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Mary's Blog

History of our Caldwell Herb Farm 1994-2010

Employee Bios

Common Questions

Visitor Comments
Mary in woods

When we bought the land, there was a rough  12' x 16' hunters cabin on it. We  added a small wood burning stove, benches built around the walls that could be made into beds and a table and chairs for comfort. It was very primitive living. 


We would drive down from Arlington, Texas (about 3 1/2 hours north) to spend weekends occasionally and it was fun to 'rough-it', exploring the undeveloped land and camping. And, it was fun dreaming of the house we would eventually build. We did not begin building our dream until 1994 after Bud retired.

When did you start developing the property? Dense woods Bud retired in September of 1992 and we decided to spend some time on the land and re-evaluate our plans to build a home on it. We had not visited the property in several years. We found the land covered with dense undergrowth of yaupon, green briar, and many other shrubby Texas plants
Entrance to the land.

We began in January 1993

 First we had to cut a road through the dense woods. After much cutting, burning and sweating, we cleared a road. It was rewarding to be able to drive into the property and begin the serious work.

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How did you begin? Drawing of land layout We were very aware of our complete lack of experience and knowledge about carving out a place for ourselves in rural Texas. We began mapping the land and making lists- clear the land for building, getting water, electricity, propane tanks and a septic tank As the lists grew so did our fears and doubts. This was a sobering time.

Once we did decide to 'go for it', we found that deciding was the easy part!

Was clearing difficult? Dense vegetation The area is so heavily wooded, we still can't get to some areas without crawling through some tough vines, shrubs and trees. We cut down carefully selected trees with a chain saw, pulled underbrush out with our van (later with a small tractor.) We hauled huge piles of brush to be burned. We worked for 3-4 days until we couldn't stand down wind of each other, then we would drive to the nearest State Park to spend the night. There we could take a shower, (with hot water!), charge our batteries and fill our water bottles. We were working on the land without the luxury of electricity, water or access to a phone.

Did you have unexpected problems? Copperhead

This is rural Texas with lots of 'wee-beasties' lurking in those woods. There are scorpions, very big spiders, vicious ants, timber snakes, water moccasins, copperheads...the list goes on. Can you see the hidden danger in the picture on the left?

Don't accidently put a foot down here! The picture is of a broad-banded copperhead snake (Agkistrodon contortrix laticinctus). Fortunately, we began clearing the area for roads, building sites and gardens in January when most of the creatures are hibernating.

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Did you have a "master plan"? Bud preparing garden beds

We had basic ideas of what needed to be done and things just began to become clearer to us as we worked. We would decide to do something like clear trails through the dense woods and a new idea would result as we saw what we had. For example: Bud had to back the tractor up with a shredder on it to clear trails through some areas so we could look them over. When he did, we were delighted to find many species of useful plants. I was anxious to study more about the native plants we were finding.

Where did you live  while you were building on the property?
A tight fit
A tight fit...
We found a small, 12' x 46', used mobile home, just right for our immediate needs. We had it moved onto the area of cleared land.

 The man who moved the trailer said, as he drove up the driveway, "Hey, what have you two done? Who are you hiding from? How did you ever find this place?" We really are off the beaten trail.

Mobile home porch When the mobile home was leveled, the floor was almost over my head. We couldn’t get in the front door! We continued to live in our van and the hunters cabin while Bud built stairs up to the front door. He built the stairs and porch with a chain saw as we still had no electricity. Now, I have always believed Bud could do anything but this was a BEAUTIFUL JOB.
Mobile home

Now we had beds, chairs and a table, a sink, and a bathroom.  Luxury! Of course we didn’t have running water or electricity, but the promise was there.

 During the month of January we got co-op water and electricity connected. A septic tank was installed and a propane tank delivered. (HOT BATHS!) At long last the phone was installed.  We were finally  reconnected to the world!

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How did you decide which building you needed first? Garage

As Bud says, we just “bit the bullet” and the two of us began building one thing at time.

 The first building we worked on was the 24X30 foot metal garage. We needed a place to store our household items when we sold our house in Arlington and Bud needed a workshop. 


The buildings on the site are grouped in one area to minimize the disruption of the land.  We built greenhouses, a garden room and potter’s studio. The last building project was our house.

 Now we could begin developing the gardens.

Did you have to do very much with the native soil? Mary and Bud The soil is referred to locally as "sugar sand", a type of very fine gray-brown sand. It seemed doubtful to me that we could grow anything here and the county extension service soil analysis confirmed my fears. It came back notifying us that we had 'zero' plant nutrition in our soil. This was hard to believe as we stood looking at the abundance of weeds around us.
Bud and Mary "making hay" Adding as much organic matter as possible to the selected garden areas was a first priority. Ash from burning off the trees and shrubs we had to cut to clear an area for our buildings and gardens enriched the soil. We included all our kitchen vegetable waste and all the oak leaves we could rake from the surrounding woods, which we chopped up with a lawn mower. We bought 'old' hay that had gotten too old to feed to animals from our neighbor. We spread thick layers of this hay on the garden areas to allow it to decompose in place.
How did you develop your theme garden? Garden overview

Our theme and display gardens allowed us to find out what would grow well in our area. We laid out the theme gardens and planted perennials and evergreens in key areas to provide the beginning of the display gardens. The gardens are also grouped into an area that is easily strolled and studied.

Herbs make scents

We decided to  offer tours of our display gardens and share what we were learning. We try to have the same plants that we see in our gardens available for sale to our tour participants. We hope they will be encouraged to grow and enjoy herbs and Texas wildflowersWe are in our eleventh year of welcoming visitors to The Purple Gate Herb Farm.

Rewards. Harves

It has been an adventure creating The Purple Gate Herb Farm for both of us; we found that each of us had skills that we didn't know we had. (Or we developed them very fast.) We are enjoying meeting the people who come for visits, to buy at our shop or to take one of our tours. We are always learning new things and that is the best part of our venture into the woods of Texas. Our neighbors are wonderful and supportive and we are enjoying seeing what each of them are doing with their rural property. We share a lot of experiences with them and that is rewarding as we learn about our environment here.

"Ya-all come see us"

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