I met Colleen Gondolfi at the Chehalis Farmer’s Market last year. Her Blooming Artichoke Herbary features living herbs, homemade healthful teas and appealing gifts. I got to know Colleen over conversations about medicinal herbs, something we both treasure. As we discussed the useful properties of Mallows and Hyssops, I knew I was speaking with someone who knew her stuff.
Colleen’s been gardening since childhood. “Growing plants caught my attention early,” she says. “I grew up in Portland, Oregon and spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ farm. That gave me an appreciation for growing and preserving our foods.”
She’s always loved herbs. “My interest in herbs started with culinary herbs. I love the idea of a practical garden, one that provides more than just cutting flowers and produce.” She smiles cheerfully and continues, “The idea of propagating and nurturing herbs for myself and others is hugely appealing.”
Eventually, that interest led to a Master’s Degree in complimentary and alternative medicine and to her company — Blooming Artichoke Herbary.
“The business started with two goals in mind — growing medicinal herbs for gardeners and herbalists, and providing education on how to nurture and use the plants.”
Over the past six years she’s expanded the business into raising and selling culinary and ornamental perennials. She also offers botanical-themed textiles and herbal teas.
Education about herbs remains a strong component of the business. “I offer classes, a monthly newsletter with information about herbs and blog posts about herbs and gardening. I’m available at farmers’ markets and other local events to answer questions.”
Colleen is generous with her plant knowledge. “I have people come to me at farmers’ markets with baggies containing native plants for me to identify and discuss with them.” She encourages people to know more about their plants for safety reasons. “The idea that a plant is natural and therefore safe, is wrong. Some plants can be dangerous if used incorrectly. It’s important to know your plant.”
Every gardener has their favorites and Colleen told me about hers. “I love meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) — it’s a beautiful, fragrant plant for the garden and a wonderful anti-inflammatory herb. The bees love it.”
She explains that some herbs are important for a variety of reasons. “Echinacea is such an important medicinal. They’re prairie plants and with our dwindling prairies some of them are endangered. I grow them because they are beautiful, are excellent medicinals and to preserve them.”
She believes that gardening is essential to the human being, “It feeds something in us to get our hands in the dirt.”
Colleen met husband, Tom, in 1997. “We met in an AOL chat room,” Tom says. “We talked online and on the phone for months before I ever met her in person. I proposed on our first date. Twenty-plus years later we are still very happy together. We even hold hands together in public,” he quips.
“It’s just impossible odds that we found each other,” Colleen says. “It’s proof of a higher power at work.”
Tom is the author of several science fiction books including: the CorpGov Chronicles and Toy Wars. He also owns and operates, TANSTAAFL Press, a small publishing house specializing in science fiction books.
The acronym, TANSTAAFL, stands for, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” Both acronym and quote come from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966) penned by Tom’s favorite science fiction author, Robert Heinlein. “His works have inspired me. Heinlein showed us ourselves through strong characters and believable future histories.”
Running a small press is a surprisingly varied job. Tom explains that every day is different. “One day I’m writing my latest novel, the next I’m negotiating contracts or creating marketing materials. It’s the most difficult and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
A large part of that reward is helping new authors to get their books in print. “When I slide a brand-new physical book into their hands it’s a priceless feeling,” Tom says.
Both Tom and Colleen work from home and are very supportive of each other. “We both work hard to help and encourage the other in any way we can,” Colleen says.
“We’re both so passionate about our businesses that it’s sometimes scary,” Tom adds.
When asked if they assist with each other’s businesses, Colleen chuckles. “No. Tom’s not allowed in the greenhouse because of his black thumb. And I get a blank look on my face whenever he launches into cyber-borg-alien speak.”
But this doesn’t deter them from success, either separately or together.
You can find the Gondolfis and Blooming Artichoke Herbary in Castle Rock. You can find TANSTAAFL Press online. For more information, visit TANSTAAFL Press on Facebook, TANSTAAFL Press on Twitter, Blooming Artichoke Herbary on Facebook and Blooming Artichoke Herbary on Instagram.