March 19 Visit to the Briery

For my visitors, you can use this document to find out more about the plants we may see. 


Start of a new season 

March 3, 2024

Saturday was my first time attending the New Bern Farmer's Market! I had to enlist help to set up as my back was out of sorts from getting T-boned the prior Sunday. It was also a very uninspiring start driving through, setting up, and hanging out in heavy rain. Fortunately, it was warm. The rain cleared. People came! And, it was very kind of a member of the Carolina Nature Coalition to email and Facebook that Above the Briery was on site. Thank you everyone. 

Winter is over? 

February 29, 2024

Being in eastern North Carolina means that weather year to year and month to month is highly variable. At some point in winter, it will be cold enough to smell frosty, freeze the bird baths a few times, and enjoy our cozy woodstove. Conversely, in summer it will be hot enough to fry eggs on your lane many times. 

Most folks look forward to Spring. I look forward to more daylight but mourn the gentle peace of our winter. Once things get going in nature, it can be pretty overwhelming. Plants budding, birds flirting, and so many critters, especially insects, and good ole mildews, downy or powdery. 

So, like it or not, winter days are numbered on two hands. The Bloodroots are blooming in the woods all around the house. Spicebush blossoms are opening, and Red Maple offered up its nectar and pollen a while ago. 

Fortunately for me, I grow native plants, and local ecotypes as much as possible. The plants are not insulted that it was 75 degrees today and it will be 35 degrees tonight. I will not, however, put away the tarps that I use for protection on those frosty nights until it is time to plant tomatoes. 

Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis.  Photo by K. Mulcahy

December 2023


It is winter here, or what we call winter. This week we will have temperatures ranging from 28 to 70 degrees. I am finishing up seed collection and cleaning while setting out winter-sown seeds of many kinds. Growing native plant seeds often requires setting up periods of warm or cold and moist conditions which is referred to as stratification. Sometimes seeds need periods of both warm and cool. 

If you have never tried winter sowing seeds, I highly recommend it, especially for native seeds. It saves the labor of creating packages of stratified seeds, having them take over the refrigerator, and trying to keep up with what is sown and how and for how long. Seeds can also be sown into the soil directly, but having them in containers keeps the critters from chowing down. For more information try this link from Penn State https://extension.psu.edu/starting-seeds-in-winter or Google, "winter sowing."  Nothing can be easier!  

A neat trick I figured out this year for easily cutting around milk jugs quickly is to place the jug in a saucepan of appropriate size and cut using a sharp knife using the edge of the pot as a guide. I can make a more even cut and the pot keeps the jug fairly steady until the last little bit. 

A great variety of containers can be used for winter sowing. Be sure to provide a means for moisture to get in and excess moisture to drain. 

September 2023

Come and see us at the festival! 

Above the Briery will be at Shelton's Herb farm


June 2023

Come out to the Windsor Riverfest!  https://www.partnershipforthesounds.net/windsorriverfest 

Above the Briery and the Central Coastal Plain Chapter of the North Carolina Native Plant Society will be there! 

This festival offers activities for all ages, including food trucks, art vendors, live music, free boat rides, interactive exhibits, workshops, and a farmers' market. 

May 2023

Saturday, May 13. Lenoir County Farmers Market in Kinston, NC.  9:00 to 1:00.

Winter, 2022

After our very dry, hot, and intense last season, I was pleased to slow down and focus on holidays and family. Now, it's time for a new year! As any gardener of any sort knows, winter is a dreaming and planning time. No matter the successes or failures of last year, it's time to start anew! It is a time to stratify seeds or winter-sow, or start indoors under lights! 

This year I procrastinated so my stratification shall be au naturel, as in winter-sown.  Some seeds require periods of warm and moist or cool and moist conditions. 'Stratification' is nothing more than imitating nature. Outside there is a wide range of seeds settled in various containers. Inside, other seeds are germinating under lights, and yet other plants are in the form of cuttings in pots with bottom heating out in the garage. The very first seedlings to come up then get stepped up, and new for this year are, Salvia lyrata, Lyreleaf Sage. Check out the fuzzy start of their first true leaves. How cute is that? 

A near-look-like seedling-wise that was quick to germinate is also new to me. Prunella vulgaris, or Self Heal. I was only able to obtain a few of these seeds this past season in Havelock, NC, but I will grow them out and hope to have them available next year. The cotyledons (first leaves, or seed leaves) are very similar - not surprising as they are both in the Lamiaceae, or mint family. This is a very interesting plant for many reasons... to be continued.  

Banner header - photo by K. Mulcahy 12/2022. Sparselobed Grapefern, Sceptridium biternatum

Photo by K. Mulcahy, 1/2023, Salvia lyrata seedlings. 

Photo by K. Mulcahy. Prunella vulgaris seedlings. 1/2023

September 2022

Thank you to everyone who came to see me Annual Cape Fear Native Plant Festival. Above the Briery was at Shelton Herb Farm! 

August 29, 2022 Bees are Buzzing! 

I have been out of honey for some time. I had to restart my hives from scratch this year. First I purchased two packages of bees, then I started two splits and was called to recover a swarm. During the past two weeks, I had the opportunity to rescue bees from an old house being torn down. It was quite an adventure!  You can check the story out on Facebook! 


Back wall of building showing a portion of the bee areas. 

August is upon us- so what do you want to plant this coming year? 

Now is a great time to consider what you may want to plant this fall or in the spring. 

Step 1 is always, to take soil samples (unless you have done so in the last few years). If you are in North Carolina, don't delay!  Routine NCDA&CS soil tests are provided at "no direct cost" to N.C. residents because of funding derived from a statewide fee on commercial fertilizer, except from about Thanksgiving through March, when a peak-season fee of $4 is charged for the processing of each soil sample. Also, the later in the fall you submit, the slower processing is likely to be! You can find soil testing boxes at your local extension office and lots of helpful information at https://www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/pals/default.aspx. If you need information to understand soil nutrients, soil testing, and fertilization, the first chapter of the NC Master Gardner Handbook is excellent!  https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/extension-gardener-handbook/1-soils-and-plant-nutrients#section_heading_7242

Step 2. Interpret your results and take whatever steps are suggested. For example, the soil test for the new Native Plant Garden and Meadow in Kinston indicated a very high phosphorous index among other things. It was critical to find fertilizer and mulch that would not contribute any new phosphorus. BTW most organic amendments and mulch contribute more phosphorous, just because something is called natural or organic, it does not mean that material is right for your project.  If you need additional support, call your local extension office, and either an ag agent or Master Gardener can assist for no charge. 

Choose your plants! Keep in mind that most native plants that are local to your area, may thrive with fewer nutrients, and each has soil, sun, and moisture preferences! Above all try to find the right plant for your conditions! Have you ever noticed that any exposed soil (unless terribly degraded) grows plants!!!  Hot and dry, wet and sunny, moist and shady, even soil under water in wetlands, sandy soil, clay soils, something always grows! Match your gardening goals as well.  Are you providing plant materials to support wildlife, to enjoy watching pollinators, to create a bright floriferous scene, or to create a calm space?  

The fall is a perfect time to install perennials, shrubs, and trees! Even if a plant is dormant above ground, still warm soil temperatures allow the roots to begin to establish themselves. Those plants will have an easier time when hot weather comes around again next spring.  

Above the Briery will have live and dormant plants (depending on the plant). Dormant bare-root plants are even easier to plant than those in pots! 

July 2022. A first fairy garden

For fun, I tried making a fairy garden out of the native plants and mosses from our woods and a pot saucer that I had on hand.  I need some little additions to brighten it a bit more, maybe a gnome or two. Clockwise from the left, the plants include Wild Ginger, Ebony Spleenwort fern, Coastal Rose Gentian (it is a shame it is not blooming, see below), and Partridgeberry. Several types of moss are included, but I do not have identifications for those. Under the moss, there is potting mix and a large plant saucer with holes drilled for drainage. Currently, it is nestled between buttresses of an enormous Willow oak where the fairies enjoy the cool shade. 

Left (or first photo if using a mobile device) is Coastal Rose Gentian, Sabatia calycina, and above, Native Fairy garden # 1.  Photos by K. Mulcahy

Ahhh. Doesn't this make you feel cooler?  Moss and Christmas fern in our woods. Photo by K. Mulcahy

July 2022. Come to the Market!  Saturday 7/9.  Let's talk about shade plants and fairy gardens!

I have been thinking about shade a lot lately - go figure. A 106-degree heat index will do that to a person. I was asked to provide a list of shade plants that I offer for sale - and you can find it on the Shade Plants page. My thoughts are not only on shade plants but fun ideas for shade gardening - like creating fairy gardens.  I will bring along some materials and work on one while at the Lenoir County Farmer's market this Saturday from  8:30 to 12:30. 

Come and explore a range of perennials for sun and shade. Asters from shade to full sun, Scarlet Rose Mallow, Whorled Milk Weed, various Coneflowers, Anise Hyssop, Blazing Star, Rattlesnake Master, Cardinal Flowers, Swamp Milkweed, shade plants, and lots more. Check the availability list at the bottom of the homepage (www.abovethebriery.com) and be sure to let me know if you have specific plants in mind so I can bring them along. Of course, you can also stop by later in the afternoon to pick up at the Briery if that works for you. karen@abovethebriery.com

June 2022. Saturday, 7/2 --  Come by the Lenoir County Farmer's Market in downtown Kinston!

Come by the Lenoir County Farmer's Market in downtown Kinston!

It is a lovely time here at the Briery. Our summer blooms were a bit late to start between the drought and the moderating influence of the woods.  Now the girls (honeybees) are having a fine time on the Beautyberry blossoms, Anise Hyssop, and Coneflowers.

This week new items are available  - several types of Asters from shade to full sun, Scarlet Rose Mallow, and Whorled Milk Weed. 

We also still have plenty of Beautyberry shrubs, various Coneflowers, Anise Hyssop, Blazing Star, Rattlesnake Master, Cardinal Flowers, Swamp Milkweed, shade plants, and lots more. Check the availability list at the bottom of the homepage (www.abovethebriery.com) and be sure to let me know if you have specific plants in mind so I can bring them along. Of course, you can also stop by later in the afternoon to pick up at the Briery if that works for you. karen@abovethebriery.com  

Be sure to visit the new Neuse Foundation and Lenoir County Master Gardener Native Plant Garden and Meadow next door to the Market! 

Honeybee on Beautyberry blossoms. Come fall, each tiny blossom will be a bright purplish berry. Photo by K. Mulcahy

June 2022. Honeybee Update

It has been very disheartening to lose my hives over the past couple of years. Not going to explain in detail, but some of the problems were illness or bad luck, and some were less than optimal beekeeping. So I found myself - finally - retired from teaching and having the time to properly attend my bees in the spring and had no hives. Starting over, I purchased two packages of bees and they have been doing great - and I have been loving having the bees behind the house again. 

Right now, the hive count is up to five. I was contacted to collect a swarm in southeast Kinston, and, although they are rather creative in their pattern of comb building, they are doing fabulous. I have the two hives from purchased packages of bees, and two little newbies split out from them. 

It is not yet the first day of summer, but by August at the latest, the hives need to be well populated, strong, healthy, and Varroa mites under control so the girls can get fattened up and have enough stored honey to survive the winter. 

If you have made it this far, I ask that you consider the fate of your poor beekeeper at this time of year. Temps are in the 90's and heat indexes in the 100's. And the best time to go into the hives is when the field bees are out. On clear, hot, calm, sunny mid-days, and, where do we keep our hives, in sunny places. 

Welcome to beekeeping! 

Photo by K. Mulcahy

June 2022. Saturday, 6/11 Come on by the Lenoir County Farmer's Market!

Now is a good time to plant summer and fall-blooming plants! Purple Coneflowers, Black, Brown, and Green-eyed Rudbeckias, Showy or Sweet Goldenrod, lovely Obedient Plant, and Joe Pye Weed. We also have the NC Botanical Garden plant of the year, Downy Woodmint, shown here.  Spring ephemerals, Eastern Red Columbine and Boodroot, are on sale for 50% off.
Check our full availability at the bottom of the homepage.  Let us know if you see something you want, so we can be sure to have it on hand!

Giant Coneflowers starting to bloom in the nursery. Photo by K. Mulcahy

May 2022. Come by the Lenoir County Farmer's Market this Saturday, 5/28!

The plants are looking great. A few rain showers and somewhat lower temps help.  Plants do not especially like being in pots, especially when it gets really hot. In nature, they grow in soil that does not radically change in temperature or suddenly go dry so quickly.

This week I will bring plenty of coneflowers - Purple (Echinacea), several Monardas, Black-Eyed Susans, Cut-leaf Coneflower, and Giant Coneflowers. Also, Anise Hyssop, Showy and Sweet Goldenrod, Coastal Joe-Pye Weed, Cardinal Flower, Blazing Star, and more. Check out availability on the home page. 

For coastal folks, in addition to many perennials suitable for your environment, I have items recommended by Audubon- Little Bluestem Grass, Beautyberry, Sweet Pepperbush, Elderberry, Black Gum, and Black Willow! 

May 2022. Kinston's new Native Plant Garden and Meadow

If you get a chance, be sure to stop by and check out the garden and meadow. In the summer of 2021, Lenoir County Master Gardener Volunteers proposed a native plant garden for downtown Kinston and the Neuse Foundation graciously agreed to host the garden.

At that time the idea was a relatively small, formal garden with plant markers to help introduce native plants and beautify a downtown location. Fortune smiled on the project in the form of a 4-H Grant which was promoting pollinator education. The garden grew larger into the form of a native plant garden and meadow.  Thanks to the efforts of the CSS Neuse Foundation, the Lenoir County Master Gardener Volunteers, NCExtension 4-H, Corteva Agriscience, Quail Forever, and many individuals, the garden is a reality.

In late October of 2021, a Pollinator Party was held to educate children and adults about the value of pollinators and children planted the entire garden and meadow!  It will take a few years for the garden and meadow to mature, but it is having a great start!

118 N Herritage St, Kinston, NC 28501

Early in the first season of Kinston's new native garden and meadow. Photo by K. Mulcahy

May 2022. Check us out at the BBQ Fest on the Neuse!   

Posted May 2, 2022. On Saturday, May 7, from 9 to 5 we will have a variety of native plants for sale during the festival. Check us out at the Lenoir County Farmer's Market.  Choose from several kinds of coneflowers, Blue-Eyed Grass, Rattlesnake Master, Turtlehead, Joe Pye Weed, Obedient Plant, Raspberry Wine and Lemon Bee Balm, Eastern Red Columbine, Climbing Hydrangea, Elderberry, Beautyberry, Black Haw Viburnum, woodland plants - including Jack in the Pulpit, and more.  We even have the NC Botanical Garden's 2022 Wildflower of the year, Downy Woodmint, Blephilia ciliata.

Plants make great last-minute Mother's Day gifts.  

PS - not everything will fit in my truck, if you have special requests, please let me know by Friday afternoon. K.

We were in New Bern just a few weeks ago!

Spring has sprung! 

April 29, 2022. We are weeks into spring here in Kinston and having are typical weather swings. One day it is 85 degrees, the next it is 40 degrees when you get up. Unfortunately, we once again have an unusually dry spring - officially we are in a severe drought. If this continues we might start to see an impact on native plants. So far, nope. We are within the range our plants can tolerate. It is not so great for the water bill though. An important project this year is to set up rainwater harvesting and a watering system for the nursery. Such a system would not be of much help during times like these, however. 

On the bright side, the mosquitos are not out yet! 

Morning scene from inside screened shed in the nursery.

Morning Coffee at the Briery

April 26, 2022. It seems a bit odd when visitors come to the woods and are enchanted by the quiet. While I sip my coffee the birds are awakening, chatting, eating, our old kitty is puttering about and meowing, and the dog is off doing things in the woods punctuated by various barks. Quiet is not a word I would generally use. 

Many new tries of native seeds that were winter-sown are doing very well. Rattlesnake Root, Nabalus altissimus, Coral Bean,  Erythrina herbacea, Wrinkleleaf Goldenrod, Solidago rugosa, Silver Rod, Soldago bicolor, Common Rush, Juncus effusus, Big Gallberry, Ilex corecea, and Threadleaf Bluestar, Amsonia hubrichtii among others. Most are in small numbers so my goal will be to grow them out this year. I will be sharing some at our NC Native Plant Society, Central Coastal Plain Chapter plant swap in May. The Threadleaf Bluestar and Silver Rod were from our seed swap this past winter!