Carolee's Herb Farm

Carolee's Herb Farm

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Home News Newsletters August E-Newletter 2014
August E-Newletter 2014 Print E-mail

August E-Newsletter 2014

     August has been filled with endless sunny days.  We only had one rainy day…an amazing 11.5” of rain.  Sadly, much of it just ran off the baked ground, flooding lots of low places instead of soaking into the ground.  So, it was back to watering and dragging hoses.  I have spent day after day in the lavender field belatedly shearing, weeding, and taking thousands of cuttings.  It’s looking lots better, but I’m still far from finished. So far, there hasn’t been time to harvest quantities of herbs for winter cooking and teas, medicinal oils, salves and tinctures to restock my herbal first aid cabinet, especially since I did some traveling this month, but hopefully I’ll start on that soon.  I also hope to get the gardens all weeded and mulched before winter, and since I’m finally finished with shows, I was able to take the topper off so I can actually start hauling mulch!  There’s always plenty to do at the farm.

Second Saturday Open House, Sept. 13th
     Celebrating St. Hildegard Day!  Sept. 17th is the birthday of the most famous woman herbalists in history.  Learn about her life and the medicinal plants she used, hear the music she composed, and taste some of the beneficial foods, the “foods of joy,” that she touted.  Talks/cooking demos at 11:00 and 1:00p.m.  See a display of items from Hildegard’s abbey. 
     Look for special sale items posted throughout the sales areas.
     Note:  No restroom facilities today, so plan ahead!

Sun., Oct 12:  “Crockpot Herbal Soapmaking”  Workshop, 1-3:30p.m.
     There’s still time to register to learn to make fragrant herbal soap from
scratch using plant-based oils in a crockpot.  Essential oils, plant oils, and
saponification discussed.  Hands on, so dress for mess.  Handouts and a bar
of soap provided. Limited class size and adults only.  $25.  Note:  No
restroom facilities today.



Raker’s Trial Gardens
     August began with a fun adventure.  Weather-wise, August 1st was a perfect day to visit the extensive trial gardens at Raker’s near Litchfield, Michigan.  Blue skies, a slight breeze, and just-right temperatures were there to greet us, along with an informative and attentive staff that directed us to parking, registration, and lots of educational materials.  As a member of Garden Writers of America and commercial grower, I was invited to their free luncheon (grilled Italian sausages, grilled sweet corn, a variety of fresh fruits, chips, and home-baked cookies…YUM!)


     We spent the next few hours visiting gardens installed by various seed companies to showcase their newest varieties.  Then we walked up and down rows and rows of annuals that the Raker staff plants each year to evaluate for durability, disease resistance, blooming, endurance to rain, and other qualities. For instance, some petunias look dreadful after a rain, with petals that “melt” and never recover; other varieties have such large blooms that rain causes them to droop into the mud. 


     Hort Coutre had a massive display garden featuring all their new introductions, including the huge-flowered salvias that I’d seen at Cultivate 14.  They looked even better at Raker’s.
     Needless to say, I checked out all the new basil and lavender varieties, and some beautiful foxgloves that seemed to be thriving in full sun.  I also spent a lot of time studying the “overwintered” beds.  Raker’s plants rows of young perennials (10 plants of each variety) to test winter hardiness.  Especially in the coneflower section, it was interesting to see which varieties came through with flying colors, which came through looking pretty weak, and those that did not come through at all.
     Visiting trial gardens like Raker’s is a valuable experience for a commercial grower like me.  Obviously, I won’t be ordering seeds or plugs of plants that didn’t perform well.  I won’t be tempted by gorgeous photos in dealer’s catalogs, when I’ve seen a rows of those same plants that just didn’t look good.  However, I will be growing the plants that really impressed me, especially if I’ve seen them perform equally well in other trial gardens that I visit over the season.  I made pages of notes, along with a hundred photos as reminders of an interesting and informative day.



Michigan State Garden Day
     After being the keynote speaker at the Michigan Herb Association conference, I was invited to participate in Michigan State’s annual Garden Day, held Saturday Aug. 2nd.  It was a gorgeous day, with an easy set-up and a spacious booth space.  Lots of herb friends stopped in to visit, and we met many new ones.  As soon as we were set up, I grabbed the camera and headed outside to the great gardens there.  There are many display gardens to enjoy, like the ones shown here.  The Michigan State horticultural program is one of the best in the nation, and their gardens show it.


The Michigan State Children’s Garden is acknowledged as the best in the world.  No matter how many times I visit, I see clever new ideas.  This huge caterpillar made of vines was filled with laughing children later in the day.  The raised bed and “Wooly Pockets” wall garden were new since I was there last, too. 
     The perennial plantings are really extensive.  At every twist and turn, another whole section appears, with a variety of color groupings, textures, and styles.  I raced through the large rose garden, enjoying the scents but not taking any photographs.  I spent quite a lot of time studying the trial gardens, comparing their plants’ appearance with those I’d just seen at Raker’s and adjusting some notes here and there.  This trial of dwarf sunflowers was fun, and these new penstemons were appealing.


     Knowing that the event’s keynote speaker was author Amy Stewart, the Horticultural Department planted a “Drunken Botanist” garden this year, featuring plants used in various beverages.  Although it is in its infancy, it shows lots of promise and was filled with informative signage and interesting plants.  I wish I could have spent more time in the gardens, but it was a busy day.  I wanted to hear Amy’s presentation on “Wicked Plants,” and I did have to work in the booth some of the time, at least long enough to get the fantastic pie (I chose Lakeshore Berry, a mouth-watering combination of raspberry, blueberry, blackberry, & strawberry) that came with our booth space!  I wish all shows did that!!!



Herb Society District Gathering:  Friday, Aug. 22- Saturday, Aug. 23
     I also had a terrific time at this even in Champaign-Urbana, IL.  First of all, there were two fantastic gardens to visit on Friday.  The first was the herb garden tended by the Champaign-Urbana Herb Society, which was filled with some of the healthiest, happiest herb plants I’ve seen. 


Then we traveled a short distance to the Master Gardeners’ Idea Garden. 


Just beyond the trees, are the massive trial gardens, located in a sunken garden.  It was fun to once again see which varieties performed well, side by side. 


     The Saturday schedule was filled with informative speakers, a silent auction, a fabulous herbal lunch, door prizes, and some wonderful networking.  If you missed this event, you missed something special.  Watch for it next year!



An Herb to Know:  Pennyroyal
     If you love fragrant plants, and most people do, pennyroyal is definitely on the “must-grow” list.  Cherished for centuries for its insect-repelling qualities and energizing scent, pennyroyal is one of those “sinus-clearing” smells with strong minty tones.
     Here at the farm we grow two types.  The traditional English pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) is a hardy perennial that forms mats of smooth green leaves.  It prefers part-shade, especially filtered sunshine in average soil, and like most mints it needs adequate moisture.  However, mine grows in full sun in the low paths of the Cook’s Garden, where it gets plenty of water.  This pennyroyal was often planted between stepping stones leading to the house or barn, so that foot traffic would release its pungent aroma, causing insects to flee before pets or people entered.  In late July or early August, it suddenly grows to 12-15” in height, with pale purple-pink blooms that the honeybees love.  As soon as the bees start working, it’s time to harvest the stems at the base, bunch them, and hang them to dry.
     American pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides) is a self-seeding annual, growing to about 10” in height.  It has bright green leaves, and flowers so tiny that one rarely even notices them.  It is cut, bunched, and dried in the same way as English pennyroyal.
     Both types are easy to grow and used in the same way.  Traditionally, pennyroyal was valued for repelling fleas.  In fact, its scientific name comes from the Latin pulex, or flea.  It was a strewing herb, added to mattress stuffings, or rolled into cloths that were tied around the necks of pets.  Generally, I find it easier to make a strong tea that is spritzed onto animals’ coats and bedding.  Its delightful scent makes a pleasing room freshener.
     Pennyroyal should not be used on pregnant animals, especially cats, as excessive quantities can cause abortion.  It is no longer advised that pennyroyal be drunk as a tea by people or animals, and the essential oil should never be applied directly to the skin.

Did you know?
*At Cultivate 14, the FBI had a booth, where agents made growers, garden center owners, and seed companies aware of the dangers of castor beans, which terrorists can use to produce a deadly poison.  We were encouraged to report any purchases of large quantities of plants or seeds.
My Travels to England-Continued…..
     It was another beautiful day in London, despite forecasted rain for the entire week, we had gorgeous weather the entire trip, just cool enough to need a jacket in the morning and evenings.  The day began with tea in our pretty apartment, and a check of each of our “wish lists.”  I wanted to visit my favorite department store, Fortnum & Mason’s, where the salesmen still wear long-tailed morning coats and gloves, and the original woodwork gives the store an elegant tone.  Not only does it sell some of my favorite teas (there’s an entire floor devoted to nothing but teas!) but there was a special display of beautiful hats by Treacy, a famous milliner whose creations Kate often wears.  I tried to get a photo of the amazing three-masted ship hat in the front window, but I was unsuccessful.  All of the hats were really darling, making me wish hats were more popular here at home.
     After purchasing my teas, we went to look at the famous F & M picnic hampers.  My daughter has asked for one for her next big birthday (we won’t mention which one) and they are impressive.  By then, we were hungry, so we headed to the food floor to purchase scones and treacle tarts.  We found a pretty park for our “picnic” near an old church.  Next on our list was Foyle’s, my librarian daughter’s favorite book store, but knowing my luggage was already at the weight limit eliminated book purchases for me.  Afterwards, we shopped for a bit in some of the major department stores, mainly just to look, although the girls had a few items on their lists.


     The “Walking Tours of London” are a great way to see things of interest that you’d miss on your own, so we met our guide, David Ney, for an historical walking tour of the Kensington area.  Known for the homes where great authors such as T.S. Elliot lived, there were many interesting houses, the church where Beatrix Potter was married, and lots of fascinating architecture from a range of centuries.  We saw Gina Foster’s studio, where she creates pretty hats for the royals.  Europe’s largest roof-top garden is also in Kensington.  Unfortunately, I was unable to take any photographs due to technical difficulties (most of you know that I am definitely not a techie!) but you can visit their website at  The Spanish Garden, English Woodland, and Tudor Gardens are spectacular.  If you go, schedule time to dine or have cocktails at “Babylon” on the 7th floor, with amazing views over London’s skyline.  The gardens are free, but it is wise to call ahead to be sure they are not booked for a private party.


Our last stop was Kensington Palace, where Princess Di lived after her divorce.  The gardens were lovely, and this was the original site of the Flower Show that became the Chelsea Flower Show. 


We visited the Sunken Garden and the Italian Garden.  Although it meant a long walk, I wanted to see the famous Peter Pan sculpture. 


We’d hoped to take tea in the famous Orangery, but it was booked for a special event, so that’s still on my wish list for another visit.
     We only had time to grab a quick supper before we needed to get ready for our special evening. 


The London Coliseum, an opulent theatre where we saw the National Opera Company perform Mozart’s opera, “Cosi fan tutte.”  The staging was fun, the music was enchanting, making it a magical experience.
     It was another beautiful walk home under the stars, chatting with my girls and enjoying the sites.  After they went to bed, I sipped elderflower cordial mixed with white wine, and read “Miracle on Regent Street” until the wee hours.  A fantastic day that I will never forget.

Recipe:   Apple Squares
     On our trip to England, I had wonderful apple cookies at afternoon tea.  I’ve recreated them with an herbal twist, using rose-scented geraniums, although cinnamon basil, tarragon, or anise-hyssop would also be good choices. 
     Grease a 7” x 11” pan.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
     In large mixing bowl, mix together: 1 1/3 c. flour; ¾ c. sugar; ½ tsp. baking powder; ¼ tsp. nutmeg; a pinch of salt.  Cut in 6 T. butter to “crumbs.”
    Beat 1 egg with a fork and mix with 3 oz. milk.  Stir into flour mixture and mix until smooth.  Stir in 1 ½ c. finely chopped apples (skin on or off, as desired) and 3 T. finely chopped rose-scented geranium leaves.  Pour into pan.  Bake 35 min., until lightly browned and center is set.  Cool.  Frost with white icing with a little chopped rose-geranium leaf added.  Cut into squares.

It’s difficult to believe that August is officially finished, and autumn is just around the corner.  Hope you have a terrific Labor Day weekend, and that we’ll see you on Saturday, Sept. 13th! 

Herbal blessings, Carolee