The geography subtley shifted as I descended from the rocky Mendocino coastline through the deep and dark Navarro Redwood Forest and into the Anderson Valley to visit my third garden of the day. The Anderson Valley boasts rolling green hills dotted with vineyards, orchards and small farms. I passed many large and architecturally interesting wine tasting room as I rolled down Highway 128. Although I am not a wine lover I am constantly amazed at the varied and unique compounds built by the wineries in the Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Valleys. Every type of architecture is represented from metal roofed, wood sided barn like building to the most ornate re-creations of French and Italian stone castles. Many maintain beautiful garden spaces worthy of visiting on their own merits but alas, that day, I had no extra time!
The Apple Farm is a thirty acre family farm which has been worked in harmony with the land by three generations. The Farm, originally a rundown farm labor camp, was discovered and purchased by restauranteurs Sally and Don Schmitt in 1984 to be their homestead, growing both food and flowers and raising their family with a connection to the land. Their daughter, Karen, and her husband Tim Bates now manage The Apple Farm and it has developed into a multi-faceted venture. You are greeted by the Farm Stand as you enter the property. Fresh apples, quince and pears of many varieties are for sale along with their Farm’s own apple juice, apple cider syrup, homemade jams and jellies and much more.
The potting shed/greenhouse was created at the back of the shell of an existing building and it is there I was greeted by Karen and invited to enjoy a refreshing apple juice spritzer as we chatted about life on the farm. The potting shed is County Living magazine material–both utilitarian and aesthetically pleasing. I was fascinated by the common jasmine vines twined around all of the ceiling rafters. Karen said it had escaped INTO the shed at one point and was so beautiful when it bloomed that she has simply let it have its way. Because the potting shed has a door closed at night, a quasi greenhouse environment has been created for the vine and it blooms about a month earlier than it would if it were outside. Unfortunately, I missed the blooming time and she had just cut it back to encourage the new growth–it was still lovely.
The Apple Farm is a lovely setting in which to host family gatherings, weddings or just about any other event you can suggest. Karen and her family will help gather up the professional help you might need and feed you to boot if you choose. I got the impression that if you propose it and it is at all feasible she will work to make you dream come true! There are many lovely settings for dining or just relaxing. One of my favorite was this small grove of mulberry trees which have been pruned and managed to provide a leafy canopy for intimate dining.
The Farm also offers the opportunity to stay in one of their apple orchard guest cottages or in their original guest room which is now called the Room With a View. I learned about their Stay and Cook opportunities where you stay the night and assist in the preparation of the family meal using many of the fruits and vegetables they grow. There is no formal curriculum, just the chance to get a taste of working on a farm and taking part in preparing a shared meal. You can go to their website http://www.philoapplefarm.com to find out more about the history of the farm, the family, and the adventures you might plan to absorb a little of life on a working farm.
The Apple Farm’s garden lies just behind the potting shed. It is exactly the right garden for this setting–relaxed and a little bit boisterous, overflowing with veggie beds and perennials and roughly enclosed by a variety of tall shrubs and fruit trees in a loose hedge like fashion. The whimsical metal rod structure of the trellised vines on one side is repeated in the freeform structures used as vegetable supports.
Food, flowers, fruit and fun are all mixed up and invite you to come in a sit a spell to take it all in.
I took the opportunity to wander down the gravel driveway toward the closest of the orchards and was rewarded with more beautiful vignettes.
I found the Himalayan blackberry hedgerows from which Karen makes jam each year and enjoyed a long view of one of the orchards framed by a backdrop of redwoods.
I know that what looked like a serene respite to me is, in truth, a flurry of activity. Maintaining a working family farm takes all hands on deck and if you are not doing a task you are probably planning for what needs to be done next. I’ll leave you with a photo that to me spoke volumes about this family farm. These apples and all the other farm products (and animals) are lovingly tended to and nurtured by hand using sustainable farming methods. No matter what else you do–someone’s got to climb that ladder and pick the fruit!
My takeaway from The Apple Farm? Let your garden be a reflection of the ambiance of both your setting and your lifestyle. Strive for harmony between your garden design and the surrounding structures and ornamentation.
NEXT STOP: WILDWOOD