Monday, March 24, 2014

Herb gardening: the perfect nursery?

I finally found the nursery I've been searching for — for years.

Ever since reading Adelma Grenier Simmons' 1964 classic Herb Gardening in Five Seasons nearly 20 years ago, I've been summoning herbs from whatever patches of ground have been available to me. I'm on my fourth garden now, and Simmons' book has been the starting point for the planning of each plot. In previous locales, however, I never found a nursery catering to the wide selection of herbs my winter dreams demanded. Here in southern California, though, I found a good one, at long last.

Pearson's Gardens & Herb Farm is a sweet spot tucked into a hilly, twisty residential area of Vista, Calif., north of San Diego. Started in 1981, it's been a wholesale provider all that time until opening to retail just six years ago. They claim "the largest selection of herbs, spices, and ethnobotanicals in the state of California," and after spending three hours today wandering (OK, practically skipping) the crunchy gravel walkways among their rows upon rows of neatly arranged tables piled with flats I've no reason to doubt the claim. I enjoyed a nice long chat with owner Mark Pearson and made it home with 54 different plants.

Some photos from the nursery ...

The tea connections here: I enjoy herbal teas for many occasions and remedies — but I tend to prefer the fresh stuff. Unlike tea proper, herbs produced for infusion lose potency and flavor quickly. I've rarely been bowled over by herbal teas — save for cinnamon tea on a chilly night, that sublime experience of drinking cherry blossoms (ha, speaking of), and I do sometimes rely on my Everyday Detox — unless, frankly, they just came out of the ground. In particular, my ground. Lemon balm is a longtime favorite — fresh or dried, into the pot, heavenly. Thanks to Simmons, I've learned the sublimity of tea made with sage and/or rosemary. Good ol' mints and chamomiles, too, have calmed many an afternoon. I look forward to rebooting a from-the-garden-into-the-pot regimen this year.

Verbenas are favorites, too, and Pearson's sells more than a few, including pineapple verbena — which they've tagged directly as Moujean Tea, a name I'd not encountered before but is apparently common. It's practically a bonsai-worthy herb, the way it grows in tidy branches with small leaves, and bees love it. Despite its name, it brews up a floral, vanilla-flavored infusion. It's going to be all I can do to let the plants get established before I start plucking directly into my teapot.

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