by RONA MANN/photos by Stephanie Sittnick

“As far as her mom was concerned, tea fixed everything. Have a cold? Have some tea. Broken bones? There’s a tea for that too. Somewhere in her mother’s pantry, Laurel suspected, was a box of tea that said, ‘In case of Armageddon, steep three to five minutes.'” …Aprilynne Pike

The_Herbery2_Ink_PublicationsSusan Voigt never stops.

She never stops making things, adorning things, educating customers about things, and then creating new things. She never stops talking about the things she loves, she never stops smiling, and it would appear she never stops getting one heck of a kick out of living her life.

Voigt is quick to welcome anyone to The Herbery, her own little corner of the world that she yearns to share with any and all who enter here. A native of Chicago, Voigt has embraced New England as though she were Robert Frost incarnate, living a life predicated on self reliance and independence and taking them to heart both in her work and in how she has chosen to live her life.

Enter The Herbery and immediately you sense an embrace…not a physical one, but a total embrace of your senses, immediately calming you, making you at one with the beautiful things that surround you. Within seconds you are greeted, invited to take a look around, reminded that someone’s there to help, but never to intrude. And just try getting out without a cup of tea and a scone, a complimentary pleasure Voigt is quick to offer.  Just please don’t rush. “Sit at one of my tables and enjoy it. Take some time.” If the season is cooperative, enjoy your tea and scone outside amidst the plants and herbs, but by all means take the time to relax, enjoy, and take it all in.

Is The Herbery then a teahouse? Well, yes. A place to buy herbs? That too. And what about all those ornaments, books, garden accoutrements, and whimsy? Yes, it’s also all of that. The Herbery cannot be labeled; it is different things to different people…and absolutely everything to Susan Voigt.

The Herbery has been nestled into this enchanting space on Rt. 154, the Middlesex Turnpike, for some 15 years, a formidable amount of time for any business. “And yet we still have those who live maybe just a mile or two from here who come in and tell me they’ve been driving past this forever and had no idea whatsoever as to what we do.  Well, come on in, and let me show you!”

One of the first things that might capture your gaze is a large wooden sign announcing, “Tea to Soothe Your Soul.” And Voigt most certainly has tea…100 different varieties tucked into her little shop. There are wellness teas and loose leaf teas, chocolate flavored teas, fruit teas, black teas, green teas, herbal teas, decaffeinated teas, and Susan’s Special Select Teas which Voigt lovingly blends herself. Wildly popular right now is Matcha, an 800 year old shade grown Japanese tea known as an energy booster as well as an antioxidant. Many of The Herbery’s teas come directly from Harney and Sons, a Connecticut importer and blender. There are infusers to buy, tea cups, utensils, and books, but the greatest source of tea knowledge is right there in the store with you…Susan Voigt, who is happy to take the time to help you select the right blend for your pleasure or medicinal need.

It’s not called The Herbery for nothing! There are herbs and more herbs…100 different varieties, but not every variety at every time of year, Susan is quick to affirm. In summer Voight puts the the herbs outdoors on old iron beds; now that the cold is here, they are protected in the onsite greenhouse, along with Susan’s pet plants that are not for sale, but are the favorites of the proprietress: a lemon tree, an orange tree, and tea plants.

Take yet another turn on the first floor of this two-storied wonder and discover The Herbery’s own line of bath and beauty products, specially blended just for Susan’s customers. A unique and exciting display showcases the pure essential oils featuring Aura Cacia Oils, complete with “recipes” for those who want to create and concoct their own aromatherapy and perfumes.

And then there are the ornaments, nearly everywhere you look. Yes, there are Christmas  adornments unlike any you’ll see commercially, but there are also year ’round ornaments to add a special decorative touch to window sill, wall, or curio cabinet. Teapots, teacups, shells, mermaids…in fabric, in tin, in cloisonne; and best of all, in all price points. There are plain ones and painted ones, some adorned with glitter, some just happily holler glitz. “I have something for all the crazies in the world,” Susan laughs, taking the stairs to her second floor of wonder.

Here the curious shopper will find a book nook, a whimsical animal-themed gift section, a display of the sacred and sweet for those who collect angels, and unique and enchanting garden items ranging from accent pieces, metal markers, frogs, rabbits, bird feeders, bird houses, and even wide brimmed colorful hats for those who toil with love in the sunshine and dirt.

The former Chicagoan, now transformed and fully morphed into a Yankee, has had a hand in the creation of every nook and cranny announcing, “That was plain, so I added some glitz to it. I made those arrangements from my own dried flowers. I made all these wreaths from ‘stuff’ I grow on the property.” And on it goes. One wonders when Susan Voigt finds time to sleep because it appears she is always working, creating, rearranging, adding, and just plain enjoying  the heck out of The Herbery and the customers she  delights with her sheer talent and innate enthusiasm.

For a woman who spent 40 years as a design architect, designing everything from the  Old Lyme post office, to banks and high end residences, The Herbery has become a wonderful refuge to showcase Voigt’s artistic talents, while allowing her to branch out into new directions as well. “When I started, I knew all about how to build and design this place; I just didn’t know a thing about retail,” she laughs.

Ah, but she did. Susan knew how to make people smile, she knew how to make people relax, she knew how to make people appreciate both the consummate joy and simplicity  beauty affords…and she’s been doing it every day for 15 years.

Now, that’s Yankee ingenuity!

The Herbery is located at 1001 Middlesex Tupke. (Rt. 154) in Old Saybrook. (860) 388-0679