photograph by Millie Holloman Photography

One day in the mid-1980s, Margaret Shelton marked off a sunny patch of ground surrounded by oaks and magnolias on her family’s farm in Brunswick County. With the help of her three young sons, she built her first greenhouse with plastic sheeting and PVC pipe, allowing her to grow string beans, field peas, and corn to feed her family all year.

Right away, though, she recognized that her garden-fresh food would taste better seasoned with garlic, dill, and basil. Shelton, at the time a marine biology technician at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, felt drawn to the 400 acres of land that had belonged to her family since 1867. Not long after finishing that first greenhouse, she left her job on the water and turned to the soil for a living.

Now, 30 years later, she runs Shelton Herb Farm and is recognized as an expert in the cultivation of herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers.

The farm teems with a dizzying array of green and gold: lemon balm, honeysuckle, yarrow, elderberry, speedwell, sundrops, and deutzia. Some rows are like a walk through a fairy tale — fernleaf tansy, dwarf germander, swamp rose mallow, indigo spire sage — while the greenhouses offer a travelogue of flavors, from Texas tarragon to Vietnamese coriander to African blue basil.

Shelton sees herself as continuing a family tradition and a rural way of life. “I wouldn’t do it unless I was passionate about what I was doing,” she says. “You want what’s gone on to be passed on.”

Shelton Herb Farm
340 Goodman Road Northeast
Leland, NC 28451
(910) 253-5964

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Tim Bass is a former newspaper reporter who teaches creative writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.