Lovage at First Sight

A mutual love of gardening and herbs grew into a way of life for a Rockbridge County couple.

About 10 years ago, Stephanie and Pete Louquet turned their hobby into their livelihood, leaving their jobs to become full-time gardeners. The couple also transformed the five acres surrounding their 1790s log cabin home in Rockbridge County into The Herbery, an herb and perennial nursery with extensive gardens that makes its debut on the Lexington Historic Garden Week tour this year on April 30.

“Gardening is a passion for both of us—an obsession,” says Stephanie. The Louquets have been gardening together since they met in 1980 as next-door neighbors in Rockingham County. “We are still best friends and work together every day,” adds Pete.

Tucked amongst forest and farmland about 10 miles northeast of Lexington off Route 11, The Herbery is a gardener’s delight.

The gardens follow the natural contours of the land and the beds brim with perennials: salvia, scented geraniums, poppies, peonies, daisies, columbine and climbing roses as well as heirloom irises and daylilies that Stephanie’s grandmother brought when she emigrated from the Netherlands in the 1920s. Mixed among the blossoms are berries and a variety of herbs including sage, chives, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, thyme, basil, garlic, lemongrass and lemon verbena.

“People walk around the garden and see mature examples of plants and then we can take them to the greenhouse,” says Pete, who built the charming potting shed at the entrance of their 2,000 square-foot greenhouse from boards salvaged from a Pennsylvania barn. “It lets people see how plants look when they are fully developed and in their prime.”

The Herbery’s beginnings date back to the mid-1980s, but it took more than a decade before the Louquets were ready to make it their livelihood. When they married in 1982, the couple moved back to Pennsylvania where they were raised. Since they both love gardening and cooking, they also enjoyed growing their own food. “Some of the neighbors were seeing all that we were growing and wanted to buy from us,” explains Stephanie. The Louquets began selling herbs and berries at the local farmers’ market, naming their business The Herbery.

In 1991, their mutual love of Rockbridge County drew them back to Virginia. Stephanie began growing herbs, leading workshops and gardening the grounds of Buffalo Springs Herb Farm, an 18th-century farmstead nearby in Raphine. Pete catered events and co-authored an herb cookbook with the farm’s owners. (Although Buffalo Springs Herb Farm is no longer open to the public, the Louquets still maintain the gardens for the present owners.) Their work on the farm gradually opened the door to relaunch The Herbery as a plant nursery with landscape design and gardening services.

“We both had other ‘real jobs’ and about 10 years ago, we decided to let those jobs go,” says Stephanie, who left her job as a restaurant manager in Lexington. Pete was working in advertising sales for The News-Gazette. Although neither had formal training in landscape design, Stephanie says, “We had several people who wanted us to come work for them. One thing led to another, and we got into doing it that way.”

Currently, the Louquets tend the gardens of more than a dozen estates, with responsibilities ranging from routine maintenance to landscape design. Several of their clients’ gardens have been included on past Historic Garden Week tours. Longview, the nine-acre estate that the Louquets have helped design and maintain for their next-door neighbors, Mary and Dick Fowlkes, will also be on the Lexington tour.

Looking to the future, the Louquets intend to grow the nursery side of the business, especially herbs and edible plants. They are eager to share advice on growing and cooking with herbs; lovage and bay laurel are two they recommend.

With a flavor similar to celery, lovage is a leafy perennial herb that works in soup stocks and dishes with onion and garlic. “Lovage can get very tall depending on where it grows, and it thrives in morning sun and afternoon shade,” advises Pete. Bay leaves grow on an attractive, evergreen shrub; some can reach the size of a small tree. “Bay laurels are very house-friendly and love to be root-bound in a container,” says Stephanie. “You can put it on your patio all summer long and bring it in during the winter.”

The gardens at The Herbery, which are open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. from April 16 to June 25, are a destination for flower and herb-lovers, but the Louquets themselves are really the main attraction.

“We’ll take our time and walk you through it and give you ideas,” says Pete. Stephanie adds, “Even if it doesn’t have anything to do with what we’re selling.” 540-348-1331

This article originally appeared in our April 2016 issue.

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