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A Calming Garden Paradise
A nature-minded Oregon couple turn an old sheep farm into a veritable Eden for plants, animals, and people
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A garden doesn’t have to be perfect,” Maryellen McCulloch says, surveying the colorful perennial borders she’s created around her hilltop home just west of Portland. “You have to let things happen.” Among other things, that means if an interesting but uninvited plant shows up in one of her garden beds—say a tall mullein, which is usually regarded as a weed—Maryellen doesn’t yank it out. She welcomes it to coexist with her plantings.
The light-filled pool house commands sweeping views of the Tualatin Valley.
Photography: John Granen
But, then, she’s a woman who does a lot of welcoming, both horticulturally and socially. Maryellen and her husband, Michael, a Portland-based architect, frequently host events at Westwind Farm Studio, their 80-acre spread overlooking the Tualatin Valley and Coast Range. Over the last dozen years the couple has transformed a former sheep farm into swaths of inviting and completely organic gardens, meadows, woodlands, and lavender fields.
Stunning Pool House
Gardens have always been important to Maryellen, but the scope and scale of her efforts changed when she moved from the city to the farm. With its eye-popping views and 1978 Pietro Belluschi-designed house, the place had an instant and irresistible appeal. It also posed a challenge. What to do with all that land?
Built with Japanese timber-frame methods and constructed of Port Orford cedar, the pool house/yoga studio that Mike McCulloch designed pays elegant homage to his and wife Maryellen’s home, one of the last residences designed by modern master Pietro Belluschi.
The transformation began when Mike designed a series of terraces on the south side of the house. From the first level, with its swimming pool, giant outdoor fireplace, and elegant pool house/yoga studio, the terraces rise up the hillside beside a small waterfall to a series of gardens filled with long-stemmed perennials and wildflowers that attract, shelter, and feed birds, bees, and butterflies. At the top is a greenhouse where Maryellen nurtures a very un-Oregon collection of cacti and succulents and grows filler plants for the gardens.
Mike created a series of terraces leading up from the pool, and Maryellen planted between them with an assortment of deerproof, prairie-style perennials that attract birds and add pleasure to social gatherings.
For their larger landscaping issues, the McCullochs consulted with John Greenlee, an expert on native and ornamental grasses. He provided a horticultural blueprint for restoring the property’s meadows and forests. Guided by Greenlee, the McCullochs mowed down the thorny tangles of blackberry that had taken over the pastures and reseeded the land with native grasses and wildflowers. They saw an almost instant decrease in invasive plants and an influx of birds, bees, and other pollinators.
Bursts of Color
At the edges of the meadows they put in borders of native plants that provide a succession of flowers, starting with hardy Pacific Coast irises in March and April and continuing with St. John’s wort and fireweed in the summer and autumn.
Pink spirea adds pretty color along garden paths.
The McCullochs are now restoring 40 acres of native forest below the meadows. Maryellen is sanguine about the loss of a few plants every year to elk and deer that love the cool shade of giant Douglas firs and big-leaf maples. “My philosophy is, if you have 50 plants, the deer can have three of them,” she says. “It’s their land too.”
Up from the forest, long rows of fragrant lavender blossom in shades of white, blue, and purple. During the annual Oregon Lavender Association Festival, visitors harvest lavender, make aromatic wreaths, sample lavender-infused cookies, and sniff homemade oils and sprays. It’s all part of the gardens-are-for-sharing philosophy that reigns at Westwind Farm Studio. People, plants, animals—all are welcome here.
Maryellen’s daughter Elena enjoys the fragrant, bee-buzzing fields of lavender that draw visitors during the Oregon Lavender Festival in mid-July.
Created by Eamonn Hughes, the water garden is a habitat that invites birds, butterflies, frogs, and other wildlife to the gardens.
Ornamental grasses and wildflowers, including blanketflower bloom from early spring to late fall.
A massive stone fireplace on the terrace above the pool area is a favorite year-round gathering spot for family and friends.