Carolee's Herb Farm

Carolee's Herb Farm

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August 2016 E-Newsletter

     What a fun month August has been!  The potager has been bountiful, so canning, pickling, and preserving has been high on my priority list.  Cans of tomato sauce, tomato juice, two kinds of salsa, spaghetti sauce, marinated Cipollini, pizza sauce, more bread and butter pickles, more French cornichons, dill pickles, pickled beets, strawberry-rhubarb jam, sauerkraut, and green beans now line my shelves.  I love looking at those glistening jars filled with summer’s goodness, but we’ll love eating it even more when the snow flies and the thermometer’s red line is barely visible.  The freezer is full of berries, peppers, pesto, peas, snow peas, and broccoli, and I’m debating whether a second freezer is needed.  My Wisconsin friend, Pat Greathead freezes loaves and loaves of squash breads.  They were so delicious, and I have lots of both summer and winter squashes to harvest.  There are still more cabbages and carrots to preserve.  Freezer slaw?  And, I want to freeze vegetable soup mix and maybe spinach, if the fall crop does well.
     My daughter from Florida visited, helping tweak the garden before a visit from the local garden club and making part of the buffet we served.  It is so much fun to work together, and we were sad to see her leave.  But, I was leaving as well, to speak at the Regional HSA Gathering near Milwaukee (read more below.)
     There was just time to do laundry, repack, spend a day canning more tomatoes, publish a blog post, and do a bit of deadheading before we left for an MG event in Akron, OH.  While David was busy with his car show, I sneaked away to visit garden centers (read more below.)  Now we are back, with only a few days left of August.  The schools are already in session, football has returned, the State Fair is over, and sadly, we just sense that the summer season is coming to an end.  Fortunately, the fall-seeded crops of arugula, turnips, lettuces, beans, kohlrabi, radishes and more are emerging, so there’s still lots to anticipate.  And decorating for autumn can be so much fun with colorful mums, bales of straw, and soon we'll be adding pumpkins!

HSA Gathering—A Real Knock Out Event!
     If you missed the recent Central Region Herb Gathering, you missed a wonderful event.  The Wisconsin Unit hosted, in celebration of their 40th year, and it was obvious that 40 years of experience went into this event!  The food was absolutely amazing, in an ever-changing buffet of goodies from breakfast to after-dinner treats.  The event site was lovely; the silent auction was huge.  Everyone received a bag of surprises and also a door prize.  I truly enjoyed the other presentations on Monarch Butterflies and Native American Medicinal Plants, but it was the garden visits that excited me most. (Read more below.)  There won’t be another Gathering until 2018, but I’m already looking forward to attending….wherever and whenever it is!  Thank you, Wisconsin herbies for hosting such a memorable event!

If you have never been to Boerner Botanical Gardens, do try to go.  The gardens are outstanding, as shown by the above photos.  We toured the lovely herb garden, which is divided into four topics. 


The plants were thriving, arranged in beautiful groupings, and properly labelled.  The centerpiece (in my opinion) is a lovely, imaginative fairy garden, which is scheduled to be removed at the end of the season.

I could have just sat on a bench all afternoon, enjoying the fragrances and pollinators, and peeking at fairies.  Nearby was this tidy planting of various thymes beneath a tree that was very well done.

 The extensive Rose Garden was next, and although I am not a fan of single plant type gardens, I enjoyed the view from the shaded pergola.  We were running out of time, but I managed to sprint to the “All American Trial Gardens” which were located across the parking lot.  It was outstanding, and begged for more time, but we were on a tight schedule.

     The visit to Will Radler’s personal 2-acre garden was an experience.  Will developed the “Knock Out” rose, which has made him a millionaire plus.  His garden is his passion and we were privileged to be allowed to visit.  Even before we entered, it was apparent that a talented gardener lived there.  The entrance (above left) was lovely, and the wide borders outside the critter-proofing fence were extensive.

     Inside, Will was there to greet us.  I’d met him at a Garden Writers’ Event before, and it was great to spend time with him again.  Of course, this Knock Out Rose has a place of prominence, growing as a standard in a pot near the entrance.  Of course there are roses.  Lots and lots of roses, mixed into the perennial borders, climbing up the sides of buildings, and along the fences. Will and his staff plant 500 new seedlings each year in his “Rose Boot Camp.”  

Will hand-pollinates flowers, marks and numbers the crosses, and covers them with aluminum foil so the bees can’t contaminate his work.  Once the hips are ripe, the seeds are harvested and sown in the extensive propagation area in his basement.  Every plant is carefully monitored.  Once they reach maturity, they are planted in the “boot camp.” Then Will stresses them by under and over-watering, sprays them with diseases, introduces bugs and stands back to see which ones survive.  Those that do get to live on, assuming they have outstanding bloom size and color, tidy foliage, high bud count, above-average hardiness, and meet all the additional criteria Will expects.  The others are all ripped out, even if they are a pretty rose.  They must be different, better, than anything already on the market.  After a few years of observation, one or two are selected for trial, and sent to specific gardens in various geographic areas to test their performance.  If they are successful, they are introduced to the market place and become available to happy gardeners around the world. 


This beautiful rose is currently being tested in gardens across the country, and if it performs well, it may be introduced to the marketplace in a year or two.  It works in my color scheme, so I’m hoping it is available soon!

     Stone plays an important role throughout the gardens, from forming retaining walls to informal seating and end tables made of granite.  You'll also notice lots of stone boulders in various garden photos included here, many stone stepping stones, stone patios, walking paths, and creek bottoms lined with various stones.

     The “Shed-Ma-Hal” is relatively new, and looks like a guest house, but a peek inside reveals that it is truly a working gardener’s shed.  There are over two acres of gardens, divided into rooms with varying styles and moods. Here are four examples.


I took dozens of photographs, and it was difficult to limit the number shown here.  Will does open his garden occasionally for charity events, for those of you who might live in the Milwaukee area, or visit there.

Akron Garden Centers Visited
     During a recent MG car event in Akron, OH I was luckily able to skip out on a day of car show, and visit some of the local garden centers.  There are others in the area, but I only had time to visit three.  Here’s my report.
Graf Growers on White Pond Drive was recommended by one of the locals, and since it was near our hotel, it was my first stop. This pretty display garden welcomes visitors near the entrance.  Seasonal display like the sunflowers were visible and well-done.


There was a lovely display of items for miniature gardens, and everything needed to make a terrarium was easy to find in one location.  I loved these beautifully painted fall pots, all ready to plant and place by the front door or on the patio for the autumn season.

  A short drive away, I found Donzell’s Flower & Garden Center, which was much more up-scale, larger, and with more plant material and much, much more indoor “store” area.  This has to be one of the cleanest,tidiest garden centers I've ever visited.  Every corner was filled with special eye-catching displays that were well-lit with good signage.  From the welcoming display of cheerful sunflowers near the entrance to the echo sunflower display indoors, everything was just fun.  


No matter what your interests, one could find a special item of interest, like these whimsical dragons below left, and the adorable hedgehogs below right. 

Fairy gardening was beautifully done, with a large display of outdoor plants, and lots of accessories inside the large shop.

They had a great selection of miniature shrubs, and huge displays of pottery all grouped by color.  Oh, yes, if I'd been driving the truck, the checkbook would have bled badly!

  But, if you are on a tight budget, check out their "Plant Adoption Center."  Both the photos below were taken there, where "All adoptions are final!"  All of these plants were either free or greatly reduced, and there were a lot of great bargains.


Canton Road Garden Center was my last stop.  Small, but friendly, they were having a big sale on flowering shrubs and roses that also made me wish I were driving my pick-up truck, rather than the tiny convertible.  Although their ad said it was a 3 acre nursery, it didn’t seem nearly as large as the others.  However, they had a nice selection of interesting things, including topiaries, unusual hibiscus, an array of mums just barely showing color (don't you hate it when a mum plant is already fully opened?)

and some very interesting house plants, like a big assortment of pitcher plants in hanging baskets.

  I encourage residents of this area to support these family-operated garden centers, and if you plan on visiting the area, drive your truck!

Herb To Know: Scarlet Pimpernel

     I enjoy watching old movies, and when the “Scarlet Pimpernel,” filmed in 1934, starring Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon came on I knew I would watch it, if only because of the herbal connection.  
“What’s that?” you say, “Scarlet Pimpernel is an herb?”  Yes, gentle reader, Scarlet Pimpernel, Anagallisarensis, is a traditional medicinal herb used in olden days to treat jaundice, droopsy, snake bite, and rabies.  An ointment of scarlet pimpernel was often used to draw out splinters, thorns, cacti and thistle needles.  A tea was brewed from the leaves for depression.  A powder of the leaves was sniffed through the nose for toothache.  The juice from crushed stems and leaves was mixed with honey for bruises, skin blemishes and freckles.  The juice used alone was often used to treat eye ailments, and for many decades it was used in Europe to dilate the eye before cataract surgery.
     Of course, none of these treatments would be effective unless the herb were harvested correctly, which included the ritual of going to the herb plant before sunrise; bowing and bidding the plant “good morning” three times.  These must be the first words out of the collector’s mouth for the day.  If one speaks to someone, or even some “thing” (animal or inanimate objects count) prior to greeting the plant, it will not work.  After the greeting, carefully dig the scarlet pimpernel, put down your tools, and then throw the plant into the air, catching it before it touches the ground.  Only then, could the plant be juiced, dried, chopped or used in any way medicinally and achieve the desired results.
     Native to England, the pimpernel was probably brought to American and Asian shores by sailors, because its common name is “Poor Man’s Weatherglass.”  The tiny orange flowers only open when the weather is sunny, and responds to dropping air pressure or quickly dropping temperatures by closing even if it appears to be a pretty day.   This predictive ability is responsible for its “poor man’s weather glass” or “poor man’s barometer” common names, and for its popularity with sailors.
     The plant itself is common on bare and disturbed ground, near most shores and on sea cliffs, but also on farms, hedgerows, along sidewalks or tucked next to buildings in the city.  It is an annual, prostrate, and spreading, reminding some of sweet woodruff for its square stems and habit.  The flower is small, usually under1/2 inch in diameter, and has 5 scarlet-orange petals with a purple eye and a fringe of hairs, with 5 bright orange stamens. The fruits are globose capsules and abundant, allowing the plant to self-seed with abandon.  The small green leaves are opposite, pointed ovals that attach directly onto the stem.  I did not plant scarlet pimpernel in my new potager border, but it is there, attracting fairies and catching my eye.  I’m happy to have it, although I know it will bear watching at seed-setting time.  Fortunately, the plants are easily pulled, so I can limit the population to one or two.

Recipe:  Change-Up Chicken Bake

This delicious, easy recipe can be varied in many ways, depending upon what is available from your garden or farmers’ market.  The standard recipe is in regular type, the variations I’ve tried are in italics, but feel free to experiment by exchanging your family’s favorite veggies, or making additions, like mushrooms or diced celery.
In a large cast iron (or oven proof) skillet, brown 4 slices bacon until crisp.  Remove bacon.  Brown 4-8 chicken thighs (or other chicken pieces) on each side in bacon drippings, seasoning each side lightly with salt and pepper.  Remove chicken.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Dice 1 c. onion, adding it to skillet over medium heat.  Remove the ribs and stems from 8-10 stalks of Swiss chard (about 1 c. diced stems), dice and add to skillet, covering and cooking about 5 min.  While stems and onion cook, coarsely chop chard leaves (about 3 c.) (or substitute spinach leaves, or 2 cans of spinach, drained) and dice 1-2 c. tomatoes.  Add chard leaves to skillet, cover and cook just until wilted.  Remove skillet from heat.
Drain 1 can cannellini beans and 1 can garbanzo beans, reserving ½ c. liquid. (Or use all 1 type of bean, or use green beans from the garden, or lima beans)  Add beans to skillet, along with diced tomatoes and 1 T. finely chopped fresh summer or winter savory.  (or rosemary, or thyme, or other favorite herb)Stir gently until blended, adding reserved ½ c. liquid from beans (or stock or red wine).  Crumble bacon over topand sprinkle with 3 T. finely chopped fresh basil.  Place browned chicken on top.  Bake 35 min.  Sprinkle with 1 c. grated cheese.  Bake 5 more min.  Sprinkle with fresh basil just before serving.
     (You can give this dish a Mexican flavor by using all garbanzo beans, adding a bit of hot pepper, more tomatoes and using cilantro instead of basil, along with Mexican cheeses.  Or, using all cannellini beans and substituting diced zucchini for chard stems, and adding oregano makes it more Italian, especially with Parmesan cheese.  Go French with red wine, tarragon, parsley.  Experiment!)

And as August comes to an end, I wish you a restful and relaxing Labor Day.  Remember that September is National Honey Month, so support your local bee keepers.  They are important people who do a vital service.  And, don't forget to visit my blog: for new articles about growing miniature melons, using orange in the garden, and lots more. 

Herbal Blessings, Carolee