Kitchen Gardening

One More Report–Writing from the Road: Spring Extravaganza at the Ozark Folk Center

Sometimes, in the spring with all of the traveling, I do feel disconnected, longing for some garden time.

Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger

Fun in the Ozarks!

The Heritage Herb Spring Extravaganza took place the first weekend of May at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas. I traveled there with an entourage from Maryland; joining me were Dr. James Duke and his wife Peggy Duke and Pat Kenny. We arrived on Wednesday in order to get ready for the big event which started with a Lavish Herbal Feast on Thursday along with a concert which featured Jim’s songs from his Herbalbum along with some new work. I had to do some advance prep and cooking with the staff at the Skillet Restaurant and Patricia French, who is a member of the Committee of 100, which raises funds for the gardens at the OFC and supports their events. Patricia and I worked together on the menu and recipes for the feast months beforehand. Jim needed a few rehearsals with the local musicians called The Ozark Folk Center Impromtu Band and singing group The Herbin’ League  since he was giving two programs–one at the feast and one at the big auditorium on Friday evening.

Some of the highlights were a Lavish Herbal Feast featuring bay, which is herb of the year 2009 and wild foods gathered from in and around the gardens combined with a huge variety of herbs; awesome music created by the folks there along with guest musician and lecturer, Jim Duke; Steven Foster’s accompanying media show and his photographic powerpoint presentation; the Bay Spectacular; engaging presentations and educational talks on many subjects, and an overwhelming sense of camaraderie. See schedule below.

Heritage Herb Spring Extravaganza
April 30 to May 3, 2009

Thursday, April 30, 6 p.m.—Lavish Herbal Reception and Feast (with recipes featuring Bay, Herb of the Year and favorite herb or wild foods recipes from our speakers) hosted by the Committee of 100 Herb Garden Committee.

This very special Heritage Herb Spring Extravaganza is an herbal convergence for three of our most beloved herbal authors and friends, Dr. Jim Duke, Steven Foster and Susan Belsinger. The Bay Spectacular will reveal every aspect of study and experience of the Herb of the Year, Laurus nobilis.  Steven and Jim’s programs on Friday will be laying the groundwork for identifying wild herbs in the Ozark National Forest on Sunday. Tina’s Goin’ a Gathering Greens on Saturday morning is a hands-on harvesting class for the greens we will eat in the Wild Mountain Quiche on Sunday morning in the Ozark National Forest.

Friday, May 1
9 to 9:15—Welcome and introduction
9:15 to 10:30 a.m.—Best Herbs to Know in the Ozarks Steven Foster
10:30 to 11—Break
11 to 12:30 p.m.—Mock-a-mole & Chile Non Carne Marion Spear
12:30 to 2 p.m.—Lunch (check out the herbal specials at the Skillet)
2 to 3:15 p.m.—Green Farmacy Garden Dr. Jim Duke
3:15 to 3:45—Break
3:45 to 5 p.m.—Sea Vegetables Pat Kenny

Saturday, May 2
9 to 10 a.m. —Your United States National Arboretum Herb Garden Pat Kenny
10 to 10:30–Break
10:30-11:30—Goin’ a Gatherin’ for Greens; a Hands-on Identification and Harvest Experience Tina Marie Wilcox
10:30-11:30—Tips for Keeping Your Container-Grown Herbs Happy Kathleen Connole
11:30 to 12:30 p.m.—Thinking of Trees as Herbs Steven Foster
12:30 to 2 p.m.—Lunch (check out the herbal specials at the Skillet)
2 to 4:30 p.m.—A Bay Spectacular (learn all about this herb of the year for 2009 from the medicinal and botanical aspects to rooting cuttings and cultivation, and of course, cooking!) Dr. Jim Duke, Steven Foster, Susan Belsinger, Kathleen Connole, and Tina Marie Wilcox.

Sunday, May 3
Wild Brunch & Native Herb Hike
9:00 a.m.-1:30 Bus departs from the Ozark Folk Center’s Administration Building for the Ozark National Forest. Full cast of herbalists: Jim Duke, Steven Foster, Susan Belsinger, Patricia French, Pat Kenny, Kathleen Connole and Tina Marie Wilcox 

On a very rainy Sunday morning we gathered for a Wild Foods Brunch and ate a delicious quiche prepared from greens that were gathered by Saturday’s wild greens class and included chickweed (Media stellaria)–I brought about a pound of it from my garden in Maryland–evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), sow thistle (Sonchas arvensis), curly dock (Rumex crispus), and the cultivated greens gone wild in the Kitchen Garden including arugula and kale. Deborah Redden who cooks in the Skillet Restaurant prepared her rendition of my recipe which is included here. We had muffins with Patricia French’ s huckleberry jam, fresh fruit with prickly pear syrup, coffee with chicory and hot milk, herb tea with wild and cutivated herbs and rosehips, and Patricia’s own wildflower honey. What a great send-off for our herb hike in the Ozark National Forest. We did not mind botanizing in the rain too much after being so well nourished. The forest was beautiful and shining in the rain and we walked in groups identifying a plethora of trees, native plants and wildflowers. It was rather breath-taking and ethereal; the yellow and orange columbines hanging above our heads growing from cracks in a sheer rock wall were totally amazing as were the walking ferns; and the meadows were strewn with the purple blooms of the lyre-leaf sage.

In between trips, I really go garden…

Sometimes, in the spring with all of the traveling, I do feel disconnected, longing for some garden time. However, once back home, I leave my suitcases unpacked and head outside to commune with nature. The garden and the trees, flowers, birds, bees and weeds don’t stop while I am gone! I feel happiest with my bare feet in the garden soil and earth on my hands and even under my fingernails. Is it hard for the rest of you to work in gloves too?  I start out with them, yet somehow they are always found lying about the garden where I took them off and left them. I head out to the garden in my overalls with my favorite garden tool called a horihori (a Japanese weeding knife) in the long pocket on my leg and my Felcos in my back pocket, feeling elated, ready for detailed inspection and action.

Early spring onions

In my Maryland zone 7 garden, we have had a cool spring and a lot of rain. This has been good for early crops–potatoes, onions, garlic and greens are thriving–and so are the weeds. I haven’t had time to get a load of wheat straw for vegetable garden mulch and those weeds just pop up and cover the freshly-tilled earth like a green blanket. Good thing I like to eat some of those weeds; had a bumper crop of chickweed and dandelions–they are gone now–and I am waiting for the purslane and lamb’s-quarters to appear.

I broadcast the radishes, beets, lettuces, spinach, arugula, and salad herbs like dill, cilantro, and chervil in little plots this year, which I think it makes it a bit harder to weed than when they are planted in rows; certainly not easily mulched.

Just-tilled and planted garden

Tomaso, my husband and man behind the tiller, helps to keep weeds under control when he has the time. He has had to spend a lot of time (and a bit of frustration, to put it nicely) this season maintaining our Troybilt rototiller, which we bought 31 years ago!  Last week he hilled up the potatoes by hand and dug holes for the tomatoes, peppers, squash, cukes and melon plants. I added and worked in organic fertilizer and a combination of manure and leaf compost to each hole and transplanted the vegetables, as well as my favorite herb, basil. Then we put huge tomato cages around each baby tomato plant. Over the past years, we have grown tomatoes on black plastic, staked them, and let them sprawl, and we feel that cages are the way to go. We make our own which are sturdier and much larger than what you can buy.

Hilled potatoes

The garden is nearly completely planted; saved a row to put the beans in. The greens and lettuces are filling in nicely. It is always so satisfying this time of year when everything is new and just emerging, neat and tidy, and we feel somewhat in control of things out there in our gardens. The challenge is keeping it that way. As the season warms up and the insects arrive in large numbers and the weeds want to take over and nudge us out, that is when we have to hold our ground. Right now, I am feeling pretty tired, yet content from my garden work and I am so anticipating that first ripe tomato. Things are looking good and I am going back out on the road to commune with fellow herbies and gardeners. While I am out there having fun, mother nature will be doing her thing and the garden will surely look different when I get back!   

On the Road Again…
I just came back from my most recent event, which was the Herb Society of America’s Annual Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, from June 5 to 7th. There were lots of exciting speakers and a new event called ‘A Festival of Fragrance and Flavor,’ where I demonstrated and presented a program on ‘Bay: An Herb Which Can Rest Upon Its Laurels.’ There were ten other presenters with me introducing the public and herbies alike to myriad herb-related topics. I also signed books at an herbal marketplace. This was a big meeting of herbal folks from across the nation and the tours are always good. For more info go to

Melon transplant

Two more upcoming herbal events that I will be attending and you might want to check out are the International Herb Symposium held in Massachusetts at Wheaton College from June 19 to 21st and the International Herb Association’s Annual Conference in Huntsville, Alabama from July 18 to 19th. The IHS gathering raises funds to support the United Plant Savers and will feature a large number of well-known herbalists, concentrating on the medicinal aspects of herbs, from all over the country. I will get to see old friends and am so excited to meet and hear herbalists, whose books I have used as sources for years. See

The IHA conference is always a get together of a diverse group of herbal people from growers and teachers to cooks and crafters who make their living with herbs. It is a smaller group, but their down-to-earth, hands-on, enthusiastic approach offers something for everyone. This year the association is getting ready for Dill, herb of the year for 2010 so I will be presenting ‘Dillicious Anethum graveolens‘ with fellow cook, Donna Frawley, and ‘A Dilly of An Umbel’ with Dr. Arthur Tucker. Public Ed Day will be held at the beautiful Huntsville Botanical Garden. To find out more, see the schedule and tours at  The wealth of herbal information, camaraderie and networking experienced at these events is unbelievable, not to mention the fun!

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