Carolee's Herb Farm

Carolee's Herb Farm

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Home News Newsletters November 2015 E-Newsletter
November 2015 E-Newsletter Print E-mail

November E-Newsletter 2015

November was filled with blessings,especially that of good weather for most of the month, although we did get our first snowfall of the winter as you can see from the photo of the potager above, and even that felt like a blessing.  No one should complain since this was one of the warmest, driest, nicest autumns that I can remember.  Possibly it seems that way because for the first time in almost forty years I haven’t had an herb farm to close up for the winter!  However, I have kept quite busy trying to get my new potager ready for spring.  Five of the flower/herb borders are planted with bulbs and perennials.  I couldn’t believe I ran out of bulbs, considering I planted over 800, with two borders to go.  I also revamped the little circle garden around the lamp post, removing some old sedums that get too tall in the shade, and some things that weren’t happy under the walnut tree.
Favorite tender plants (a big rosemary, lemon verbena, dwarf pomegranate, patchouli, succulents, baby tears, Corsican mint, pineapple sage, olive tree, lemon tree, hibiscus, variegated geraniums,  etc.) have been moved into a new “Plant Room” in the basement, a former laundry room, so it already has a floor drain and water faucets.  I’ll have to add some additional lighting.  I’ve also set up my seed-starting shelving unit there, and now that we are done traveling for a while, I’m ready to sow pansies, violas, and slow perennials.  I have a feeling that I’ll be setting up more tables and expanding into another basement room once I have to start transplanting, but I’ll worry about that later.  (You can read more about chores after frost in my blog post “Now that Frost has come…” at )
     I still have half the wire fencing to put around the potager to keep rabbits out if the weather cooperates and I’d like to do more mulching once the ground freezes.  My work time has been very limited in November due to traveling (Read about that below!) and holidays (Thanksgiving and my mother’s 90th birthday!) We left the last week of October and didn’t return until mid-November.  It was easy to see that the weather had been nice while we were away.  My strawberries (Honoye, a June-bearing variety) were blooming. 

I’ve tidied containers and stored supplies away for the winter.  Now I’m ready to read, relax, and plan and dream of spring.

Upcoming Events:
The date for the 17th Annual (alas Final, sob!) Herb Day sponsored by the Univ. of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana is Saturday, January 23.  It will be a full day of herbal speakers, a hearty herbal lunch buffet, lots of door prizes, and garden/herb vendors.  Carolee’s Herb Farm will be there with lots of herbal treasures.  Mark your calendar & plan to attend.   This outstanding event will be held at the Wyndham Garden Inn in Urbana. Due to the pending retirement of Chuck Voigt, who has put together annual Herb Days since 2000, this will be the final one in the series. “We want to go out with a bang, so I’ve pulled out all the stops to bring in as many popular speakers from past Herb Days as possible. There’s no use holding back at this point. I want attendees to get a lot of bang for their registration buck, one last time,” Voigt explained.
On this roster are Jim Long and Josh Young, from Long Creek Herbs in Blue Eye, Missouri. They were at the first Herb Day, and so they’ve been brought back for the final one. Jim has a wide range of herbal expertise, and Josh addresses herbal lifestyle issues.Susan Belsinger from Brookside, Maryland, a noted author of culinary herb books, was the most requested returnee by last year’s attendees. She will be cooking with the Herb of the Year™, Capsicum. Always entertaining, Tina Marie Wilcox, from the Ozark Mountain Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas, will do an in-character presentation on how herbs were used historically back “in the hills.” Rounding out the program will be Daniel Gagnon, from Herbs, Etc., in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Daniel is one of the most reasonable and knowledgeable voices in the medicinal herb world today.
Voigt says, “I have had such loyal support through the years from master gardeners, herb societies, garden club members, and others. It only seems fair to give them one last great day of herb education and fellowship. All the presenters have become close, dear friends, as have many of the perennial attendees at Herb Day.” Anyone who has wanted to attend but put it off, this will be his or her last chance.
For registration information, call or e-mail Linda Harvey at (217) 244-1693, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . On-line registration will be available, but the site URL changes each year. Linda will be able to direct folks there as we get closer to January.   This event is sure to fill up quickly, and seating is limited.

Did you know?
*A new invasive, serious threat to broccoli, cabbage and other cole crops has been found in Michigan.  The Swede midge’s larvae not only munch in stems to cause severe distortion and death to young, developing heads, but also allow secondary bacterial infections.  Keep a watch for swollen or distorted tissue in new tip growth.  This could be a major problem, especially for organic growers.
*The dreaded impatiens downy mildew wiped out approximately 60% of the worldwide impatiens crop, but only 40% in the U.S.
*A hot trend, termed “Wellitality” is the idea that horticulture is intrinsically tied to health and wellness.  We gardeners have known that for ages.  Nice to know the rest of the population is waking up to the fact that we NEED plants around us.
*”Dogscaping,” or providing pet-friendly landscaping is also a rising trend.
*The “average” American food garden (and the number of them is on the rise) has grown to 600 sq. ft.
*The first 3 AAS winners for 2016 are:  Bunching Onion “Warrior, “Radish “Sweet Baby,” and Mizuna “Red Kingdom.”
* In Germany there is a gummy bear outlet store, where you can find “Sweet Woodruff” flavored candy.  They are definitely my favorite yummy gummy.  My granddaughter seriously assured me, “Gummy bears were invented to help young children learn to chew.”


Where I’ve Been:
     We made our annual trip to visit our daughter and son-in-law in Italy, this time meeting them in Milan.  Unfortunately, we arrived in Milan but our luggage didn’t, so we bought toothbrushes and essentials and ventured onward.  We really love Italy, and this was our first time in these regions (Lombardi, Piedmont, and Aosta) of that country, but we’ve decided it definitely won’t be our last.  The scenery is gorgeous and the food is divine.

Our first stop was is lovely Stresa, on beautiful Lake Maggiore, where we stopped for a leisurely lunch.  I had the best porcini risotto ever.  It was fabulous!  We wanted to visit the famous garden created on an island, Isola Bella, but since the main lake-beach crowd tourist season was over, the ferry wasn’t running.  Ten terraced gardens rise up like a wedding cake.  The opulent Palazzo e Giardini Borromeo, built in 1670, has been visited by many famous people, including Napoleon, and later Mussolini, Laval and MacDonald who me there in 1935 to try to prevent WWII’s expansion.  Be sure to visit if you are in that area of Italy.
     Our next stop was Verbania, about halfway up the western side of the lake.  The drive was lovely and Verbania itself was a delightful town that I liked better than touristy Stresa.  We took a stroll along the lake, and found this monument the town erected in memory of the USA’s losses on 9-1-01.  How moving and unexpected. 


We had afternoon tea at the historic Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees, which was an experience.  I wish I had taken a photo of the waiters, in pale sage green livery with white braided trim.

 All the meals we had in this charming town were exceptional.  Here is my dinner one evening:  marinated lamb chops with black rice that was topped with tiny, tiny crunchy fried fish.


     Hotel Ancora was our “home” there, and served one of the best breakfast buffets I’ve ever encountered, including this huge 2’ x 1’ x 2” square of chocolate and prosecco every morn, along with breads, cheeses, meat platters, granolas, gourmet jams, and fresh fruits galore, plus a huge variety of yogurts and 6 kinds of tea.  My kind of place!


     Our reason for choosing Verbania was to fulfill an item on my wish list, a visit to the famous garden at Villa Taranto. 

This garden was begun in 1931 by a Scotsman, Captain Neil McEacharn, who wanted to create an English-style garden in Italy.  He had become obsessed with gardening at Galloway House, the family castle and estate, where he created a magnificent garden, but was limited by its northern climate.  Happily, as he rode on the Orient Express he saw an ad for a villa for sale near Pallanza, and realized he’d found a perfect sight for a botanical garden.  Over the years, until his death in 1964, McEacharn collected and planted plants from around the world, creating a masterpiece in the process.  Here’s a statue of McEacharn and a map of the garden:


The gardens are framed by blue Lake Maggiore and the snow-capped Alps in the background.  There are terraced gardens like the one below left and beautiful stonework.

Small waterfalls, ancient statuary, broad vistas, hidden nooks, fountains, magnificent trees, and even an herbarium can be found throughout the gardens.  Over 100 workers in 1936 and 1937 actually dug a valley, the winding “Valetta” for plants that required a shaded glade with protection from wind. There aren’t that many workers now, but I was surprised that they still use a twig broom to tidy sidewalks and also to level soil in garden beds.

     Here’s the winter garden:


     Although we were there in late October, just before the gardens were closing for the season, it was amazing.  Words can’t do it justice, so I’ll just let you drool over the photos.


 I was captivated by the “Dahlia Maze” (read about it in my blog post at

   In spring, that entire area transforms into a “Tulip Maze” and there are major areas devoted to spring shrubs like rhododendrons and the rare “Handkerchief” Tree, as well as blooming chestnuts, camellias, magnolias, Japanese cherry trees, forsythias, viburnum,  daphne, wisteria, heathers, and mimosas.  Add to that the thousands of woodland spring bloomers, primulas, narcissi, crocuses and other bulbs and I’m sure it’s breathtaking!  I think I need to go back!
     More on this trip next month…..and no, at this point in our trip, still no luggage!

1.  Keep collecting leaves and mulch to apply to beds once the ground has frozen.
2.  Several varieties of rosemary are currently in bloom.  I love to tuck rosemary sprigs into napkin rings to make the dining area smell delicious.  And, I always make cranberry-rosemary muffins for the holidays.   
3.  Many stores have amaryllis bulbs for sale for the holidays.  I like to pick up a few and start them now to enjoy once the Christmas decorations are put away. 
4.  Clip sprigs of horehound, thyme, rosemary, lavender, and bedstraw for embellishing the crèche scene.  Simply place them in flattened balls of clay to form small bushes and put sprigs in the manger.
5. Think about giving live plants to those on your shopping list.  Science reports that those who have plants and flowers in view heal more quickly, have a better outlook on life, have less depression, and are less stressed than those who don’t.  Who doesn’t need that?!?!


What I’m reading!
     I just finished my friend Shawna Coronado’s “Grow a Living Wall:  create vertical gardens with a purpose.”  If you’ve ever thought about growing vertical, this is the book you need.  Not only does it give lots of visual ideas and step-by-step (with photos) instructions, but there’s also a valuable resource guide in the back to help you source all the newest products to assist you in the project.  There are also some ideas using recycled materials for low-cost vertical gardens. 
     Whether you want to grow veggies, herbs, tea plants, succulents, shade-lovers, and plants for pollinators, or a cocktail garden, Shawna has the plan needed.  There are 23 different projects in all, but even if you don’t want to do an entire vertical garden, I gleaned lots of small ideas that I can incorporate into my existing spaces.


Marinated Cipollini
     I’ve mentioned the terrific, sweet Italian onions that I grew from seed this year before.  Knowing that I would be giving up my Cook’s garden at the farm, I actually grew them in a window box, and they did fine.  They are a small, flattened, very sweet onion that carmelizes beautifully because of high sugar content.  We like to par-boil them for 5 min and then grill them.  But, on this trip to Italy we discovered a wonderful way to use Cipollini, marinated in balsamic vinegar.  You can see them above on the left side of a delicious antipasto plate, served to us in a wine bar.  We ordered seconds, and actually went back the next night to have them again!  They were that good.  You can buy them canned in Italy, but I couldn’t find them here, so I’ve made my own.  Cipollini’s only drawback is that they only keep for about 3 months, especially the white ones, which is what I grew. (The yellow and red are better for storing, so I’m growing all 3 next year.) So, rather than have them spoil, I’ve marinated the last of my crop to enjoy into the New Year.  You can often find small bags of Cipollini with the shallots at large groceries or specialty markets.

Peel the onions (enough to loosely fill a quart jar…it will depend upon size.)  Place in a saucepan with a lid, and cover with water.  Bring to a boil on high heat. Reduce heat to medium, just so they simmer and cook 5 min.  Using a slotted spoon, remove onions from pan onto a sheet.Reserve 5 T. cooking liquid.  (Discard remaining liquid, or use as a tasty stock for soup!)
      Return the 5 T. reserved cooking liquid to saucepan.  Add a bay leaf, 1 tsp. rosemary and a few grinds of black pepper.  Heat just to boiling.  Remove from heat and pour into a quart jar.   Add 1 T. olive oil andonions.  Shake gently to disperse vinegar.  Add additional vinegar (about ½ c.) to finish filling jar.  Put lid on jar and allow to sit until cool.  Place in refrigerator and let marinate for at least 5 days, longer is better, if you can stand to wait!

Remind me next year to send out the November E-newsletter well before Thanksgiving, because trying to send it out during cyber-shopping weekend is entirely too frustrating!  I hope your Thanksgiving was filled with blessings, and that you are filled with Christmas spirit to get you through the shortest, darkest days of winter. 

Happy Holidays and Herbal Blessings,