William Varney makes a big entrance with a wide smile and an irrepressible glint in his eyes. He’s quick to shake your hand and pat you on the back.
Maybe his infectious good will comes from living in wide-open spaces. He was born in Oklahoma’s panhandle, has ranched in Australia and now lives in the limestone hills of central Texas where his big personality tends the smallest things: organic herbs and edible flowers—275 varieties, to be exact. Varney owns the Fredericksburg Herb Farm, a retail business that sells herbs on site and via the web.
Walk through his manicured gardens and you’re surrounded by dozens of kinds of basil from Lime to Thai, Cinnamon to African Blue. As butterflies float by, you pass tufts of thyme and waterfalls of rosemary, not to mention a riot of nasturtiums and other edible flowers. There are more than 100 varieties of eye-popping roses, grown without pesticides so the petals can be folded into cakes, ice cream and a host of other desserts.
Varney moved here in 1985 with plans for a small herb farm, but his vision and personality have fueled the business beyond his dreams. This farm is not just a fresh herb stand along the road; it now boasts a gourmet restaurant, a day spa, a small B&B and an extensive web business, selling infused vinegars and oils, teas, and mustards, as well as lotions, soaps, room fresheners and about everything else you can make from herbs and edible flowers.
Varney’s quick to recognize the secret of his farming success. “I’m right here all the time, working the place,” he says. With degrees in business and horticulture, he tends the gardens every day, still makes his unusual herb ice creams by hand, and loves to serve guacamole in nasturtium leaves—a small dollop in a peppery leaf, rolled closed like a cigar. Big perfection in small things.
By Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, food writers in Colebrook, Conn.