A week ago, I spent the first day of the last year of my twenties reveling in the splendor that is the southern spring. With the beautiful weather we've been having lately, I could think of no better way to spend my birthday than once again visiting Airlie Gardens.
In every season, Airlie is a testament to the natural beauty of the Carolina coast, but in spring it is simply resplendent.
Each pilgrimage I've made to the gardens has been in summer, seeking refuge from the broiling sun on Airlie's moss-draped, live oak-shaded paths, but with each visit, as I approach the camellia garden, I swear that next year I'll visit in spring.
And this year I finally did.
Airlie is a sprawling place, and though the parking lot was quite full (to include a school bus), the garden, at times, felt like a secret one-- just me and the flowers.
Despite the seclusion, I was still incredibly anxious about dragging my tripod along to snap a few photographs. While I love photographing what I wear and where I wear it, I always feel a little ashamed of the seeming excess and vanity of it all.
But, after seven years of blogging, I can see the value in what I'm doing-- the value of having the better part of a decade of my life, my wardrobe, and my thoughts bound together here at the sea. The idea that years from now, whether I'm still blogging or not, I can look back at this chunk of time and see who I was, where I was and what I was wearing, is pretty amazing.
No matter how much I justify these photo sessions, I still find myself uncomfortable in front of the camera while in public, however, Airlie, of all places, is the perfect spot to embrace vanity and excess. Built in 1901 by the folks for whom the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses" was likely in reference to, this sprawling garden is about anything but moderation.
While time spent amongst plants and in nature has a rather restorative magic of its own, Airlie has a lingering residue of magical evenings, high society galas and Gatsby-esque social events of the season. Wandering the grounds, I like to imagine guests, dressed in their finest, flitting to and fro under the pergola, boating on Airlie lake, or pitching woo in a quiet corner of the camellia garden.
There's always a note of melancholy with these imaginings as I realize that, as time passes, fewer and fewer places like this will exist. We must enjoy them while we can.
Pink jacket-- Lilly Pulitzer, hand-me-down (story here)
I really love the acrylic buttons on this jacket, but didn't realize until after I got home that I was missing one! Luckily there is a replacement button stitched inside the jacket.
Necklace-- Belonged to my great-grandmother, sent to me as a 24th birthday present by my grandmother.
Dress-- 70s/80s Kevin Stuart Petites, thrifted.
A bit of a polyester monstrosity, I thought there was no way I was going to like this dress, but I tried it on anyway. My polyester aversion was no match for its pastel hues and pleats-- plus it was under $1.00!
My headband is the original belt to this dress.
Bow belt-- Delia's, years ago
I later swapped out these little punched pleather flats for white plimsolls, also from Payless.
Orange Airlie Admission badge
Lip color-- NYX matte lip cream "Antwerp"
I'm not super fond of this lip product, the color is pretty but the formula is clumpy and drying, but at a few dollars, what can you expect.
With large, dreamy blossoms that look like a cross between a rose and a peony, the camellia is by far my favorite plant that I have discovered since moving south. A native to Asia, many of Airlie's camellias were hand selected and imported from the continent over a hundred years ago (what a wonderful job that would be to travel the world and select pretty flowers!).
There is such a delicate old time elegance to the blooms, and with their glossy evergreen foliage (during my summer visits to the garden, I must have walked by so many shrubs that I had no idea were camellias!) the bush is attractive year round.
This trip to the gardens set my spring fever ablaze so it was no surprise that I found myself doing a little plant shopping on the way home. And with my love for camellias newly rekindled, it's also no surprise that I came home with a flowering shrub of my own.
I selected a "Lady Laura" camellia that, after a lot of prep work, I planted along the west side of our property line. I also transplanted an azalea and rhododendron into this area and hope to create an Airlie-inspired line of shrubs.
It felt so good to get my hands dirty and to work outside to create something beautiful-- I hope to do it again soon.
Here's hoping that my 29th year is the of the green thumb!