Flashback Friday: Take a Sultry Botanical Tour of Historic Wilmington, NC

Photos By Ryan Benoit

Our friends on the East Coast have been reporting their first encounters with the whipping wind of November, and we’ve been responding…awkwardly. Temperatures yesterday reached 88 degrees outside my office in San Diego. (It’s usually 60-something this time of year, which is crisp and — what’s that sound? Oh, tiny violins…) This unseasonable warmth and our impending trip back home for the holidays have made us nostalgic for the last East Coast trip we took back in June.

It was a late-spring roadtrip from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Kennebunkport, Maine; we rode bikes with rhododendrons and got campy in the Hamptons. Early in this vacation we (Ryan, his parents Denise and Bob, and me) took a steamy, self-guided walking tour of the historic district of Wilmington, a port city in the southeastern part of the state, a college town known for its sandbar-striped beaches and filming locations that have famously included Dawson’s Creek.

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(We walked.)

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A slow Southern pace was key to appreciating all the North Carolina flora growing against the Georgian, Neoclassical and Colonial Revival architecture of the 18th and 19th centuries. You could practically hear the plants exhaling: lacecap hydrangeas, espaliered pear trees, flowering pomegranates, cycads the size of Mini Coopers. Those classic Southern trees, magnolia and crepe myrtle, so gloriously emblematic!

We even saw a few hellstrip agaves that flashed us right back to SoCal. The threat of rain hung in the air the entire time. We started our walkabout in the gardens of the Front Street Inn, and when we rounded the corner to Orange Street, we were confronted by leaves of spider brake ferns busting through the mortar of a brick fence.

Our wanderings continue below. To think, in just a few weeks we’ll be under the Atlantic influence again, where the trees will be bare and the guest rooms (and the wine glasses) will be full. —TH

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In the garden of the Front Street Inn, a cycad and a pomegranate tree thrive in Wilmington’s humid subtropical climate.

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Inside the Front Street Inn.

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A pomegranate flower.

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An espaliered pear tree grows against the inn.

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Lacecap hydrangea.

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On Orange Avenue, roots creep up along the sidewalks.

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Here’s a quiet shock: The leaves of spider brake ferns (Pteris multifida) punch their way through the mortar of a brick wall.

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A closeup of those Hulk-esque spider brake ferns (Pteris multifida).

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The vines of a creeping fig, Ficus pumila.

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From left, that’s Bob, Denise, me and Ryan.

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Denise and Bob veer off into Haskin Alley in a botanical haze.

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We took a right at the First Presbyterian Church on 3rd Street.

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A pooch protects her turf.

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Agave in an unexpected place. We hope it’s planted in well-drained soil…

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A rest stop on Ann Street.

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Vine versus tree.

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The region’s famed native Magnolia grandiflora.

Swamp-cypress

The row of swamp cypress trees provides a luxurious canopy along 2nd Street adjacent to Ann Street.

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Succulents get added to the mix along 2nd Street.

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A cycad to write home about.

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The smooth, luminous branches of the crepe myrtle trees. We spotted these ‘Carolina Beauties’ along numerous curbs during our walk.

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The crepe myrtle foliage.

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On Nun Street, trees wrestle with power lines. We always stop to gawk at moss growing on trees, which rarely happens in our dry Southern California climate.

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Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia).

Courting Bench in Downtown Wilmington historic district.

A Southern walkabout wouldn’t be complete without a quick sit-down — preferably on a courting bench.

Red-throated Anole

The end of our tour was marked by a close encounter with a red-throated anole lizard.