Just minutes from the roar of Interstate 85, you’ll find a rural setting where fairies flitter among maple trees and colorful antique dishes outline gardens of tulips. Here, lunch is served in terra cotta flowerpots and squirrels are honored with an appreciation day, while vintage tablecloths hang on clotheslines. This isn’t a fantasy; it’s Julie Apone’s vision come to life.
As the owner of Carolina Lily, a circa 1890 farmhouse surrounded by gardens and two cottage shops stocked with items old and new, Julie has created an oasis of charm that invites visitors of all ages to enjoy a day in the country.
Upon moving to Salisbury from Andover, Massachusetts, in 1990, Apone and her husband, Mike, began cultivating the grounds of their 10-acre homestead. “There were no gardens when we first moved here,” Apone says. “There were beautiful magnolias and 100-year-old boxwoods, but other than that, there was nothing, no flowers.”
With lettuce and zinnias growing in one garden, while daffodils and heirloom tomatoes poke their heads up in another, it’s hard to imagine the grounds of Carolina Lily as anything but lush. “I like to mix it all together, so I’ll have herbs and flowers growing in the vegetable garden and so forth,” says Apone, who worked as a high-tech human resources director before moving south and embracing her arts and craft side. “We try to have something pretty all year.”
The gardens are breathtaking, with their vibrant colors and creative combinations, and the cozy cottages exude retail excitement with a fun inventory that includes things like ladies’ wristwatches sporting bands made of red dominoes. But the gardens and shops are merely a backdrop to Carolina Lily’s whimsical appeal. The true magic flows from the events Apone has developed since moving Carolina Lily from The Salisbury Emporium to her home in 2001.
“She thinks about special events, special days, and special people in your life and ways to honor those people, like Grandma’s Day or Queen for a Day,” says Kaye Hirst, the executive director of the Rowan Museum and a friend of Apone’s who stocks Carolina Lily’s shelves with apples from her orchard as well as canned pickles and homemade apple butter. “It’s a great place to go have a little party when it’s two of you or 10 of you or to have bridal showers [or] luncheons … Sometimes just girlfriends get together.”
Girlfriends young and old have found a place at Carolina Lily, named after a quilt pattern developed in the 1850s by a group of Carolina women. Apone produces events that make folks feel special, like the Sweetheart’s Tea on Valentine’s Day and National Cherish an Antique Day, where visitors older than 50 get 15 percent off their entire purchase.
Adults can also take classes here from local artists on how to paint floor cloths or make mosaic stepping-stones. “We have some gardening classes like ‘A year of gardening in the Carolinas,’” says Apone, who holds an annual arts and crafts show in September.
Little girls flock to Apone’s fairy school parties, where they decorate fairy wings and learn the ins and outs of the trade. According to the large presentation pad Apone uses for fairy school, fairies like to dance, play, and giggle while they live in upturned flowerpots and tea cups. At Carolina Lily’s PUFF Party (Promoting Understanding of Fairy Folk), participants learn how to make fairy gardens complete with pot fairies. After class, the newest little fairy folk enjoy a tea party, where they sip fairy tea (pink lemonade) and buzz around the yard with freshly-minted wings.
At the Miss Manners Tea Party, young ones make newspaper hats and corsages as they learn the particulars of teatime. At another event, visitors make bowling pin bugs for the lawn under the instruction of artist and Master Gardener Sue Davis. Cathy Eller, a local author who writes bug-themed children’s books, joins in the fun, as does Char Molrine and her dog, Duprix, who dons a bee costume for his visits to Carolina Lily.
“We have a new one that’s a Princess Party where they decorate their own tutu,” Apone says. “There’s always a craft to keep them interested, and then we usually have either a lunch or some kind of tea party feature with it, too.”
Fun with Food
Apone didn’t start out with serving food in mind, but, as time went on, it seemed like a good fit. And, as with everything else, the catered creations at Carolina Lily go beyond the ordinary.
“When we had an open house, we would do food, and people really enjoyed that so we started doing food if you had a group of 10 or more,” says Apone, who stresses that meals are served by reservation only.
Apone can’t recall how Picnic-in-a-Pot came about but confesses to an affinity for alliteration. The lunches served in terra cotta flowerpots accented with a clip-on flower have been a big hit. “When we first started, we used to have a gal hand paint all the pots,” she says. “When we hit about 50 meals a week, that went away quick.”
Though menus vary, a sample Picnic-in-a-Pot includes a strawberry muffin, strawberry chicken salad with grapes, and green salad with strawberries and sugared pecans, topped off with sherry poppy seed cake. Tea Party-in-a-Hat is another fun food choice, with cheese straws, fresh fruit salad, strawberry gooey, and raspberry iced tea in an upside-down decorated garden hat. And Picnic-in-a-Purse is perfect for little girls.
More and more people discover Carolina Lily every year, and Apone is happy to see her dream evolve. “I traded an office job where I was stuck indoors eight to 10 hours a day to be able to work in beautiful surroundings and make people happy,” she says. “That’s all I have to do.”
To commemorate our 90th anniversary, we’ve compiled a time line that highlights the stories, contributors, and themes that have shaped this magazine — and your view of the Old North State — using nine decades of our own words.