On The Garden Path

Herb garden in foothills of Fresno County, Calif., is a spectacular sight

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LESSONS IN HOW TO USE HERBS: The gardens is a family farm that offers visitors an educational tour of the herb gardens, a sample of homemade refreshments, and a variety of herbs that are available for purchase.

courtesy of Kathy Manney

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In a cathedral of eucalyptus and giant sequoia, the hush of the Squaw Valley Herb Gardens is a sharp contrast to the vision one usually holds of California's San Joaquin Basin. Established on five acres in 1984, the gardens are a unique weave of art and agriculture, in beautiful, creative and useful landscapes in the foothills of Fresno County, near Sequoia and Kings Canyon. The magnificent granite ice age glaciers that formed the Sierra Nevada Mountain range are due east, making the Squaw Valley Herb Gardens' eastern face simply spectacular. The garden's owners, Tim and Rosemary, call themselves artists, and their herb gardens certainly reflect their love of nature and its scented beauty. The garden is a small family farm, and through their herbs and group lectures, they hope to keep old-time herb recipes and remedies alive.

Visitors to the garden are greeted with a sample of candied fennel seeds and told that the sweets are for sweetening the breath, aiding in digestion and possibly curbing the appetite. Fennel also aids in detoxifying and removing waste from the body. Because fresh herbs are a cook's - and gardener's - delight, discovering foods and medicines from our grandmothers' kitchens is what Rosemary, a former elementary school teacher, teaches visitors when they tour the gardens.

Guided group tours

Visitors can make appointments in advance to take group tours with either one- or two-hour presentations. The groups are led by Tim and Rosemary, who show off their gardens and tell folks a little bit about herbs that are in season.

They also give an entertaining presentation by blending music and laughter, recipes and remedies, and California history and legends. Rosemary tells how herbs and folklore are long-established beliefs, traditions and a way of life for people. Folk medicine and health practices evolved from cultural customs, and herbs can be a soothing way to encourage healing.

Lavender plants abound in the gardens, where the flower spikes are used for dried flower arrangements and wreaths. Rosemary explains how lavender is used for aromatherapy, as it has a calming effect, and also as a culinary herb. She says that lavender as an ingredient in hand cream is very therapeutic to the skin.

Next, Rosemary demonstrates culling the dried lavender buds and tells how they are a deterrent to moths. She also adds that putting dried lavender buds in an old-fashioned sugar bowl, with the lid ajar, leaves a pleasant scent in any room. She says she also places the fragrant, pale-purple flowers and flower buds in sheer organza sachet bags, which she sells.

Homemade refreshments, such as Sangria herb tea and cookies made with lavender, are part of the educational presentation.

Click here to find more tour information and some simple herbal remedy recipes, visit the gardens' Web site.