Carolee's Herb Farm

Carolee's Herb Farm

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


 May E-Newsletter 2017

As May draws to a close, recall for a moment all the beautiful flowering trees, spring bulbs, and gorgeous wildflowers that had their fleeting hours in the sun.  Now the canopy of trees shade many areas, the ephemerals disappear, and the summer sun takes on a bit of a glare….on the few occasions that it chooses to appear.  Mostly, May has been a gray, wet month.  Gardeners and farmers have prayed for those few days when fields and gardens could be worked and planted.  As we watch the pooling rain form into lakes and flooding streams and fields, we mumble pleas for it to stop, and hope that we won’t find ourselves wishing for it, praying for it to begin later on during the blasts of summer heat.  Everyone is hoping June will be a better month.

Upcoming Events:
Market on Moss:  May 27, 9-3
     This unique French Flea Market experience is held annually at my friend Jan Powers’ Stone Well Garden (the garden has been featured in national garden magazines!) in Peoria, IL, 2320 W. Moss Ave.  Antiques, plants, live topiaries, art, herbs, and more!  Take a truck…you’ll need hauling space!

Minnetrista Garden Fair:  Sat., June 3, 8-4; Sunday, June 4, 10-3
     This annual event is attended by nearly 5,000 gardeners.  Large tents house a variety of vendors selling plants, garden décor, pottery, and more.  Several horticultural groups also have displays.  Be sure to visit the outstanding gardens surrounding the cultural center, the Orchard Gift Shop, and on Saturday morning, the adjoining Farmers’ Market.

P. Allen Smith’s Moss Mountain Farm
     Early this month, as part of the Herb Society of America conference, I was able to visit the home of garden designer, artist, author, and all-around great guy, P. Allen Smith.  Although his home looks like it was built in the late 1800’s it is actually a fairly recent (10 yrs. ago) construction with all the modern amenities.  Built on a hilltop that includes 600 acres near Little Rock, Arkansas, the home reflects Allen’s roots and artistic sense.   Before the house was begun, Allen constructed a series of terraced gardens leading down to the Arkansas River, opening vistas, and planting trees.  He also planted nearly half a million daffodils in a meadow near the house!  I’ll cover more of the gardens in future newsletters, but here is my visit to his 1 acre vegetable garden.  This rectangular garden lays quite a hike downhill from the house.  Follow the gravel lane to an opening in the trees. Each side of  the main entrance is planted with colorful flowers and screened by trellised fruit trees.  Just inside, there are raised herb beds on either side and long, long rows of asparagus.

Two identical garden sheds flank the opening, as you can see.  The bottom left photo was taken inside the garden, looking back towards the entrance from one of the many side paths. 

There are several containers planted with veggies and flowers to welcome visitors.  The sheds are decorated with old tools that appear to be well-used and tended. 


 On the main path side of each shed is a lovely bench for resting.  Under trees to the left of the sheds as you enter is an area of potted plants and flats waiting to be added to the bountiful garden, including this beautiful espalier fruit tree. 

   A wide main path divides the garden into halves.  All along this main path are decorative flowers, planted for their beauty or fragrance.  Most of them weren’t edible, but many did attract pollinators. 

There were multiple paths dividing the garden into beds and sections, as well as long tunnels (visible in right photo, upper right corner) which would be covered with vine crops later in the season. Large patches of cabbages, broccoli, lettuces, garlic and kales were enjoying the spring weather. 


Beds were punctuated with these attractive wooden obelisks, some of which held hops vines.  Much of the bed of spinach, upper right, has already been harvested.

     Long rows of blueberries and red raspberries were filling with fruit.  (Close-up berries on left, long row on right)

  In the photo on the left, you can see one of many long rows of blackberries, heavy with fruit that is yet to ripen.  Lots of garlic, onions, and shallots act as companion plants to discourage insects.

Some crops were planted in decorative blocks, like the red mustard and chartreuse lettuce above right.  Most of the garden was in full harvest mode already, since it is much farther south than Indiana.  In fact a few areas had already been harvested, making way for succession crops of tomatoes, peppers, squashes, pumpkins, and other heat-loving crops. Newly planted peppers will soon surround the poles covered in climbing hops.

     I’d seen Allen’s vegetable garden on his TV show (he’s on 96 PBS stations across the country) but it really didn’t give a proper sense of scale.  It was truly inspirational.  This garden is LARGE, one acre filed with crops and I’m glad it’s not my responsibility to keep it weeded!  Next month, I’ll show you the terrace gardens, rose gardens, and more!

Chive Vinegar
     If you haven’t already, hurry to make chive vinegar.  If you don’t remove the flowers, they will self-seed everywhere, so why waste them?  Simply pop the lovely purple-pink blooms off the chives (best done after a rain so they are clean, but dry) and put them into a jar.  Cover with vinegar (white wine, apple cider, or plain white) and add a couple of wine corks or a wad of waxed paper to hold the chive blossoms under the surface.  Allow to steep for a week or two.  The vinegar will become a beautiful rosy-pink color, with a lovely mild onion flavor.  Use in salad dressings or stir fry.
     If you don’t make vinegar, then tear apart the flowers to use in salads or to top canape, stir into cream cheese for a delightful spread on crackers, or add to sour cream as a vegetable dip.  Put them in cole slaw, or sprinkle them on baked potatoes.  Use those flowers!

1) Plant sweet alyssum close to seating areas now to enjoy its fragrance, and let it self-seed, so you can enjoy it again later.  It is also a great companion plant for everbearing strawberries, helping to attract pollinators.
2) Keep pansies deadheaded to prolong bloom, and remember they are heavy feeders, so fertilize when you water.  Move containers of pansies into partial afternoon shade when the days get hot.
3) Dead head daffodils and other spring bulbs, but allow the foliage to ripen and turn brown before you remove it.  Fertilize finished bulbs, so they have lots of nourishment to produce bigger bulbs and flowers next spring.  Mark clumps that will need to be divided the end of August.
5) Feed emerging lilies with a bloom booster fertilizer (big middle number).
6) Prune spring flowering shrubs right after they bloom
7) The first feeding for the lawn needs to be done around Memorial Day
8) Plant some containers with annuals in your favorite colors to pop into the garden areas close to patios and decks, if nothing is blooming there.  You can move them around as needed, or collect them into a grouping for parties.
9) Scissor mums and asters every three weeks, so they will get really bushy and sturdy.  I usually clip off an inch or two each time.   Stop trimming July 4th.  You can also trim sedums, phlox, or monarda to promote more blooms and keep them from sprawling.
10) Check lilies, peonies, delphiniums and other tall perennials for staking needs—it seems to be a windy season
11) Keep an eye on hollyhocks for those nasty little worms that skeletonize their leaves.  Spray with insecticidal soap, being sure to get the undersides of the leaves where the insect eggs will be hatching.
12) Those little beetles that make the brown spots on mint leaves are already here….trim off those leaves and spray with insecticidal soap.  The mint will quickly grow fresh new leaves.
13) Watch carefully for cabbage loopers on brassicas.  At first sign, hand pick or spray with organic Bt, a naturally occurring bacteria that will kill hatching worms as soon as they begin feeding.  Spray after each rain, getting undersides of leaves, too.

Did you know:
*Researchers have found that St. Johnswort inhibits the action of almost all other drugs, including those given to prevent organ transplant rejection, heart medications, and even birth control pills!
*Consumers did record-breaking spending for Easter, $18.4 billion!
*The Perennial Plant of the Year for 2017 is Asclepias tuberosa, Butterflyweed, the host plant for monarchs.

Herb to Know:Asclepias/Butterfly flower
     It is exciting and gratifying to see the interest that homeowners are showing in providing habitats and food sources for butterflies.  The beautiful, graceful insects not only provide a bit of magic to gardens, but they are important pollinators for many plants.  Sadly, changes in land use, crop practices, and increases in harmful chemicals have reduced many food and refuge sources thus reducing butterfly populations.  Every gardener can make a difference by making just a few easy choices.
     There are many plants that provide nectar over long periods and for many different kinds of butterflies.  One of the top plants is Asclepiastuberosa, more often called butterfly weed or butterfly flower.  Another valuable plant in this family is milkweed, Asclepiassyriaca.Any variety of Asclepias is especially important for monarchs, because they only lay their eggs and their caterpillars MUST feed on members of this family.  Not only do many species of butterflies feed on Asclepias, but hummingbirds are also drawn to these flowers.  Most of these plants are natives, and are rabbit and deer resistant.  Generally they prefer full sun, but they can tolerate some shade.
     All of the Asclepias family is easy to grow, and many of them were normally found all along roadsides, fence rows, and wayside places.  However, in recent years these plant populations have been significantly reduced as more roadsides are mowed or sprayed, fencerows are eliminated, and construction changes land use.
      Butterfly weed or butterfly flower, Asclepias tuberose, has bright orange blooms.  In olden days it was often called “pleurisy root” or “swallow-wort.”   It was an important medicinal herb both to the Greeks, who named it Asclepias after the God of medicine and North American natives who used it for respiratory illnesses.  There are other asclepias varieties with yellow, red, rose, or white blooms.  All of them have the familiar bumpy pods that open to release silky “parachutes” that carry flat brown seeds.  These silky threads were gathered by the millions of pods during WWII, when they were used as the filler for lifejackets for sailors during the war.  The plants also have a sticky white sap within their stems.
     Swamp milkweed, Asclepiasincarnata, is another beautiful native plant, growing 3-5’ in height.  As the name implies, it can tolerate damp soils, but they also thrive in average soil.  The flowers of this plant are generally pink and bloom in June and July.  However, hybridizers have worked with this plant to produce plants called “Ice Ballet” that have pure white blooms.
     The only Asclepias we grow that is not winter hardy here in central Indiana is Bloodflower, Asclepiascurassavica.  The showy red and gold blooms delight monarchs and human viewers alike.  Outdoors, they grow 2-3’ in height after being planted once the danger of frost is past.  In the greenhouse, they often reach 6’.  There is a new variegated version of this tropical milkweed as well.
     All of the Asclepias family are slow-risers in spring, preferring to emerge after many other plants are off and running!  Mark their location in autumn, be patient, and do not disturb their soil.  They are generally very reliable and will appear eventually!  The butterflies and hummingbirds will thank you for including them in your garden!

Caramelized Apple& Coriander Seed Tartlets
This recipe is from Chef Cathy Richardson at the HSCI symposium in April.  It’s so easy, and perfect for an afternoon tea that I make them often.  Add a drizzle of caramel sauce and a fluff of whipped cream for an elegant dessert.
     Roll out a box (225g) of Puff Pastry to 1/8” thick.  Using a 3” cookie cutter, cut discs and each into tartlet pan (or cupcake pan.)  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
     Thinly peel and slice 4 small cooking apples (small fit the pastry better, or cut large slices in half) into 1/8” thick slices, arranging them in overlapping rows in the pastry cups.  Sprinkle each tartlet with a generous pinch of bruised coriander seeds.  Sprinkle each tartlet generously with sugar (about ¾-1 tsp. each.)  Bake 15-20 min., until nicely browned and the apple juices have caramelized with the sugar.
     Sprinkle a piece of parchment paper with sugar.  Carefully transfer tartlets to paper for cooling.  Makes 12-14 tartlets.

Until next month, have a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend.  And don’t forget to visit my blog for even more gardening info, humor, and ideas.  You can access it from the website by clicking on “Garden Journal” in the bar under the header, or go to  I hope June is kind and gentle for you and your gardens,

Herbal Blessings, Carolee