In rural Southwest Virginia, Beagle Ridge Herb Farm & Flying Flowers is a magical place, and one that has been nurtured and grown by the passion of an environmental educator and her understanding husband.
On a cold winter day in 1992, Ellen Reynolds watched her husband Gregg walk into a blizzard, leaving her on the road with the realtor. They were looking at a remote piece of land near Wytheville, Virginia. The 72-acre tract was originally part of a hunting preserve, with portions serving as a corporate hunting retreat in the 1960s. Normally conservative in matters of purchases, the next words out of Gregg’s mouth, when he returned, astounded her.
“Do you have the checkbook with you?”
That event was the beginning of Ellen’s journey to a new home, a new career, and a new way of living. Over the next 10 years, the couple purchased additional acreage around the original tract, bringing the total to 160. They also made it their own retreat, building a home and adding gardens. “I’ve always done a little gardening, I found it therapeutic,” says Ellen. Little did she know that the therapeutic environment she was creating would soon have a greater mission.
“I truly believe in serendipity,” Ellen says. “Everything we have done with this property has seemed fated.” This proved true in the late 1990s, when Ellen saw a flier advertising a regional agritourism conference in Wytheville, their “second home.” Gregg and Ellen were living and working in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and commuting on weekends to their mountain getaway. She wasn’t exactly sure what agritourism was, but decided to investigate.
“I went to the conference, and they were talking about growing flowers, herbs, garlic, and selling them, and also having people visit the gardens. I went back to Winston-Salem and said to Gregg, ‘Let’s do an herb farm.’”
In 2001, they opened Beagle Ridge Herb Farm. “Herbs thrive on abuse and neglect,” Ellen says. “By this point, we were living in Covington, Virginia, and were still commuting on the weekends.” They started with a few gardens; soon the business, like their plants, began to grow. Then a weekend hobby blossomed into a new career with more serendipitous help.
While living in Covington, Ellen became a part-time interpreter with Virginia State Parks. Over the next several years, it became a partnership between VSP and the local soil and water conservation division. Not only did Ellen develop programming for children and adults at the state parks, she also went into the school system with environmental education courses. Upon leaving VSP, Ellen expanded the partnership to include a local foundation, and developed environmental education curricula that incorporated gardening into the Virginia Standards of Learning. This program was replicated in Wythe County schools with a grant from a local community foundation, the Wythe Bland Foundation. Her newest project, “Kids Grow in the Garden,” is a hands-on learning opportunity that teaches about plant growth, instills healthy eating habits and includes math and science learning opportunities.
As the Reynolds began spending more time in Wytheville, Beagle Ridge grew to 14 theme gardens as well as herb collections featuring lavender, thyme, oregano and salvias. The gardens are not only for viewing enjoyment – the herbs are harvested and manufactured into a line of natural bath and body products and herbal seasonings. Although their operation is not certified organic, the couple also grows organic lavender and organic garlic as well as herbs and perennials.
The gardens include butterfly plantings using both native and non-native plants. Gardening naturally without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers, the practice attracted more than 32 types of butterflies to the farm. So, the next phase in the Beagle Ridge development included these winged friends.
In 2010, they opened Flying Flowers, a walk-through butterfly house.
“I’ve always thought butterflies were so amazing, such magical creatures,” Ellen says. “The house is really a tribute to my mother. I knew she liked butterflies, but had no idea that they were truly a love of hers until after her passing. As we sorted through the estate, all through her home, I found objects with butterflies on them, jewelry, art and decorative items. Butterflies were everywhere.” At Flying Flowers, butterflies are truly everywhere, giving visitors of all ages the opportunity to get “up close and personal” with these amazing creatures.
The couple now calls Beagle Ridge home. Ellen devotes most of her time to the outdoor classroom as well as many indoor ones where she engages future generations in discussions of the benefits of conservation, protection and appreciation.
“When you get your hands in the dirt, you appreciate what you find there. It’s amazing to see a child’s reaction to tasting something that didn’t come out of a supermarket, but a vegetable that they grew themselves. To see the light bulb come on when they truly understand that they are experiencing something real and that it relates to their life,” Ellen says.
This passion led Ellen to being named Virginia Project Learning Tree Outstanding Educator for 2006. Project Learning Tree is an award-winning, multidisciplinary environmental education program for educators and students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. PLT, a program of the American Forest Foundation, is an environmental education program widely used around the world.
As Gregg Reynolds has been known to say, “Ellen’s garden got a little out of hand.” Every year their business has expanded. They have taken their passion for nature, mixed it with an entrepreneurial spirit, and channeled their success into a unique learning environment.