On a visit to Paula Johnson’s Tyrone home, you can be assured you will first get a personal tour of her spectacular garden, and a plant or two will be thrust into your hands to take home. When you come inside her home, an herb-infused beverage, like iced tea with mint sprigs, will be waiting. But before you sit down to chat, Paula will have to remove baskets of drying herbs from her dining room table chairs! Paula keeps containers of dried herbs and flowers tucked away at the ready to use in potpourri gifts for family and friends. Pressed forget-me-not flowers are pulled from phone books to be added to her personal notes. Paula’s life-long love affair with herbs spills over into every aspect of her life and, according to Paula, “I want herbs under everyone’s nose.”
Known as the “herb lady” at the Peachtree City Garden Club where she is a member, Paula attributes her passion for gardening to her grandmother. “My love of gardening and the outdoors came from my grandmother, Adalaide Young. Grammy felt that all your maladies could be cured or soothed in a garden or the outdoors. Her gardens anchored her, as they do me,” reflects Paula.
Growing up on a large turkey farm in Norway, Maine, Paula was fascinated by the summer people who visited the farm, and she had a yearning to meet more people and see more of the world. She moved to Boston to attend Massachusetts Bay College, worked jobs in aviation ticketing, shipping and air freight until age 21, when she met the age requirement to be accepted for training as a flight attendant for Northeast Airlines. One evening Paula was out with girlfriends at a local night club and saw some young men enter. She said to her friends, “See that guy in the middle? He is going to ask me to dance, and I am going to marry him!”
Robert Johnson did indeed ask her to dance, and they began dating. After meeting her family in Maine, who, according to Paula, “raked him over the coals since he was a city boy,” Bob gave Paula a choice. He showed her an engagement ring and also showed her enough money to buy her flight attendant uniform so she could start her training. (At the time flight attendants had to be single). The choice was obvious. Bob and Paula decided to see the world together! They married in 1957 and had three children, Deborah, Mark and Kurt. Their family now includes eight grandchildren!
When her youngest child, Kurt, was in high school, Paula yearned to spread her wings and she decided to open her own herb business, The Herb Patch, on Main Street in Concord Massachusetts. “I wanted to put herbs in front of everyone. Anything herb-related was in the store – fresh and dried herbs, fabric, pottery, wreath-making.” The entire family helped out and daughter, Deborah, worked with her at the store. After a few years of success at The Herb Patch, Deborah opened a second shop in Belmont, Massachusetts, Herb Country Gift and Collectibles, catering to the upscale shopper. When the landlord wanted to significantly increase the lease on The Herb Patch property, Paula decided to close her shop in Concord and reopen at her home – a historic 2-acre property in Boxborough. Bus tours brought enthusiastic herb lovers to visit her extensive gardens, shop in her studio and take classes in the carriage house. She taught people how to select, plant, harvest and dry herbs and how to utilize herbs in cooking. She also taught classes on wreath-making and making potpourri, and wrote a booklet on herbs for her customers. Her gardens became so popular that she was featured in the 1994 Country Homes Book of Herbs.
In 1999, Paula and Bob sold their home and business and moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They both started volunteering at the local hospital where their son, Dr. Mark Johnson, was director of the UNC Liver Transplant Program. They learned from Mark that the transplant center had no place for families to stay while their loved ones were going through the onerous procedures for getting a transplant. Paula and Bob worked with other dedicated volunteers to raise money to build a facility for families. Today the SECU Family House at UNC Hospitals offers an affordable home for patients and their families who have to travel to take advantage of the hospital’s life-saving care. Currently the house has hosted over 23,000 families! Helping to build Family House is one of Paula and Bob’s proudest legacies.
Ready to start a new chapter in their lives, Paula and Bob moved to Tyrone in 2005 to be closer to their grandchildren. Of course Paula jumped right in, designing and creating a spectacular garden! Over the last few years, Paula has decided it is time to edit parts of the garden and keep only what gives her joy. “I still want a garden but I also want to make life easier,” says Paula. “I am getting rid of garden beds that take too much work and don’t give me joy and pleasure.”
Here is some gardening wisdom Paula has learned over the years…
- Get rid of plants that are too fussy or don’t perform. If you don’t love it, edit it out. Paula has been digging up and giving away all but a few favorite daylilies. She is planting some beds with small trees, easy shrubs and low-maintenance creeping juniper.
- Learn to love pine straw mulch. Paula finds pine straw to be lighter weight, easier to spread, and holds up better than hardwood mulch.
- Gardening with containers is a great way to add color and fun. Pots can be moved anywhere you need them and can be changed out according to the season. Keep herbs in pots on your deck for quick access when cooking.
- Plant for wildlife. Paula loves birds, butterflies, and bees and keeps herbs and pollinator plants around to attract these critters to the garden. Even though her butterfly weed sprouts in unpredictable places, she leaves it wherever it flourishes to keep the butterflies happy. She also plants catnip for her cats Eddie and Tibby!
- Bring nature indoors. Herbs in pots, cut flowers, beautiful branches – bring something inside to give you joy.
- Add fragrance to your home with dried herbs. Dried herbs and flowers absorb odors and clean the air. Place dried herbs like peppermint and spearmint and a drop of mint essential oil in a sachet bag and place in your drawers. You can also make potpourri with a mixture of dried herbs and flowers. Just add essential oil, place in a pretty container, and you have a wonderful gift for family and friends.
- Use fresh herbs in your recipes to enhance flavor. Plant mint in a pot and pick the leaves often to add to your water bottle or tea. Mix rosemary and olive oil to flavor roasted potatoes. Add lemon thyme to your butter. Sprinkle chives in an egg dish.
Gratitude seems to be at the heart of Paula’s life right now. “God keeps me grounded and guides my life. Hubby is my rock and my partner. I have lost many loved ones over the years, but I have always had a garden to settle me and give me peace. Heaven seems closer in my garden.”
- 2 tbsp. orange zest
- 1 tbsp. thyme
- 2 tbsp. Chives
- 1 tbsp. rosemary
- 1 tbsp. sage
- Chop the ingredients fine and blend.
- Add drop of olive oil to the herb blend and rub on outside and inside of turkey before cooking