Genius Loci- A Sense of Place

'Walnut Grove'

'Walnut Grove' was the name given to the original 7 acres that my husband and I purchased in 1973. We had just moved 3,000 miles across the country to unfamiliar territory and were looking for land with a sense of the West- wild, open, and friendly!

We found it on a mountainside SW of Portland at the 1,000 foot level. The land sloped gently to the South and Southeast, and when you stood in the middle of the existing English walnut orchard you had a framed view of Mt. Hood, some 70 miles away. A row of 100 year old black walnuts lined the Eastern boundary, providing a canopy of shade on a hot summer day. We had been told by the locals that strawberries had once been grown where the 25 year old orchard now stood. The Southern border reached down into the cool rain forest inhabited by old growth Douglas Fir and the notched stumps of timbered cedar giants. A gentle spring emerged out of the ravine and meandered down through the woods into what we would later call 'The Gorge'. On the Eastern edge, just below the Black Walnuts, a huge double-trunk Douglas Fir arose as sentinel, standing alone and magnificent. It's estimated age was well over 250 years and its gnarled branches reached down to the ground as if in embrace. It was to become our children's favorite climbing tree!

The Rainforest

By 1976 we had built a house square in the middle of the property, aiming the windows South and Southeast to catch the view of 'our' Mt. Hood. The walnuts had been planted far apart, allowing meadow grasses and wildflowers to fill in around them. For the next seven years we concentrated on finishing the house.

Slowly we claimed the land around us- taming it and molding it to suit our pleasures. The woodland below the house became playground for our two young sons. A leprechaun village emerged with stone-lined pathways and underground forts.(now, over 30 years later, our oldest son is a Principal Planner for the city of Portland, having learned skills from the planning of his first town in the woods!) The coyotes and deer retreated deeper into the gorge- shy creatures after all, despite the coyote calls that would sometimes pierce the quiet at night. We built a large rectangular vegetable garden on the only flat section- near the edge of the woods. Here flowers and arbors define the area. We have had to install an eight foot high wire fence to keep the deer out, since the new leaves of the grapevines have lured them back onto the property!

In 1984 the acre above the house was transformed from orchard to vineyard. In the process, we uncovered a black obsidian arrow head, parts of old farm tools, and quite a few horse shoes! The transformation had begun. It was hard to say good-bye to the huge drifts of wild meadow grasses, daisies, yarrow, and bachelor buttons. The neat rows of vineyard posts and trained vines were a sharp contrast in discipline. I looked to the field above the road then- at the time it was still a vacant lot.

Fir, walnut, and grapevines define the spaces

In 1988 we bought the adjacent 5 acres to the East for further vineyard development. The parcel, on a steep Southeast slope, nurtured shoulder-high blackberries and thistles, old fruit trees, a few tall Douglas firs, and an old barn and hand dug well. After a year of work we were able to plant four more acres of vineyard, leaving only a small steep triangle of the original vegetation. I still miss the apples from the old trees,(although we have since planted a variety of dwarf fruit trees) and I have transplanted all the narcissus that grew in wild drifts to the numerous perennial beds that have been placed around the house. Over the years we have been inspired by what is around us- the magnificence of nature's palette- and have added a bit of our own personalities to the tapestry ( The Mediterranean garden, the secret garden, the shade gardens, the courtyard garden, the arbored and enclosed vegetable'potager'... always striving to keep pockets of the original flora. The cool, damp woodland on our Southern boundary has been virtually untouched, with deer and coyote still finding a home on land that was recently turned into a nature conservancy. (The deer are not a good thing for our grapes and roses, so deer fencing now also surrounds the vineyard blocks during the Summer months!) We must never lose touch with nature and at times must compromise. English daisies dot the turf grass, native weeds sneak into the perennial beds, and volunteer woodland shrubs appear in the strangest places....and every Spring we tolerate the loud croaks of our resident frogs who take up temporary residence in the new fountain, and manage to produce uncounted numbers of tadpoles!

Gigantic Hostas form a hedge in a bed under a Walnut tree

Our new fountain brings the sound of water ( and frogs!) closer

The element most constant over these past twenty-plus years, aside from the ever present green lichen, fir trees and grass, is the eternal presence of Mt. Hood on our horizon. We always know where we are!

Mt. Hood at sunrise

The Lathe house is home to shade-loving hydrangeas, ferns, and hostas.... the front courtyard is home to a terra cotta cat, Trillium, and wood violets....

...The back deck found our sleeping 'kitty' atop our now departed Rottweiler, Dante. As Winter approached and the air turned cool, this was their favorite spot for watching both birds and squirrels steal off with prize walnuts.

The Laurel Valley General Store, built in 1899 at the bottom of our hill, has seen a century pass, and has been a community landmark and gathering place.