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The Thyme Garden Offers Unique Herbs and Cultivates Community

By Matt Wastradowski

As the COVID-induced quarantine has become part of everyday life, many of us have picked up new hobbies, from binging “Tiger King” early on to baking Instagram-worthy loaves of sourdough bread.

Yet others are discovering-or rediscovering-their green thumb. And for new gardeners and veterans alike, the 30-year-old Thyme Garden has become a source of plants, seeds, rare herbs, and-most importantly-a sense of community and normalcy in these most abnormal times.

A garden in full bloom with colorful flowers

Herbs at the Heart of The Thyme Garden

The family-owned Thyme Garden, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, started in 1990-when it launched to expand its seed business and start a nursery in the community of Alsea, Oregon, just a few miles outside of Corvallis.

The spacious property made it possible for the family to collect and cultivate new and unusual varieties of herbs; today, the garden boasts more than 250 raised beds showcasing more than 650 varieties of specialty herbs, representing one of the largest such collections in the Pacific Northwest.

Emily Stimac, manager at The Thyme Garden, says the company's herb selection gets beyond the basics; sure, you'll find basil, mint, parsley, and other classic plants and seeds. But The Thyme Garden prides itself on cultivating a selection that attracts customers from all walks of life. “We grow a wide variety of very specialized plants-a lot of plants you won't find at your average nursery,” Stimac says. “People who are into medicinal herbs or really interesting or exotic herbs, that's what we do.”

She says the garden produces hard-to-grow herbs that typically thrive in conditions far removed from the rainy Willamette Valley. “Some of them are really hard to germinate,” Stimac says. “They might require four months outside in cold weather or this or that, and we've got those things figured out-so we can grow those for people.” Those herbs might then get used in Eastern medicine, beauty treatments, exotic teas, and more.

A boat is moored to a wooden dock on still water, surrounded by trees

Community Grows Around Garden

If the herbs initially brought customers to The Thyme Garden, the company's other offerings-a wide variety of plant-based items, an ongoing salmon restoration project, and well-attended events-kept them coming back.

Stimac says that, since COVID-19 closed the garden to the public, its online sales have remained brisk. “People are at home, they're growing, and they've got extra time to garden," she says. She points to would-be home brewers ordering hop rhizomes as one example of how the garden caters to gardeners of all stripes-but The Thyme Garden's online store also showcases exotic flower seeds, chili pepper seeds, hop cones, herbal tea blends, starter packs, heating coils, and more.

The Thyme Garden's ongoing salmon restoration project has also become a point of pride in recent years. As Stimac tells it, The Thyme Garden's property once hosted a pair of year-round streams, one of which was ideal spawning ground for coho salmon; the previous owner had diverted that stream for agricultural reasons.

So the garden partnered with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and a handful of regional organizations to rebuild the stream and recreate the vital habitat. Today, The Thyme Garden hosts an annual event each fall so visitors can witness the coho spawning and better understand a key aspect of nature in the Pacific Northwest. “It helps people appreciate the importance of salmon habitat and give them inspiration, if they have property, for things they can do on their land,” Stimac says.

The coho-themed event is just one of several that longtime customers look forward to throughout the year, Stimac says. The garden's other gatherings include an Earth Day celebration, an annual art festival for Mother's Day, summer tours, luncheons, weddings, and more.

A man is kneeling in his garden of flowers

The Thyme Garden Copes With COVID-19

This being The Thyme Garden's 30th anniversary, it should be a time of celebration for the long-running garden. But its spring slate of events has been wiped out in the face of COVID-19, with no guarantees that its summer and fall schedule-weddings, reunions, basket-making workshops, and so forth-won't meet the same fate.

But Stimac is taking the uncertainty in stride, finding the silver lining in an otherwise persistent cloud. “We're in the state of figuring out what we think is going to be best,” she says of the garden's summer and fall schedule. (At the moment, Stimac says the garden plans to host luncheons in late June and early July for small groups-and that the garden is currently accepting reservations for those events.)

So far, she's doing that by staying active on social media, most notably through The Thyme Garden's Facebook page and a monthly newsletter.

The garden also offers seed and plant sales, with delivery available to residents within 30 miles. (Delivery fees are $10-or free with a $100 order.) And, for safety's sake, the garden offers a roadside pick-up stand with contactless delivery.

Beyond that, Stimac says longtime customers have reached out to check in on her family and their garden-and that she looks forward to welcoming those customers back when it's safe and healthy to do so again. “We're excited to see this pass so we can get back to having people out and hosting them,” she says. “It's really designed to be a venue for people to visit, and we can't wait to have people back.”

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