Like many other gardeners, Zoe Shannon of Des Moines relies on colorful seed catalogs and the promise of spring to get her through winter.
The garden may be hibernating right now, but that’s OK with Zoe Shannon of Des Moines. It gives her time to organize what to plant and enjoy when the earth warms up and spring emerges.
With her stash of dried herbs from her crop during the growing season, she is able to savor the taste of summer and autumn all winter long. New to Des Moines in November 2012, the Chicago native was delighted to find a local herb study group whose members shared her passion for all things natural and herb-centered.
In her early career, Zoe taught primary and learning disabled children. “During that time, with summers off, I grew and sold fresh herbs at farmers markets and gave lots and lots of demonstrations on how to use herbs. It was all about education. Back then, about all you could purchase were parsley and chives, so many people were eager to learn more.” For the markets, she sold herb plants and blends and made natural crafts, such as wreaths, and other garden items.
She developed her green thumb working with her father, who loved to garden, and also learned from the Chicago Botanical Gardens and the Herb Society of America. It’s not surprising her minors in college were biology and botany.
After teaching, she had the opportunity to purchase 34 acres in Shipshewana, Indiana, in the heart of Amish country. She named her business the Greenfield Herb Garden, and it had gardens and a gift shop and was a wedding venue. She and her late husband, Patrick, took turns commuting back and forth from Chicago. She ran the operation for 20 years. Yes, she mowed the grass on the acreage on a tractor.
“The only flavors the Amish used were, quite simply, salt and pepper,” Zoe says. “So people in the area were most interested in learning about using herbs in their cooking.” She did spots on local television and became good friends with Marcia Adams, who wrote cookbooks on Amish cooking and had a national cooking show on public television.
Later, after the deaths of her husband and parents, she sold the business and decided to move to Des Moines, where her daughter, Laura Shannon, works at Iowa Public Television.
Here, Zoe also found her niche by volunteering at the Des Moines Botanical Garden and at City Greenhouse. She often helps out with admissions and the gift shop at the garden. Plus, she’s the volunteer curator for the salvia collection there.
“In Indiana I had full sun, good for growing herbs. Here, however, my backyard is shady, so I have had to learn all about shade gardening, complete with hostas, ferns, and astilbe. Fortunately, I absolutely love challenges.” She has a green thumb, even in the clay soil she finds herself surrounded by.
In her garden she grows mint, basil, thyme, savory, lemon verbena, parsley, chives, nasturtiums, angelica, and sweet cicely.
When it comes to cooking, Zoe is always on the lookout for new recipes so she can experiment with herbs. “I love foods that are full-bodied and flavorful, so adding more herbs is never a problem for me.” She advises that fresh herbs are two to three times stronger than dried, so it’s all a matter of experimentation.
Zoe says she is loving the wealth of restaurants in the Des Moines area because her area of Indiana didn’t offer much diversion. She particularly enjoys Proof and Eatery A for its Mediterranean foods, along with searching for spots with good Mexican foods.
She enjoys making salads with quinoa, such as Curried Quinoa Salad and Quinoa Salad Tabbouleh-Style, because the grain is fairly bland and takes to numerous flavors for pairing. “Plus, it offers fiber, some protein, and no cholesterol. Anything can be added to it.”
Zoe still loves garden crafts, such as making stamped silverware and garden markers for her Etsy.com site, The Seasons of Life. She also makes so-called comfort bowls, using Japanese bowls filled with pebbles inscribed with comforting quotes and quartz crystals, which signify tears. “When I lost my husband and parents, making these brought me back to Mother Nature, and it was comforting. I found they were helpful to other people, too.” Zoe inscribes the flat pebbles with sayings such as these: “Not grief but gratitude,” “Take all the time you need,” and many others.
And here, she doesn’t have to mow with a tractor.
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