Jacynthe Dugas and Richard White opened their herb farm in 1987 and named it Hazelwood Herb Farm after the two hazelnut trees on the property.
Recipe: Rosemary and Orange Chicken
I went out to the hazel wood, Because a fire was in my head, And cut and peeled a hazel wand, And hooked a berry to a thread; And when white moths were on the wing, And moth-like stars were flickering out, I dropped the berry in a stream And caught a little silver trout.
—The Song of Wandering, Aengus, William Butler Yeats
When Richard White decided to open the Hazelwood Herb Farm in 1987, he might not have had a fire in his head, but he certainly had a fire in his belly to pursue his passion for gardening and cooking with herbs. Today Richard, 55, and his partner Jacynthe Dugas, 53, grow one of the largest selections of herbs in Canada — more than 400 species on 4.3 acres.
Occasionally, they have misgivings about the wisdom of giving up secure and lucrative careers — Jacynthe ran a department of the Canadian federal government in the nearby city of Nanaimo, and Richard was a well-paid maintenance mechanic in a sawmill — for the hard work, long hours and economic uncertainties of herb farming. “But,” Richard says, “the thanks and appreciation of our loyal customers make it all worthwhile and gratifying. And we’re doing what we love.” When asked the most satisfying aspect of running the farm, Richard replies without hesitation, “Customer response. Helping them with their needs; finding plants and offering gardening and cooking advice.” The most aggravating? “Never being able to get away from it,” Richard says.
Richard and Jacynthe divide the work according to aptitude. Richard does all the cooking, runs the cooking classes and creates the culinary herb products. He also looks after the three greenhouses and the herb farm and garden. Jacynthe operates the gift shop, does the bookwork and ordering, and formulates and prepares the herbal bath, cosmetic and medicinal products, such as salves and creams. The only exception is the echinacea tincture, which is Richard’s responsibility.
Richard cites his Rosemary and Orange Chicken as his favorite culinary creation.
And Richard’s favorite herbs? Rosemary ‘Tuscan Blue’, Greek oregano and basil. Jacynthe also lists basil among her favorites, but, reflecting her penchant for healing, she names comfrey and chickweed as the top two. In addition to Jacynthe’s healing herbal studies and creations, she has just completed her first year of study to become a medical intuitive.
Richard and Jacynthe picked this particular property, four miles north of the town of Ladysmith, for two reasons: one was the abundance of excellent water on the property. Richard says, “I used to drill wells for a living, so I know the headaches associated with poor-quality or insufficient well water.” The other was its peaceful, quiet location while being sufficiently close to the main Vancouver Island highway to make it easy for tourists and visitors to find.
They bought the 30-year-old house in 1985. It required extensive renovation, most of which they did themselves. Richard’s skill and expertise as a millwright also was put to use building the three greenhouses. They named it the Hazelwood Herb Farm after the two hazelnut trees on the property. Within the first year, they were selling 30 varieties of herbs. Then came the nursery, gift shop, display and working gardens. Today their shop boasts a huge variety of their own products, including potted plants, fresh-cut herbs, gift baskets and culinary, medicinal, cosmetic and bath-and-beauty herbal preparations. They also offer classes on gardening and cooking with herbs, and Jacynthe shares her herbal soap-making talents with enthusiastic students.
Complimentary garden tours are held — rain or shine — on the first and last Saturdays of the month from June to September. Guided tours for groups are available by appointment.
Special events at Hazelwood Herb Farm throughout the year include Mother’s Day complimentary Tea and Cake in the Gardens (held in the kitchen if the weather is disagreeable); Father’s Day Barbeque; Sampling Saturdays (for Richard’s culinary creations); Tea Thyme every Sunday afternoon with fresh-baked herbal treats; and the annual pre-Christmas “Shopping by Candlelight” event every November. This popular affair involves lighting up the shop, kitchen and garden entrance with hundreds of candles to create an inviting, cozy ambience. Complimentary food and drinks are served, and Richard and Jacynthe showcase their new products.
Bruce Burnett is a freelance writer, author of HerbWise: Growing, Cooking, Wellbeing (Herbwise Inc., 2002), herbalist and organic herb gardener. His web site is www.herbwiseproducts.com.