Herbfest-10 Years and Counting
Eleven years ago in 2010, the Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel’s Special Events committee worked on a plan to develop an event, featuring herbs, that would celebrate and promote the beautiful herb gardens located on the grounds of the Page-Walker Arts & History Center. The Board members readily supported the idea and Herbfest was born! The annual event is co-sponsored by the Friends and the Town of Cary and is held in early May. As Kris Carmichael, Operations & Program Supervisor-Historic Resources for the Town of Cary, wrote in a news release for our 2017 Herbfest: “The beautiful gardens at the Page-Walker Arts & History Center are a downtown treasure. While the historic center hosts other events, classes, and programs throughout the year, Herbfest highlights this green amenity and its educational herb garden when it is at its most beautiful-the spring.”
Our first Herbfest was hosted on May 15, 2010. We welcomed 10 vendors who sold herbs and a variety of garden-related crafts. Three other vendors offered herb-related demos, such as cooking with herbs and natural health & beauty aids. We initiated our plan to share and celebrate our Herb Gardens, which were named the Anne B. Kratzer Educational Gardens in 1995 in honor of the Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel’s beloved founder and creator of the gardens, Anne Kratzer, with our guests at Herbfest. Volunteers from the Friends and the community co-maintain the garden with the Town of Cary (Please see Volunteer Opportunities on our website if you would like to become a garden volunteer). We asked Anne Kratzer, who served as the chairman of the garden committee for years, to have her volunteers available at the Herbfest to share information and answer questions about the herbs. Participation of these garden volunteers have provided a key contribution to the success of Herbfest every year. They also educate our guests about the historical significance of the Smokehouse that has proudly sat in the middle of the herb garden since 1977. The 1850’s Page Smokehouse is the only structure that remains from the homeplace of Allison Francis “Frank” Page, the founder of Cary. The Page home property was purchased by Frank and his wife, Catherine Raboteau in 1854, and was located on the present Cary Town Hall site.
There is little doubt why the Anne Kratzer Educational Gardens are a “Signature” component of Herbfest when you read Marla Dorrel’s (current chairman of the garden committee) following colorful description of our bountiful garden and what it means to have it included in Herbfest.
“Thanks to our dedicated corps of volunteer gardeners, the Anne B. Kratzer Educational Gardens share their beauty year-round. But it’s during Herbfest that we emphasize the educational aspect of the gardens. On that day, volunteers are on hand to answer questions and encourage visitors to explore all four of the garden categories: Culinary, Industrial, Medicinal, and Ornamental.
The Culinary bed holds many familiar herbs found in contemporary kitchens – oregano, rosemary, basil, and several varieties of thyme. Lesser-known Comfrey straddles the Culinary and Medicinal beds, an appropriate location of this plant that is used in salads and teas, but also heals infections, relieves bronchial problems, and gastric ulcers. Many of the plants throughout the garden have uses that fit multiple categories.
The Industrial bed offers several plants that were traditionally used to make dyes for textiles. Herbfest is the one day each year that you will find samples indicating the colors certain plants produce. One might question finding Chamomile in the industrial section. While we are most familiar with its use as a tea, it is located in our industrial bed due to its use as an insect repellent and yellow dye.
As visitors peruse the Medicinal bed, it may come as a surprise to find Beebalm, which most of us think as strictly ornamental. However, the garden brochure (available year-round at the gardens) tells us that this plant has been used to produce an infusion to treat coughs, sore throat, and nausea – who knew? The brochure also tells us that the soft leaves of Lambs Ears have antiseptic properties and have been used as bandages for minor wounds.
Ornamental beds give the gardens exceptional color and interest. At the time of Herbfest, they are just beginning to develop their blooms, reminding visitors to return throughout the summer as they put on a spectacular show. And keep an eye on the bamboo “teepee” closer to the street. This is the home of our ornamental Hyacinth Bean crop. Seedlings are carefully nurtured in volunteers’ homes until ready for planting. They might struggle at first, but late in the summer there will be lush vines and purple blooms, promising seed pods to gather in the fall.
Herbfest gives us the opportunity to educate, inform, and delight. We can’t imagine a better way to celebrate the arrival of spring.”
Anne B. Kratzer Educational Gardens
Following our first Herbfest, we sent notes to our vendors sharing that we had heard lots of praise from attendees about them. Anabela Anca Mendes, one of our vendors (Bela Imports) wrote: “I am still thinking about the Herbfest. It was a lovely event. When asked to make suggestions to improve the festival, Anabela wrote “Whichever direction you go it will be successful because you will make it pleasant to those attending”. Thanks to all of our vendors, volunteers, the staff at the Page-Walker Arts & History Center, our community who attended the festival and our partner, the Town of Cary, who all made the festival such a huge success, the Friends were excited and ready to launch Herbfest as an annual event!
Over the next nine years, Herbfest has been celebrated each May. The beautiful grounds of the Page-Walker Arts & History Center in downtown Cary are covered with white tents where vendors sell items related to gardening, herbs, native plants, perennials, nature and cooking. Guests can stroll through these craft and herb booths and enjoy learning about herbs in the beautiful Anne Kratzer Educational Gardens. In addition to visits to the Gardens, over the years the Friends have added other key events at the festival. In 2011, in an effort to make the festival fun for all ages, we began offering an activity for children—deciding on a craft item that would be fun and would also serve to educate the kids about nature in tune with our festival theme. Jennifer Hocken, Program Specialist-Historical & Cultural for the Town of Cary, and a member of the Page-Walker Arts & History Center’s staff, is our lead for this activity. She chooses a craft each year that the kids will really enjoy; and with the festival always being held in early May, the crafts can also make wonderful Mother’s Day gifts. Over the years, kids have made Herb Buddies, butterfly seeded cards, lavender sachets and corn husk dolls to name a few.
Suzanne Tilton of Butterfly Lady LLC volunteered to be a participant in the festival in 2011. Suzanne’s company’s special interest is butterfly gardening and rare butterflies; and she offered to do a presentation for the children attending the festival— butterfly releases. The releases are such a special experience for everyone, children and adults alike, and, although the Butterfly Lady was not able to join us again, the committee discussed how the Friends might be able to host our own butterfly releases-an opportunity to create another “Signature” feature for Herbfest. We researched the option of ordering the butterflies online and found an ideal choice, Fragrant Acres Butterfly Farm located in Georgia. We have been so happy with this company that we have ordered from them every year since. We just order the number and type of butterflies we want and two special boxes in which the butterflies are shipped. Our order arrives at the Page-Walker the day before the festival where the boxes of butterflies must be kept in a cool environment (air-conditioned room or refrigerator). One and a half hours before each scheduled release, the box of butterflies is moved to a warmer environment (75-80 degrees) to prepare the butterflies to do their magic and take wing out of their box to everyone’s delight.
“Painted Lady” Butterfly
Our special hosts for the releases over the years have included Brent Miller, Lois Nixon and Kris Carmichael. Brent shares his Herbfest experiences and what the butterfly releases mean to him in the following: “It’s been an honor and joy to fill the role of the “The Butterfly Lady” and “Mr. Monarch” over the years at Herbfest. As you might know, for many years, we’ve performed two butterfly releases during Herbfest. We procure “Painted Lady” butterflies and then gather around the smokehouse in the Anne Kratzer Educational Gardens and release them after a short educational session about the life cycle of these amazing and beautiful creatures. It’s wonderful to see the butterflies take wing, but the best part about the event is watching the anticipation of the children as the butterfly box is opened and their sheer joy and amazement as the butterflies take wing, and occasionally land on someone!”
“The Butterfly Lady” -Releasing the Painted Ladies
For Herbfest 2019, we joined the Town of Cary’s initiative as the Town Council named 2019 as the “Year of the Monarch Butterfly” in Cary. The initiative featured the efforts from the National Wildlife Federation to challenge communities to get the word out about the threatened monarch butterfly. The Town took the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayors’ Monarch pledge to increase native habitats and romote pollinator conservation in Cary. Herbfest joined this important commitment by dedicating our tterfly Releases to help educate our guests about the plight of Monarch butterflies, and the steps that ery household and community member can take to support the future survival of the Monarchs. We also commissioned local artist, Wade Carmichael, to design and create a beautiful set of butterfly wings to be worn by our release hosts. Brent Miller, aka Butterfly Lady, debuted the wings this year and became “Mr. Monarch” in honor of this year’s special designation.
For seven years, 2013-2019, the Friends sponsored a silent auction at Herbfest. Thanks to the generous efforts of Peggy Van Scoyoc and Nancy Ryan, the auction’s gracious hosts, the event was very successful. Peggy and Nancy worked tirelessly to create beautiful and unique garden-related items each year for the auction. Items such as birdcages, wind chimes, filled baskets, planters, decorative chairs and tiled tables, to name just a few, graced the auction stage each year. These elegant decorative and gift items adorn many homes in our community - a gracious and ongoing reminder of Herbfest!
A number of years ago, the Young Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel was created to engage teens in Cary by hosting new youthful events that incorporate the cultural arts and local history. The teens are under the advice and supervision of the Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel. In order to raise funds for the teen organization’s events, the Young Friends hosted their first Bake Sale at Herbfest in 2015, and it has been a big hit every year – a fantastic addition to the festival. Tables are filled with luscious home- made baked goods-breakfast, snack and dessert delights. The Young Friends have used the proceeds they have earned over the years to sponsor their “Paint the Page” event for teens at the Page-Walker Arts & History Center.
During our 7th annual Herbfest in 2016, we helped celebrate the opening of the new Pollinator Garden at the Page-Walker. The garden was created through a unique partnership between the Cary Woman’s Club, the Cary Garden Club, the Friends of the Page-Walker and the Town of Cary. It is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat that features native plants. Pollinators, including insects and animals, such as bees, butterflies, wasps and birds, are anything that helps carry pollen from one flower to the another. Almost all of our fruits, nuts and vegetables that we eat need pollinators to produce our food. Native plants are the best source of food for pollinators; and some of the plants in our garden include milkweed, goldenrod, butterfly weed, lantana, yarrow . columbine and aster. With some pollinators in decline, the Pollinator Garden not only provides an ideal habitat for pollinators to flourish, but also serves as an educational resource for the community. The partners of the garden “…hope you will learn and get ideas from our garden, and then consider planting a pollinator garden-even a small one-at your home to provide nectar and host plants for the pollinators that call Cary “home” “. Herbfest provides a wonderful opportunity each year to visit this special garden and learn all about the pollinators and their critical work from our garden volunteers.
Guests at Herbfest are treated to another special opportunity—a visit to the historic Page-Walker Hotel (now known as the Page-Walker Arts & History Center). Allison Francis (Frank) Page, the founder of Cary, built the hotel around 1868 to serve railroad passengers after the railroad tracks were built through Cary in 1854. This important building is located on the National Register of Historic Places. You are invited to tour the site by using the fact and picture filled self-guided walking tour brochures available in the Page-Walker. Your tour is not complete without visiting the Cary Heritage Museum located on the third floor. The museum chronicles the history of Cary using timeline exhibits and contains significant artifacts and many educational exhibits.
On May 4, 2019 Herbfest celebrated its tenth anniversary. The Friends are so grateful to everyone in the community that has contributed to the success and growth of the festival over the years; and we offer special thanks to all of our supportive vendors. Several of our vendors have joined us for years. Mildred and John Michael of J &M Garden Art have participated since our first festival in 2010. They create beautiful copper garden art and are located in Gibsonville, NC. You can learn more about their crafts on their Instagram account at Jandmgardenartshop. Carolyn Dean, owner of Lyn’s Garden Creations in Apex, NC, sells beautiful homemade cards, baskets and many garden inspired creations: www.lynsgardencreations.com Carolyn graciously shared her Herbfest experience in the following: “The Cary Herbfest is the Market that always creates an open, relaxed and educational environment for the entire family. We enjoy sharing and celebrating the community’s love of gardening. The leisurely day outdoors at the Page-Walker Arts and History Center creates a social vibe that a person can carry home and spread within their own garden—indoors and out. We so look forward to the 2022 Herbfest and visiting with our fellow gardeners again.” Sandra Reynolds, owner of Peak Olive Oil Co. in Cary, NC, sells an extensive variety of herbal olive oils and balsamic vinegars: https://peakoilcompany.com . Sandra shares her vendor experience in the following: “Herbfest as a vendor has meant community to me. It’s been a fun event to attend as a vendor but also as a customer. I enjoy seeing the different venues and wares. A nice variety of High quality plants and many gadgets and gizmos to browse through. The butterly release is always a hit for both kids and adults to experience. I enjoy seeing new and repeat customers and sharing experiences using fresh herbs and herbal olive oils and vinegars. We learn so much through community and Herbfest.”
We are excited and hopeful at the prospect of hosting our 11th annual Herbfest in May, 2022. We look forward to welcoming back our vendors and sponsors and all of you, our community supporters. Please watch our website and follow our social media next spring for news about the festival. And we invite all of you to join us on the lovely grounds of the Page-Walker Arts & History Center next May to stroll through craft and herb booths, visit and learn about our beautiful herb and pollinator gardens, enjoy home-baked goodies at our Young Friends bake sale, and experience our must-see butterfly release. And we are especially excited about a new feature we plan to introduce to the festival next year—Trolley rides in downtown Cary. We invite all of you to help us celebrate the 11th annual Herbfest!