A Sense of Place

Indiana’s Stream Cliff Herb Farm is a thriving enterprise that maintains a family’s heritage of both ­living on and making a livelihood from the farm.

| December/January 1999

  • Photography by Maggie Oster
  • Betty and Gerald Manning moved into the Federal home as newlyweds and have added their mark to the mature plants from previous generations.
  • Betty Manning is the fourth ­generation of family members who have worked the Stream Cliff land since the 1860s.

Like Brigadoon rising from the mist, Stream Cliff Herb Farm may at first seem a bucolic apparition, a large red brick farmhouse surrounded by colorful gardens suddenly appearing on a bend in a country road among the verdant fields and modest hamlets of southern Indiana. But no mirage this, although there is a bit of magic in the place, to say nothing of a close affiliation to rural life more than a century and a half old.

In a world where people readily move across the country, leaving family and friends behind, Stream Cliff’s owners, Betty and Gerald Manning, provide an opportunity to experience an abiding connection to the land and the community. Perhaps it is this that draws some 20,000 visitors a year to the farm as much as it is the gardens, the tearoom, the classes, and the plants, antiques, crafts, and garden paraphernalia for sale here.

This is a place of history woven with family and a love of working the soil. A place where you can sit a spell under a tree beside a burbling brook or watch the morning mist rise from the pasture beyond a split-rail fence surrounding a ­riotous mixture of flowers and herbs. A place where neighbors have pitched in to help Gerald transform a dilapidated outbuilding into a cozy classroom, where a daughter produces mouth- watering herb-flavored dishes for lunch and ­afternoon tea and a son helps raise a wide range of herbs, garden flowers, and native trees and shrubs.

“Our family has deep roots in growing plants; our children are the fifth generation of plantsmen at our farm,” explains Betty. “Stream Cliff is a place where past and present are intertwined in a colonial farmstead atmosphere. Gardening is one of the greatest blessings one encounters on the pathway of life, and we enjoy sharing that at Stream Cliff.”

Making their mark

Stream Cliff has been in the family since 1867, when Betty’s relatives bought the Federal house constructed of clay bricks made on the property. Betty, who grew up on a nearby farm, always wanted to live here. She got her wish in 1965 when she and Gerald, newly married, moved into the antique-filled house surrounded by mature oaks, maples, locusts, and pines as well as peonies, irises, roses, daffodils, and rose-of-Sharon shrubs. Betty and ­Gerald decided to keep these reminders of previous generations as they imprinted their own mark on the property.

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