Stream Cliff Farm

Mannings' herb farm
has become a popular attraction

By Phaedra Jones
Contributing Writer

COMMISKEY, Ind. (April 2000) – The Stream Cliff Herb Farm, located on Hwy. 3 just east of Commiskey, Ind., has long been a popular tourist attraction and bus tour stop. But few know that the history dates back to the pre-Civil War era.

Stream Cliff Herb Farm House

Photo by Phaedra Jones

Gerald and Betty Manning live in this
164-year-old farm house at Stream
Cliff Herb Farm in Commiskey, Ind.

The house and main barn were built in 1836 by James Harmon. With the Civil War going on, John Hunt Morgan's Raiders raided the farm in July 1863. The farm later became inhabited by the family of Luella Tate Artz. It has stayed in her family for more than 100 years.
The current residents, Gerald and Betty (Luella's granddaughter) Manning, have raised their children on the farm. Their own granddaughter makes the sixth generation to have resided there.
The gardens near the house are dedicated to Luella, a quilter and gardener. Quilt shapes are used for the overall design of many of the gardens.
There are many buildings on the property whose uses have changed over time. The Keeping Room building (circa 1868) was once used as a grainery and storage area but is now utilized for large groups, classes and guest speakers. The Country Store was a chicken house; Aunt Betty's Cabin was a blacksmith shop; the Summer Kitchen was a physician's office that was moved to the farm from Commiskey; and the Tea Room was the first small greenhouse.
Betty, a Commiskey native, started the business 25 years ago with her husband, Gerald, a former resident of Caruthers, Ind. At first, the business only sold crafts, but it has grown from there, branching in several directions.
Betty makes many of the crafts, does the primitive art and spends much of her time gardening, as well as other duties. Gerald does the blacksmithing, along with various projects. Their employees include their son, Greg, who has studied horticulture and specializes in landscaping, and their daughter, Elizabeth, who runs the Tea Room. They also employ occasional part-time help to get through busy seasons.
"Our philosophy of gardening is to live naturally," Betty said. "We try to be as organic as possible."
For example, the Mannings use beneficial insects in the greenhouses and do not use growth retardants, like many others. Past customers have commented on how plants bought there have grown better than those from elsewhere.
Many of the people who come to Stream Cliff Herb Farm are serious gardeners looking for tips on gardening or plants and herbs they can't find anywhere else. Stream Cliff Farm also welcomes garden clubs, bus tours, church groups, women's clubs, office day retreats, bridal and baby showers, and others.
The Mannings have been cooking up some exciting new things for this season. Stream Cliff Farm is now offering landscape designs, new construction of landscapes and water garden installations.
The Tea Room has just undergone an expansion and can now seat twice as many guests. They have also added some new items to the menu, while keeping old favorites, which include Dill and Rosemary Chicken Salad, Hummingbird Cake and Lemon Verbena Lemonade.
Many new plants have been added to the inventory as well: the Dahlberg daisy, bacopa, clethra for hummingbirds and butterflies, anagallis and the Lord Baltimore hibiscus, just to name just a few. Of course, there will also be the old favorites, such as lavender, heritage roses, hydrangeas and rare tree peonies.
There will be many special events on the calendar this year. On Mother's Day (May 14) and Father's Day (June 18), the Mannings are offering a lunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Summer Nights By Candlelight will be on three occasions – June 3, July 8, Sept. 23 – and will feature a different gourmet meal for each night. The Garden Festival will last from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on June 10, featuring craft booths, free garden presentations and live music.
The farm's clientel also include school groups and special holiday events for children.
The Mannings are planning a Customer Appreciation Week from April 6-9 to kick off their 2000 season.
In addition to the regular newsletter for customers, the Mannings are starting a club called "Early Bloomers Club" for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. Also, Roger Swain, host of TV's "Victory Garden," will appear at the farm on July 22 for a gourmet dinner and brunch on Sunday, July 23.
Other special events this year include a quilt show on Sept. 9 and Christmas Craft Show on Nov. 18 and Nov. 25.
Betty also is featured on a local radio program. "Gardening is something too precious not to share," she says.

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