written by Lindsay McWilliams | photos courtesy of The Thyme Garden Herb Company
Outside the woodsy town of Alsea, near Corvallis, lies a gastronome’s heaven: eighty acres of herbs. “It’s a pretty magical place here, tucked in the mountains,” Rolfe Hagen said. He and his wife Janet have owned this land and The Thyme Garden Herb Company for twenty-seven years.
The company started as a restaurant, but the couple quickly discovered the need for an onsite herb garden to supplement their cooking. The garden kept growing, and Janet and Rolfe decided they’d rather transform into a seed business. They took the plunge, sold the restaurant and purchased an enormous eighty-acre farm. This unique project has developed into a fully sustainable business, both for its community and for the environment. “Through the years as we’ve been developing, we’ve been trying to use all the pieces of nature we’ve been given to work with,” Rolfe said.
Today, when visitors enter the farm, they drive over a bridge that crosses Rock Creek. Then they arrive in a different world. To the left are elaborate beds of herbs, displayed with borders of stones. Benches for taking in the space are placed throughout. Beyond the garden is a walking trail into the woods. Straight ahead from the entrance is an open-faced wooden building where plants are sold; adjacent to it is another enclosed building where homemade items—honey, soap, spice packets—are sold. Behind these buildings are large greenhouses for growing vegetation from near and far, and one specifically for tropical plants. On the right is a building for events, alongside scattered picnic tables and a large pond with a trail running around it.
Culinary herbs are the biggest seller at The Thyme Garden, including over twenty-four varieties of basil. Yet the Hagens also produce many medicinal herbs. Extremely popular are their hop rhizomes, a sort of “seed” used to grow hops. Currently, The Thyme Garden has the largest selection of hop rhizomes in the country, with twenty-two different kinds and ten new varieties still in development.
Though the Hagens original restaurant had been sold, the couple found a way to incorporate their love of cooking into the new business by offering herbal luncheons. Three days per week in the summertime, they take a group of twenty-four people on a tour through the gardens, explaining how the different herbs can be used and which ones will go onto their plate at lunch. Then, the group sits down for a four-course gourmet meal, made with homegrown herbs and vegetables and fresh Coho salmon from the nearby creek.
In addition, The Thyme Garden hosts weddings each weekend and other events throughout the summer. Other events include the highly popular Mother’s Day Celebration, a Fall Salmon Celebration and an Earth Day Celebration.
Because of how much this land has given to the Hagens, they’re passionate about giving back to the land as well. In 2002, they began a Coho salmon recovery project in the creek on their property, recreating spawning beds for Coho to lay their eggs in. Since the project, they’ve begun to see the salmon population restore itself. Their goal is to leave the land better than they found it, and to teach others to do the same.
“We want people to understand how important it is to preserve the Earth because it’s so beautiful—and fragile,” Rolfe said.