East of ABC’s Austin, Texas, home stands a cultural mecca that belies its sleepy rural surroundings. An hour-and-a-half drive away, Winedale, Texas, has hosted a Shakespeare festival for the past 25 years. Nearby Round Top is the home of one of the biggest antique shows in the country and the James Dick Foundation for the Performing Arts at Festival Hill. But the real treat so near and dear to the hearts of Texas herb lovers is the McAshan Gardens at Festival Hill, inspired, developed, and stewarded by Madalene Hill.
Madalene is the grande dame of Texas herbs and a real treasure. She, her late husband Jim, and their daughter Gwen Barclay operated Hilltop Herb Farm and an on-site gourmet restaurant in Cleveland, Texas, beginning in 1957 until the 1980s. Madalene and Gwen now reside at Festival Hill, where Gwen is the food services manager at Festival Institute, and concocts gourmet, herb-based recipes to please the palates of the students who attend Festival Institute. Madalene coordinates the outstanding herb gardens at Festival Hill, which were installed and are maintained almost totally by volunteers.
On November 11, 2001, ABC Executive Director Mark Blumenthal participated in the dedication of the new Pharmacy Garden at Festival Hill. This garden consists of raised stone beds, each dedicated to the medicinal plants of a particular region of the world. It was a gorgeous autumn day, perfect for paying tribute to a woman considered to be one of America’s elders in the herbal movement. Friends and supporters of Madalene’s work from all over attended the dedication. The setting was a glorious one in which to laud this incredible woman who has made it her life’s work to spread the word about herbs. Blumenthal said he was pleased to participate in the dedication, a way of honoring a woman he called “a national treasure.”
The 7th Annual Herbal Forum at Round Top took place March 21–23, 2002, and ABC was invited to give a presentation on the herb of the year, Echinacea. Gayle Engels, who works in the marketing, community relations and garden development areas of ABC, gave a demonstration called “Echinacea, the Herb for the First Sniffle.” The demonstration took attendees from harvesting their own seeds, through propagation by planting seed or dividing roots, to harvesting plant materials and making their own tinctures. The presentation was well received by the attendees, who, for the most part, are more knowledgeable about the culinary and other uses of herbs than the medicinal uses.
Apparently, there is a shift occurring in the way local herb societies and garden clubs approach herbs, as the keynote address at the forum was given by renowned British herbal author and photographer, Deni Bown, on “Key Herbs for Health, Vitality and Longevity.”