construction of these drums dates  back to feudal times, many  are very large,  made from beautifully grained wood, highly polished, often about the size of barrels, most actually  sit horizontally  and can be played  simultaneously by two drummers, one on each end.  The rhythms are hypnotic, with point and counterpoint, played in long mesmerizing “songs”   Historically,  these drums were often  used on the battlefield because  their loud “voices”  could communicate over long distances.  Taiko were also frequently  used in religious ceremonies in Buddhist and Shinto temples which  had really fabulous drums, usually  fashioned  from trees with  huge diameters, resulting in amazing  drums with faces 10 to 12 feet across. Drums like this could not  be easily moved and were played only by men who received special permission from the monks.  The first time I ever saw a Taiko performance was about a hundred years ago, in the Japanese Pavillion at EPCOT.  I was just transfixed by  the “song”  of the drums and their  mesmerizing beat– in fact, I went around  for days with the beat from one particular  “song”  replaying over and over  in my head.  Taiko drumming is quite demanding, not only because of  the physical strength needed to control the depth of sound and the tempo changes, but also for the sheer physical endurance required.   Certainly I wasn’t expecting professional quality taiko from the Virginia Beach  group,  called Soka Tiako, but they sounded great and  looked quite colorful in their  costumes, garnering lots of applause when their number was completed.

Dancing the flower dance at the Festival

Flower Dance At Cherry Blossom Festival

Lots  of other terrific performances of traditional Japanese music and dance in addition to the Taiko were offered all afternoon.  Among the most interesting was a group from Old Dominion University who played the koto, a zither type  instrument about six feet long, with 13 strings,  which creates the high pitched  sound I most associate with Japanese music.  The koto looks incredibly difficult to master  and in speaking to one of the performers just  before the show, I  was assured that  it is indeed difficult to master,  even more so outdoors  which involves a knack for playing while  breezes ruffle one’s music sheets.  The performers all wore traditional garb, kimono with obi,  gorgeous and colorful.   In fact, quite a few folks in the audience, both men and women, wore traditional garb which gave the whole event a  very authentic feel. One of  my other favorite performances was by the Virginia Beach Okinawa Sanshin-Kai band which played traditional three string lutes and featured a very sweet, almost ballet-like  dance by a mother and her young  daughter, both wearing beautiful kimono and elaborate “flower”  hats symbolizing the first blooms of Spring.

DSC_0881Parasols for saleJapanese character writing

DSC_0754DSC_0802For  martial arts fans, various groups from around the city offered  martial arts demonstrations throughout the afternoon including karate, judo and some a very proficient  kobudo with impressive moves with the traditional swords.  I personally am not into any of that but  a lot of applause went their way from folks who are.  Shopping is more my style and I enjoyed seeing some of the little gift items for sale in the tent area. The most popular item seemed to be a selection of colorful parasols, attracting gals and  girls alike.   In addition, the origami  and calligraphy demonstrations were fun,  lots of folks crowding around  to get their names written in Japanese  by some volunteers who were amused as they tried to write  names like Henrietta and Martha in characters.  A local rescue group for Akita’s was on hand with two of their charges, a handsome grey and a placid sand colored dog–I had just recently seen the Richard Gere film “ Akita”  (  based on a true story)  and we all agreed that it was a real tear jerker  of a movie. Who can even imagine a  depth of  loyalty that would compel a dog to wait outside a train station each night for 9 years, waiting for his owner who was long dead ?  Wow !

Tori gate at RedWing Park in Virginia Beach

Tori Gate in Miyazaki Garden at Redwing Park

Reflecting pool with cherry blossoms

Reflecting Pool At Miyazaki Garden

Apparently part of the impetus for the planting of  the lovely cherry trees at Redwing Park, as well as for the creation of the Festival itself, was that about 14 years ago Virginia Beach established a   “Sister City”  relationship with the city of  Miyazaki , Japan.  This  special relationship resulted in many cross-cultural exchanges and eventually in the city’s construction of  Miyazaki Garden, a  lovely traditional Japanese strolling garden, as well as the planting of hundreds of ornamental Japanese cherry trees in the Park.  The trees  were only in about 25% bloom that Saturday due to the cooler than normal Spring this year,  but that  was enough to see how gorgeous they were going to be this year. Miyazaki  Garden was beautiful  though, an early blooming tree  leaning over a reflecting pond was the site of  much photo taking, prompting me to take pics of  people taking pics.  All in all, as my friend forecast,  it wasn’t the National Mall and it wasn’t the Tidal Basin, but the Virginia Beach, VA  2013 Cherry Blossom Festival was definitely quite nice and we’re glad we went.

( Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134 Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA. )