Carolee's Herb Farm

Carolee's Herb Farm

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Home News Newsletters September 2017 Newsletter
September 2017 Newsletter Print E-mail

September E-Newsletter 2017

     September seemed like a very short month, since we spent most of it traveling in Normandy, a coastal region of France known for its rolling farmland, bountiful orchards that produce amazing ciders and calvados, Camembert cheese, and of course abundant seafood.  It is also the site of the D-Day landings and bitter battles in both WWI and WWII.  David took in all the military-related tours and museums while I (of course) visited gardens and just soaked in the atmosphere of the medieval town of Bayeaux.  It was a relaxing and beautiful time.  We traveled on to Germany to visit family for a week, and I certainly wasn’t ready to leave those grandkids when our time to depart arrived.
     Returning home, it was obvious that it had not rained much during our absence, but somehow new weeds were holding massive celebrations in the gardens and potager.  Sulking annuals were desperate for deadheading and watering, so I’ve been busy playing catch-up.  Despite the summer-like temperatures, there’s no doubt that it’s officially autumn.  Every breeze brings a shower of golden leaves from the black walnut trees in the front lawn.  Flocks of birds are gathering in preparation for the long journey south.  The butterflies are disappearing; the harvest from the potager is dwindling.  Sadly, the major gardening season is coming to an end, and soon I’ll be planting bulbs and mums and decorating for fall.

A Visit to Chateau de Brecy
 Of the 123 gardens of Normandy that are open to the public, this one is one of the best, and close to Bayeux.  Let me just state that my photographs do not do this fabulous garden justice.  I really couldn’t capture the scope of this formal garden that stretches over five spacious terraces, sloping upward from the chateau. 

Outwardly, the home appears just as it did in the 17th century, an Italian renaissance design that makes it a beautiful background for one of the most treasured gardens in Normandy.  Actually, only the outer walls are original to the 17th century and the pavilions from the 18th.  The entire remainder of the chateau was remade in the 1960’s and has been constantly embellished by its present owners since 1992.  The chateau is a huge inverted “U” shape, with the top as the main home and the two parallel “legs” were service and storage buildings.  The massive front courtyard features an unusual metal sculpture of an animal that has the body and legs of a horse, the tail of a fish, and the head of a rabbit that moves with the wind.

Enter the garden through a small door and up a few steps that open into the herb garden, filled with fragrant and useful plants.  Nearby is a 16th century well, and a row of well-used watering cans.  Round the corner and an immense, sun-filled gravel patio is there, surrounded by perfectly trimmed topiaries, and this charming hedgehog boot scrape.  On the opposite side of the patio the spring bulb garden matches the shape and size of the herb garden.                                                                                                                               


Nearby is a handy movable bench, painted in the blue that is used throughout the garden. (I think I need a couple of those!  Imagine placing them near bulbs in spring, in a shady nook in summer, or filled with pumpkins and situated in a bare spot of the garden in autumn.)  Pick a spot and gaze.  Wherever you look, it is post-card perfect. 

The immense boxwood parterre shown in this photo has a duplicate on the other side.  I’m glad the clipping job isn’t mine!  Parterres were designed to be viewed from an upper story.  This intricate pattern is one of the most famous in France.  There are other interesting topiaries throughout the garden. On the outer sides of the parterre halves, broad allees with twined branches overhead invite visitors to stroll in the shade. Up a few wide steps, two matching squares side the central path.  Diagonals divide the squares into four equal parts of lawn, with hellebores, regal lilies, and camassia providing seasonal blooms. This is the Terrasse des berceaux.

Next is the staircase of the double-headed lions, relics that have stood there since the 17th century.  They lead to theTerrasse des bassins, two larger squares that are each divided into four squares by paths leading to two central rectangular ponds.  The flowers on this level are along the wall of the next level, forming a wide border that contains anemones, cardoon, perovskia, and more. 

Climb more steps on the far right to walk through the raspberry rows, with clematis on the walls and fragrant magnolias.  On the far left, climb steps to the potager, where fall crops of lettuces and alliums, tomatoes, arugula, melons, squashes are still growing in early autumn.

Next is the Pavilion Terrace, with delightful, but useful “sheds” with bright blue doors.  One is used to house the gardeners’ equipment and tools, but the other is a surprise.  Inside, the walls are lined with reflective seashells that give enough light for visitors to climb the ladder to the upper story.  A tall chair awaits in front of a small window that opens onto the view of much of the garden.


A few more steps on the central path bring one to the Fountain Terrace.  I liked the way dainty fleabane was allowed to flower in cracks at the sides of the steps, softening the harsh stone and adding a bit of magic.  Fleabane was an essential herb in olden days, and it is lovely that it has thrived to the present. 

At each end is beautiful stonework. The abundance of carved stone, including the intricate balusters below, indicate massive wealth.

All across the wall to the next terrace, beautifully clipped shrubbery adds depth, texture and interest. 

The final set of steps lead to the massive iron Geslin gates, also from the 17th century.  Look through them for the view of the “Grand Perspective” where clipped hornbeam hedges fade into the distance. 

Surprisingly, because of the rise in the terraces, looking back toward the chateau does not give the entire picture of the gardens. 

Returning to the gravel patio by way of one of the allees, one turns left to visit the 14th century church dedicated to St. Ann.  Surrounding it is a rose garden and behind is a medieval well that was said to cure eye sores.
     Hidden behind a wall and shrubbery was this hobby greenhouse, used by the owners for their own pleasure.
     If you visit Normandy, I hope you will visit Chateau du Brecy. The garden is one of the few remaining from the 17th century.  It combines the walled gardens of the medieval period and the Renaissance in its inventive sculptures, parterre, and stonework.

Did you know:
*The largest pumpkin pie ever baked was over 5’ in diameter and weighed over 350 pounds.
*Cooler temperatures and shorter days cause leaves to stop producing chlorophyll.  As the green fades, other colors become apparent forming the brilliant orange, red, and yellow of autumn foliage.
*Putting dry tea bags in shoes will absorb odors.
*Pressing a banana peel on a bruise for 15-30 minutes will remove the dark colors from the skin.
*There are over 7,000 varieties of apples!

It is somehow comforting, while traveling in a foreign country, to see familiar plants underfoot.  Getting out of a taxi near our hotel in France, one of the first herbs to greet me was plantain (Plantago major.)


As I ventured throughout the medieval town of Bayeaux, this hardy perennial was here and there in sidewalk cracks, along the river bank, in small patches of lawn, and most flamboyant of all, featured in this poster on the wall of the pharmacy!  And later on our trip, plantain was seen growing in the stone steps of the historic castle “Kaiserswerth” near Dusseldorf., Germany.
     From the Latin word “planta” meaning “sole of the foot,” recorded use of plantain as a medicinal herb began in Greek and Roman times, but undoubtedly it was used long before then.  Throughout history, the tender deep green leaves have been used not only as food, but as a dressing for stings, bites, and burns for both humans and their domestic animals, providing almost immediate relief.  The abundant seeds, packed tightly along a slender stalk, have long been a favorite food for sparrows and other birds, and enterprising country folk gathered them to sell as food for the caged canaries and finches of the wealthy.  One species, Plantago psyllium, produces the seeds often sold as a common laxative.
     As a reliable medicinal, plantain was carried by Europeans to the New World, and became so abundant that the American Indians called the herb “white man’s foot” because wherever the white man walked, plantain appeared and thrived.  Growing in average to poor soil, in full to partial sunlight, the broad, spoon-shaped leaves form a rosette on the surface of the soil.  Their deep green color remains all season, with noticeable veins radiating from the stem base rather than from a central vein.  As the season progresses, the leaves become tough and resilient, rarely harmed by mowing.  In fact, farmers often complained that the seed stems of plantain would dull a scythe’s blade.
     Two types of plantain are commonly found in untreated lawns and wayside places.  Both the Broad-leafed (P. major) and the Narrow-leaf (P. lanceolata) can be used medicinally.  I use them as an antidote for stings, burns, and stinging nettle by simply chewing the leaf until it becomes a poultice and applying to the injured spot.  Crushing the leaves in a mortar and pestle (or food processor!) can also make a poultice to stop minor bleeding.  The leaves can also be used in an infusion (1 tsp. per cup of boiling water, steeped until cool) internally as a soothing gargle for laryngitis and sore throats, or drunk as an expectorant for bronchitis, coughs, and congestion of the lungs.  The leaves have a high silica and tannin content, so they should be used internally in moderation.  Dr. James Duke suggests using a strong tea of plantain as a hair rinse to prevent dandruff, or as a spray for treating sunburn. 

Recipe:  Baked Camembert with Apple Relish
This was so delicious that I had it three times while we were in Normandy.  While it was normally deep-fat-fried and served as an appetizer with cornichons and a small pile of finely shaved dry ham, I served it as a luncheon dish, with a green salad and bake it to reduce the calories.  Normandy is famous for its Camembert cheese and apples.
     Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray a shallow baking dish with non-stick spray.
     In a small skillet, over medium heat, melt 1 T. butter.  Add 1/3 c. finely diced red onion or shallots, and 1 tart apple, finely diced but not peeled.  Add a few grinds of black pepper and 1 tsp. balsamic or apple cider vinegar.  Cook, covered, stirring occasionally.
     Meanwhile, beat one egg and set aside.  Remove two sheets of phyllo dough, keeping them matched together to make a dual layer.  Cut in half, forming two squares.  Cut each square in half to form 2 rectangles, making 4 rectangles in all.  (Keep the pieces of phyllo dough covered with a lightly damp towel to keep edges from drying out.)
 Cut an 8 oz. pkg. of Camembert in half.  Return one half to package and refrigerate for another use.  Cut the second half into slices about 1/3” thick.  The longer, center slices will need to be trimmed, but save the trimmings to add to the shorter slices if needed.  Place a cheese slice about 1” from the short end of a rectangle.  Be sure that there is about ¾” on each side that is not covered by the cheese, trimming the cheese if required.  Fold the phyllo inch over the cheese, and roll the cheese slice, wrapping the dual layer of dough around it until almost to the end.  Brush a layer of beaten egg on the last 1” before rolling to seal it securely.  Brush a bit of egg inside each end and pinch to seal, forming a “sealed” package.  Dip the package in the beaten egg, being sure it is coated well.  Place in the baking dish.  Repeat, making 4 packages, and placing them so they do not touch in the baking dish.  Bake 5-6 min, until lightly browned on the bottom.  Turn each package over and bake another 5 min., until packages are nicely browned and lightly puffed up.  Serve immediately, with the apple relish.

Hopefully, next month won’t fly by so quickly.  Autumn is a short season, so take time to enjoy the colorful leaves, cooler temperatures, and all the special fall décor. 

Herbal blessings, Carolee