In 1989, an herb farm was only a glint in Don Haynie and Tom Hamlin’s eyes. Now, they can barely keep up with the visitors.
RAPHINE, VIRGINIA – Buffalo Springs Herb Farm isn’t hard to find. Locate the rolling hills of rural Virginia, near the little town of Raphine, and nearly anyone you ask can tell you how to get there. And no matter which route you take, this lovely place is like no other farm you’ve seen.
Don Haynie and Tom Hamlin bought the 220-acre farmstead in 1989 with the intention of creating an herb farm.
“Location, location, location is what business advisers tell you,” Hamlin says. “But if you don’t have location, then your mantra becomes, ‘Destination, de-stination, destination.’” Day trips to herb farms have become popular with gardeners over the years. With time and hard work, the Buffalo Springs owners have turned an old farmstead into one of the most popular of these destinations on the East Coast.
When Hamlin and Haynie purchased the property, it included a 1790 brick farmhouse, an enormous 1890 barn and, at the bottom of the hill, a springhouse that at one time had provided water to the house.
Next door to the farm was Wade’s Mill, a water-powered gristmill that didn’t work but made a lovely scenic backdrop. It now has been restored and is a popular tourist stop, as well.
Soon after purchasing the property, the owners hired an expert in renovating and preserving historic buildings. The house, with one section built in 1790 and a later addition in 1841, received extensive renovation. The barn was next in line for restoration. It was cleaned, the roof and siding repaired, floors sanded and scoured clean, and an area created for workshops. Hamlin and Haynie turned another substantial section into a cheery, charming gift shop, adding stairs to the loft and drying lines there for hanging herbs and everlastings as they were harvested from the gardens.
Buffalo Springs Herb Farm opened for business in 1991, offering workshops on such topics as wreath making, holiday swags, drying herbs, planning and planting an herb garden, soap making and cooking with herbs. As the workshops gained popularity with locals from the surrounding towns, more people began coming to the gift shop even when workshops weren’t scheduled.
Meanwhile, fabulous new gardens were planned and planted. Haynie and Hamlin designed their gardens to be inspirational spaces that foster contemplation or demonstrate some educational idea. For example, the heirloom vegetable garden features a wide array of antique varieties, such as Howard’s German tomato, grown in the valley during the farm’s heyday. Purple hyacinth beans, a variety Thomas Jefferson brought to Virginia around 1805, grace a nearby fence.
The medieval garden is a favorite spot. It includes “Abbey Ruins,” built to look like the ruins of an old chapel, with low, stone walls and a couple of beams to suggest what the roof once looked like. The floor is simple, flat stones with creeping thymes growing between them. Three old, wooden benches invite visitors to sit a spell. Ivy and herbs grow in the cracks of the low, stone walls, and pieces of statuary, looking like ancient ruins, peek out here and there in the shrubbery. A vine covers the arch entryway and a visitor approaching can hear monks chanting from hidden speakers in the vegetation. Garden visitors often are seen sitting quietly in this meditation spot.
An impressive rose arbor borders the assortment of gardens, providing shade for strolling. With 12 gardens in all, there’s something to see at every turn. A thyme garden, with dozens of varieties growing amidst the boulders, leads to the vintage log cabin housing a museum of garden history. Here is a substantial collection of 18th-century farm and gardening tools, arranged on the walls as if they were simply put away from a day’s work. When all the walking around gets to be too much, old willow bentwood chairs on the front stoop provide a perch from which to view the garden or eat a snack.
The collection also includes a fragrance garden, celestial and Mediterranean gardens, a lavender bank, kitchen garden, English garden and even a rock garden. There’s also a commercial garden of everlastings, which provides dried flowers for workshops and the dried arrangements sold in the gift shop.
Hamlin and Haynie began offering luncheons in the main dining room soon after the business opened, bringing in a chef to prepare the meals and hiring local women to work and serve the meals. Soon the luncheons were so popular that the owners decided to bring in another building from about the same historical period to give them more space.
A log cabin, circa 1890, was moved and rebuilt on the spot between the arbor gardens and the house. The upstairs serves as guest quarters for occasional visitors or workshop presenters. An addition was built downstairs so the cabin dining room now seats 40 people. Luncheons are offered by reservation throughout the season and the house is almost always full.
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