Carolee's Herb Farm

Carolee's Herb Farm

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

December E-Newsletter 2015

It’s been a busy month, as all Decembers are.  Record warm temperatures meant that I was able to continue to do yard and garden work.   There was decorating, extra baking, card writing, many Christmas parties and family gatherings to attend.  In addition, at a lovely reception, David was honored by Muncie Power Products for the many patents he was awarded during the 35 years he worked for the company.
     I finally decided it was time to start seeding for next season, so there were light stands to set up and potting soil to haul into the basement “plant room.”  I also potted up the amaryllis bulbs that had been resting in the dark, sketched planting plans for the new potager and ordered new inventory for the upcoming shows!  It’s hard to believe it’s only a few weeks till Herb Day!

Upcoming Events:
Illinois Herb Day—the Final One! Saturday, Jan. 23
The 17th Annual (alas Final, sob!)  Herb Day sponsored by the Univ. of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana 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.
     On this roster are Jim Long and Josh Young, from Long Creek Herbs in Blue Eye, Missouri,  Susan Belsinger from Brookside, Maryland, Tina Marie Wilcox, from the Ozark Mountain Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas, and Daniel Gagnon, from Herbs, Etc., in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  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.

Philadelphia Flower Show:  March 4-13, “Explore America, celebrating 100 Years of the National Park System” should provide plenty of inspiration for some of the most outstanding garden designers in America.  I’ve attended several years, and never been disappointed.  This year’s show also features a huge “Butterfly Showcase” and a miniature railroad that travels through replicas of some of our most famous National Parks.  Get your hotel room early!

9th Annual Spring Tonic: Saturday, March 5, 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
     We always enjoy this event, held at the Orange Co. Community Center in Paoli.  Speakers are Bill Abel, “Growing Your Own Fruit,” Carol Michel, “Grow Vegetables, No Excuses,” the always interesting Tom Turpin, “Pollen is the Word, Spread It Around,” and Bob Baird “Design Antidotes That Work.”  Registration is $35 by 2/19 or $40 after that date.  Fee includes breakfast and lunch.  We’ll have a full truckload, so come see us! Need more info, call 812-278-6794 or visit Purdue Master Gardener website.

Michigan Herb Conference:  Thursday, March 10, 8 a.m.-4:30
     Look for our booth at this event, to be held on the Michigan State campus at the MSU Plant and Soil Science Building.  This year’s theme is “A Garden Fiesta to Remember!” featuring the entertaining Lucinda Hutson, as well as Lori Evesque’s “Plants to Dye For,” Jessica Wright on “Cultivating the Recipe Garden, "and Merry Meyers teaches “Conquering Scientific Names in the Herb Garden.”  Big Silent Auction, Used Book Sale, Make & Take, Educational Displays, Flower Pot Raffle, fantastic herbal morning snack and salad bar luncheon included.  Info on-line at

Pansy Fest & Garden Show:  March 18 & 19
     We always enjoy having a booth at this fun show in Martinsville, IN and we’ll be there again so mark your calendar.  More details next newsletter.

Herb Symposiums:  April 9th,….take your pick!
     Sadly, both the Kentuckiana Herb Day and the Herb Society of Central Indiana’s annual symposiums are both scheduled on April 9th.  I wish I could be in both places at once, but I can’t.  Watch for more details on both in future newsletters.

Van Wert Blooms-Saturday, April 16
     If you are an avid gardener, you’ll want to attend this full-day gardening symposium featuring P. Allen Smith as the keynote presenter, and other outstanding speakers (Maria Zampini, Pam Bennett, Irvin Etienne from Indiana’s own IMA, the hilarious Amanda Thompson, author of “Kiss My Aster,” and Barbara Wise who is known for her excellent blog, “BWise Gardening.”  Tickets (includes breakfast and lunch) are $45.  Hours are 8-4 and the venue is the Noswonger Performing Arts Center.  Don’t miss this one! I’ve already ordered my tickets on-line.   Just “google” “Van Wert Blooms.”

Did you know:    
    * Sales of Proven Winner’s “Invincibelle Spirit” Hydrangea has resulted in $835,156.00 being given to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (as of Oct. 2015.)  Gardeners can make a difference.
     *To celebrate Indiana’s 200th birthday, gardeners are being asked to plant flower borders, park beds, and other areas in the state flag colors:  deep blue and gold.
     *Sunflowers use aleopathy to reduce competition in an area approximately 12” from their stems.    

Herb to Know:  Lemon Verbena
     This year, with no commercial greenhouse to house plants, and now limited to “sunny” windowsills (recognizing that in Indiana in winter, that’s an oxymoron) and a basement plant room, I had to re-evaluate my list of herbs that I will winter indoors.  Without question at the top of my list of “must-haves” was lemon verbena, a necessity for many of my tea blends, dessert recipes, and over-all mental health.
     You see, just rubbing a lemon verbena leaf improves my mindset, lifts my spirits, and produces images of high summer in the garden.  In my “olden” days, just finding a lemon verbena plant was difficult.  I ordered my first one from Adelma Simmons in Connecticut in the late 1960’s.  Today, finding a lemon verbena plant is not a problem.  Baby plants are available at most garden centers, but a baby plant will not give me the harvest of leaves that I require to maintain happiness over the long, long winter.   I need to start each season with a big plant that will get even bigger, so the first plant to move indoors and get the prime location was my lemon verbena.
     It should be one of the first plants moved indoors in any case, because as a tropical plant, it is very susceptible to frost.  Before I bring it in, I give it a spray with insecticidal soap, being sure to get the undersides of all the leaves and let it sit for about 20 minutes.  Then I give it a good rinsing with the garden hose and let it dry outside.  Meanwhile, I spread a clean sheet or tablecloth on a table at a sunny window.  When the plant is dry, it goes on the table and then I wait.
     Unfortunately, lemon verbena is one of the most finicky plants I’ve ever grown.  It just doesn’t like change, in weather, in location, or much of anything else.  After a few days of pouting, no matter how much I coax and baby it, it usually drops all its leaves in a fit of temper.  After that happens, I move it to the brightest window and ignore it, except for keeping the soil slightly moist and watching for whiteflies.
     The sheetful of dropped leaves gets moved out of the sun, usually onto the dining room table.  Put them in a single layer and wait until the leaves are totally dry and crispy, which doesn’t take long.  Then put them in airtight containers and store them in a dark cupboard until  needed for a recipe, like the yummy Lemon Verbena-Coconut cookies below.  
     Eventually, the lemon verbena plant realizes that life is not so bad after all, and begins to grow new leaves.  This decision may take a few weeks or a few months, depending upon how stubborn the individual is.  I’ve found that if I have several plants, they tend to leaf out faster.  I think they are also very competitive, and once one plants sends out a leaf, they all hurry to catch up.
     Towards the end of February, when the days are getting longer and usually sunnier, they are ready for a light feeding (quarter-strength) of diluted fish emulsion or other high nitrogen fertilizer every other watering.   
     With some plants, I move them in and out to harden them off, but with the touchy lemon verbena, I’ve found it works best just to wait until there is no night-time frost and then move them where I plan to keep them for the summer.  I always repot them just before I move them out.  If they are going to pout over everything I do, it’s best just to do it all at once.  Usually they are so grateful for the bigger pot (about 2” taller and wider than the present one) and being returned to the sunshine and fresh air, that they settle right in for the summer and begin to produce an abundance of new leaves.
     Don’t be afraid to begin snipping 3” clippings to put in your tea or cocktails.  In fact, I usually snip any branch that is 5” long or more before I up-pot them and move them outdoors.  It is good to cut the tips of the stems because this causes them to branch, and makes the plant bushier and more productive.  Just never harvest more than 1/3 of the plant, and allow new branches to get 4-5” long before you cut another 3” off.  You may also harvest larger, lower individual leaves throughout the summer.  Always cut off any flowering stems as soon as they appear.  There is nothing to gain by letting the plant use its energy to produce those tiny, almost insignificant flowers rather than more useful leaves.
     Additional plants can be made by rooting some of those 3” cuttings.  Choose one with a growth point about ½” above the cut.  Carefully pinch or snip off any leaves on the bottom 1”, and any that curve downward and might touch the soil.  Strike the cutting into sterilized soil, lightly pressing the soil around it so it doesn’t fall over, but not pressing so hard that new roots will find it difficult to penetrate.  Mist the cutting and tent it with a plastic bag, but don’t seal it at the bottom.  Place in a warm, bright location, out of the wind and direct sunlight.  Keep the soil moist.  If there is a lot of condensation of the plastic bag, open it up a bit more so the leaves won’t mold.  After a few weeks, new roots should have formed, and you will have a new plant!                                  

Our travels continued….
     As you may recall from the last newsletter, we traveled to Italy to visit our daughter and son-in-law.  I won’t relate everything that we saw and did, only what relates to herbs and gardening.  After thoroughly enjoying the famous gardens at Villa Taranto, we left Verbania and Lake Maggiore, driving west and slightly north into the region of Aosta.  This valley is famous for old castles, which line this major trading route that has been defended since early times.  The snow-capped Alps made a beautiful backdrop as we traveled a road once used by the Romans, and later Napoleon.


     As always in Italy, the food in this region is amazing.  I had a luscious pumpkin-filled tortellini served with a honey-butter-sage sauce that I hope to duplicate.  The local wines are excellent, the towns and shops are delightful…more Bavarian than I expected, with edelweiss linens, carved trolls, and decorative beer steins.
     We reluctantly moved on to Alba, where FINALLY our luggage caught up with us.  What a relief is was to be able to change clothes.  The highlights here, besides lovely scenery and good food, were a concert in an ancient church and the 85th International Truffle Festival.  You can read more about that at my blog:  The festival brings in hundreds of tourists, so there was quite a festive atmosphere, lots of street musicians, puppeteers, etc.
     Our next destination was Barolo, famous for its wines, “The king of wines and the wine of Kings!”  The wine is used to coat the local cheese, turning it black, and thus making the cheese very, very expensive! 

I’d never seen a tasting room with self-serve tastings.  Visitors get a glass and a “credit card.”  Stroll along the row of bottles, and when you see something you’d like to taste, simply insert your card and place your glass under the dispenser.  When you are finished tasting, the clerk swipes the card, and you must pay the total.  Unfortunately, all the wines were red, so instead of tasting, I walked up to the top of the castle to take photos.


     On to San Remo which is famous for its beach, but even more for its huge casino, which didn’t tempt any of us.  We’d come for the gardens.  The first was a strenuous hike up, up, up through the winding streets of the ancient town.  It was sad to see that San Remo doesn’t seem to put much effort into restoring, or even maintaining the heart of their old city.  We finally made it to the very top for the Queen’s Gardens, which were basically disappointing, except for a few fine old trees. 

However, we did enjoy the beautiful mosaic leading up to an ancient church, and wandering through the market. 


I was happy to see these herb plants and seed packets for sale.


     Hanbury Botanical Gardens were much nicer.  Located on the coast, just a few miles from France (close to Monaco and Nice) these gardens are nestled on the side of the hill overlooking the sea. 


I’ve never seen such huge aloes and agaves. 


There was a huge collection of sages, Australian trees, roses, and lots of fruit trees. 


Monster brugmansias perfumed the air, and passionflowers wound their way through and up pine and palm trees, across trellises and pavilions.


     Our next destination was Dolceacqua, with its old castle and long, high, curved bridge that Monet’s paintings made famous. 


Under the castle was an intriguing warren of narrow passages, winding stairs and closet-sized shops.  We chose to take the “back roads” to return to San Remo, by way of Apricale, reputed to be one of the most picturesque towns in Italy.  The roads were hairpin turns with no guard rails and no room to pass, with sheer drops down the mountains….hair-raising, but absolutely gorgeous views.
     The drives through wine-country and the Po River Valley, which grows all the risotto rice was indescribably beautiful dressed in its autumn foliage. 


We visited small towns, most memorable of which was Acqui Terme, with its hot springs right in the center square.  People came with small cups to drink the “healthful” waters, but the smell did not encourage sampling for me. 


As we drove back to Milan, I spotted this little veggie garden along the road.  Sadly, it was time to bid Italy “Farewell.”


Lemon Verbena Coconut Cookies
     Easy, moist, and good to store.  In fact, flavor improves if allowed to “age” a day.
     Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Put parchment paper on 2 baking sheets.   Place 1 large egg white in a mixing bowl and allow to reach room temperature.
     Measure out a heaping ½ c. dried lemon verbena leaves.  Remove the tough center stem from the leaves, either with scissors, or by rubbing the leaves between your fingers.   (Discard stems or throw them into your next pot of tea!) Place leaves in a small food processor with ¼ tsp. salt and 1 T. sugar.  Process until mixture is like sand.  There should be 2 T.  If not, process more leaves.
     Beat egg white until light and frothy.  Add lemon verbena mixture, whisking well.  Add 1 can Eagle sweetened condensed milk, whisking well.  Add the zest of a lemon and 1 tsp. lemon juice, mixing well.
     Change to a spoon or spatula and stir in 14 oz. sweetened flaked coconut, mixing well.  Using two spoons, shape into 2” mounds, flattening with the back of a spoon until about  1” high, spacing them at least 1” apart.  Bake 20-25 min, until lightly browned on tops and bottoms.  Makes 40.

Another year is nearly over, and it’s been such a year of change, but nearly all good ones.  I hope your holidays are filled with joy and that the New Year brings many blessings, fun-filled times, good friends, and peace to your heart.  

Herbal blessings, Carolee