A few years ago, a fellow organic grower who like me, began growing "in his backyard" said that "growing wasn't just a business, it's a lifestyle." How right he was.
Rolling Hills Herbs & Annuals got its name from the street in Redlands, CA we call home. From less than .24 of an acre, including the home we live in, you will find our certified organic nursery and cut flower operation.
While Rolling Hills Herbs & Annuals officially began in 2009, when I reflect back, I can see the path to getting here while it had quite a few bends the theme was always the same: working with nature and utilizing it to bring about greater well-being.
In the 70's, I remember fondly the small vegetable patch my mother tended just behind our families small, two bedroom rented duplex in El Monte, CA. From it, she grew enough to feed her family of 5, fresh vegetables daily during the warmer months. I also remember visiting my great aunt regularly during this time who fed me dried herbs in my applesauce - herbs like echinacea, lobelia, goldenseal, eyebright - all to improve my health [I was prone to respiratory issues as a child which has a lot to due with the smog back in the LA area during the 70's but that is a topic for a later date.]
Flash forward to the 90's. Now a single mother of three small children of my own, ill health once again came to visit me - this time in the form of anxiety and depression. Desperate for relief and need for function, I explored many forms of traditional medicine to relieve symptom but never found the right balance. My search for wellness took me back to my roots - using herbs and pure clean food to improve not only my health by that of my family. Aromatherapy, the use of the essential oil of plants became my saving grace and lead me to study holistic health modalities such as therapeutic nutrition, reflexology, aromatherapy and ultimately license as a medical massage therapist.
Seeing firsthand the impact nature had to help people feel better and enjoy a more fulfilled life was beyond rewarding however working as a therapist proved to not be best for me personally. I simply became overwhelmed, saturated and once again I returned to nature to find my balance, peacefulness and sense of well-being - this time in the garden, my hands in the Earth with the sunshine warming me both inside and out, the fresh air blowing away the darkness. Tending the soil, coaching seeds to life, caring for plants as they grew and flourished was the balm my body and soul needed.
In 2004, I founded a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting people with therapeutic garden spaces - full of aromatic plants, cheerful flowers, and nutritious herbs and vegetables to improve their well-being. But it wasn't until 2008 when to raise funds for our outreaches I found what I was truly intended to do professionally - actually grow the plants, herbs, flowers that I had been utilizing [in various forms and via various methods for countless years] so that others could independently connect with nature in their own spaces, in their own gardens.
If you recall, 2008 was the beginning of some of the hardest economic years our country has seen. Yet as I held monthly plant sales to support the non-profits educational outreaches offering herb, vegetable and herb starter plants [ sourced from a grower in San Diego county] we kept selling out. It was as if instinctively people were being drawn to growing - either food for themselves and their families or gardens full of fragrance, color and restoration. Perhaps even both.
Each time I brought in plants for the fundraisers, I would expand my garden as well. I started propagating from my gardens, growing locally many of the plants I had been once purchasing. "Where were local growers", I asked. Surely there was a demand for these plants so in 2008 when we bought our home on Rolling Hills road in Redlands, CA I started the nursery. Being that my children were all in high school and not wanting or needing the backyard for a swing set, nursery racks, potting benches, a greenhouse took up the space. While building the nursery operation, I became a UCCE Master Gardener and went on to study Horticulture Science at a local community college.
It wasn't long before I began consumed with growing annual heirloom herb, vegetable & flower starter plants along with beloved aromatic perennials. I loved the feeling of empowerment that came from growing more of my own food. I especially loved that because these were open-pollinated varieties, I could save the seed and grow these plants again and again - each time the plant became more productive and adaptive.
With each passing season, as I grew more nursery stock in the backyard, I removed portions of lawn in the front yard to make way for planting these heirloom herbs, vegetables and flowers. From 2009-2017, each Saturday morning our family would join fellow local growers at the Redlands Certified Farmers Market - offering our heirloom starter plants, produce as well as cut herbs and flowers all grown from our urban farm of less than 1/4 acre [which includes the house].
In 2013, I rekindled my relationship with Clark's Nutrition and Natural Foods Market. As a holistic therapist, Clark's was an avid supporter of the work I was doing, referring many individuals to me for treatment. When they learned of my new path as a grower, they embraced me once again and we partnered to offer the community our heirloom starter plants. This has proven to be a perfect match! I love connecting with others through Clark's that are dedicated to living a better life- using plants and the gardens to do so.
Along the way, I formed a relationship with the University of Redlands as well - offering internship to students, lecturing and teaching as well as growing heirloom vegetables and cut flowers in their onsite community farm/gardens. For many summers when the students were away, I was generously allowed to use the farm to grow out my heirloom starter plants for produce and cut flower production. The past two years have seen cut flowers completely take over vegetable growing. Yes, friends, flowers have captured my heart and soul.
Two years ago, I certified both the heirloom starters and cut flowers organic with the USDA. At the same time, Rolling Hills took another leap by offering our locally grown seasonal cut flowers at the retail level at Clark's, to local florists and floral designers and local weddings.
Summer of 2017 to now has been a time of loss and growth, both personally and professionally. Last July, a fire caused by a lithium laptop battery destroyed much of our home. We lost just about everything we owned including three of our beloved pets. For the past 7 months, my daughter and I have been dislocated - hotel living then moving to a rental house [complete with rented furnishings] with a cat and Husky in tow.
But by grace, not one leaf in the nursery was damaged. What a confirmation to me in my darkest hours that one, the work I am doing as a grower is indeed what I am supposed to do [divinely protected] and two, that connecting with the land, especially for me the flowers is my salvation [ I believe it's the reason for retaining any sanity and the one place I have felt safe to release my feelings of deep loss and sorrow.]
As my home is being rebuilt, I have recommitted myself to not only rebuilding the actual structure but to the land it is on as well as the work I am here to do - an organic grower. Being away from my home has helped me appreciate what I had begun to take for granted. It has helped me see what I really need in my life so that I can live a life worth living.
Valuing a slower, less hectic pace of life caused me to relocate ALL of my cut flower growing back to my home property this past fall. With both sadness and hope for the future, I removed fruit trees to make way for my new life - namely the growing of more cut flowers. Already, the gardens have given me confirmation that I am indeed on the right track. The plant loss of transplanting out of the U of R to my home property has been very minimal. The fears I had that I would not have enough land to grow all that I need to grow have been silenced. Flowers are starting to bloom - even in January.
During this period where function is sometimes difficult at best, the 2018 season of heirloom tomato, pepper and eggplant starters have already been sown and are thriving. Flower beds have been created, filled to capacity with new growth and even some blooms emerging. Looking ahead, we are thrilled to offer a flower CSA [bouquets or bucket] starting in March. Remember the monthly Heirloom Tomato and Pepper plant sales we had last year at Clark's in Loma Linda. YES, they will be back for 2018!
Growing, for me is a balm. It is my solace. The beauty, the resilience, hope, health, nourishment of both body and mind is never failing. Through the plants and cut flowers I grow, it is my hope that you as well experience these blessings. It is my honor and privilege to be your sustainable, local, organic grower.