Herbal holidays Relief: Herb farms are oases of calm amid the winter holiday clatter.

November 29, 1998|By Nancy Taylor Robson | Nancy Taylor Robson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

This time of year, I long to dive into a Currier and Ives print to escape the commercial clatter of the holidays. But a visit to an herb farm runs a close second in restorative benefit. Most herb farms offer not only fresh potted herbs and herbal gifts, but also classes, seminars and events to celebrate the season. Here's a sampling:

An Eastridge Garden in rural Centreville sells tropical plants, herbs, herbal gifts, trees and shrubs. Proprietor Sally Foster's rosemary and ivy topiaries share space in five greenhouses with potted herb gardens and living herbal wreaths, elegant centerpieces that also add flavor to holiday meals.

Eastridge's Christmas Open House will take place Friday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., with food, punch, music and a decorated Christmas tree in the greenhouse. Next spring, Eastridge plans to have courses on bonsai, perennials, orchids and cooking with herbs.

Willow Oak Flower and Herb Farm in Severn, five miles south of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, is 40 acres of herbal refuge in the midst of urban sprawl. Willow Oak boasts 14 specialty gardens including white, silver, tea, Christmas, medicinal, culinary, fragrance, potpourri and knot gardens as well as two perennial gardens.

Owner Maria Price, who holds a master's degree in pharmacognosy - the study of the chemical compounds of plants for medicinal use - teaches classes and gives luncheon-lectures (for groups by appointment) at the farm on a wide range of herbal topics. She also teaches a course on medicinal herbs at Anne Arundel Community College.

At Christmastime, Price and her family decorate the barn and greenhouse with ornaments made from dried flowers, spices and symbolic herbs. "Thyme was said to be growing around the manger," explains Price. "Lavender symbolizes Mary's devotion. We have a wreath-making class in symbolic herbs."

Holiday workshops cover such subjects as herbal Christmas ornaments (Saturday), herbal holiday gifts (Dec. 12) and centerpieces (Dec. 19). The farm remains open to the public until Dec. 19.

Established in 1961 by Hildreth Morton, Bittersweet Hill Nurseries in Davidsonville grows bonsai, edible flowers and a broad selection of culinary and decorative herbs, as well as topiaries of rosemary or Greek myrtle.

The farm also has three enormous water lily ponds. "We specialize in ponds and aquatic plants, and have lots of water features that people can use in their houses during the winter," Morton says.

Bittersweet is open year-round, although it closes promptly at dark in fall and winter because of the poinsettias it raises.

"Poinsettias have to have 12 hours of uninterrupted darkness to set their flower buds," Morton says.

Bittersweet's annual Herbal Christmas Celebration will take place Saturday and next Sunday from 10 p.m. to 4 p.m. with herbal refreshments, fresh herbs and demonstrations on making herbal cookies.

Sinking Springs Herb Farm, on 130 acres north of Chesapeake City, sells herbal gifts and crafts. And proprietors Ann and Bill Stubbs offer bed and breakfast accommodations in a guest cottage surrounded by an English cottage garden.

Sinking Springs also offers luncheons (by reservation) from May through December. After the meal, which is a series of carefully prepared courses laced with herbs and served with hibiscus tea, Bill Stubbs takes guests on a tour of the gardens.

For their 18th-century Christmas celebration (Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 $3 a person) which includes Colonial decorations and taste treats, the couple dresses in costume to give a guided tour through the gardens and their 250-year-old farmhouse.

Alloway Gardens in Littlestown, Pa., whose little log house on Alloway Creek is an attraction in itself, offers several seasonal workshops, the last of which, "Making an Herbs and Greens Swag," takes place Saturday. Also, Alloway sells gardeners' gifts, potpourri supplies, rosemary plants, herb wreaths, culinary herbs and spices, and fresh greens for decorating.


Alloway Creek Gardens and Herb Farm, 456 Mud College Road, Littlestown, Pa. 17340. 717-359-4548. Open until Dec 6; after that, by appointment.

An Eastridge Garden, 533 Dulin Clark Road, Centreville, Md. 21617. 410-758-3650. Open year-round.

Bittersweet Hill Nurseries, 1274 Governor's Bridge Road, Davidsonville, Md. 20135. 410-798-0231. Open year-round.

Sinking Springs Herb Farm, 234 Blair Shore Road, Elkton, Md. 21921-8025. 410-398-5566. Open year-round.

Willow Oak Flower and Herb Farm, 8109 Telegraph Road, Severn, Md. 21144. 410-551-2237. Open to the public from March to late December.

For workshops, call ahead for prices and reservations.

Pub Date: 11/29/98

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