Farm becomes community
A few years ago, Hitchcock was on the verge of selling her beloved 68-acre property, having reluctantly concluded she wasn’t up to running it by herself, following the death of her husband. But somehow, that never happened.
Instead, she agreed to let some Linfield college students use her property to learn how to garden. Then she offered beds to an acquaintance or two in need of a place to stay. Then next thing she knew, she’d turned her home into a vibrant community farm and artist retreat.
The barn houses an upstairs yoga studio and downstairs workshop. There’s a peaceful retreat cottage, a vegetable, herb and flower garden, the beginnings of a forest garden, and even a fairyland.
Students who began by learning on Hitchcock’s farm how to plant carrots have branched out to create other urban farms. Meanwhile, wetlands provide wildlife habitat along the river, and fields raise organic hay.
The farm will be featured in the upcoming McMinnville Garden Club’s annual tour of gardens.
The fairy country is an example, and perhaps a symbol, of how things are working here: What was an impediment has been turned into a featured asset.
An oak tree that fell in the front yard remained there for a long time, a mess that Hitchcock simply didn’t have the energy to cope with.
She cut some up for firewood and carved a footpath through the trunk. The rest simply remained.
Now, however, it is growing into something different. The massive ball of roots, encased in heavy clay soil, has become an abode of fairies, courtesy of fey architect Shar Kucala.
At first, Kucala said, the massive ball of clay looked impossible to use, at least on one side, which lacked any sort of crevice. But eventually, she learned to sculpt the clay, carving out the crannies she wanted. Then she tiled miniature stone walls and sealed them with grout.
There’s a rural countryside in the works, to be followed soon by a fairy city, an outdoor nusery where the babies can sun, a place for underground fairies to build hobbit-like holes surrounded by mushrooms, and a darker side, where the goblin branch of the family may prefer to congregate. Few who pass by, she said, can resist the urge to stop and play.
Nearly all the materials have been repurposed: old pans and flower pots, broken bits of crockery, things Hitchcock had been collecting in hopes of someday learning mosaic work. Eventually, Kucala hopes to start a business creating tabletop fairylands for people with limited land.
“Not many people have an upturned root ball in their front yards,” she observed. But many people, she said, would love to have more whimsy in their lives.
“I think there’s a real basic need to just get our world smaller,” Kucala said. “It’s so big, and so overwhelming. There’s a real need for hidey holes, to give people a chance to play with their children there, them them out of the TV room, and outside.”
Much of the yard, located in an oak grove, is formally landscaped with rhododendrons and flower beds.
Behind the barn, Hitchcock and her husband kept a vegetable garden and orchard. It is still there, but has been expanded and revised.
The garden echoes the eclectic nature of the farm, with a wild and very pretty, mix of annual vegetables, perennial flowers, medicinal and culinary herbs, and bee blossoms.
California poppies, purple chives and blue forget-me-nots bloom among pansies and kale; strawberries ripen in what is, more or less, their own bed; borage contrasts prettily with roses, lemon balm forms fragrant mounds, calendula shares space with over-wintered leeks, the peas are nearly three feet tall; the fava beans, caged in their own enclosure, sport fat pods ready to harvest; along a back fence, raspberries are thriving.
Jacque Schroeder, who is in charge of the garden, is also working on creating a forest garden in the orchard.
The garden’s eclectic design, she said, “values adventure and mystery of hiding places and wild, spacious, uneven areas broken by clusters of plants” and creates “a playscape for artists and the children that reside in each of us.”
Schroeder said that she hopes the forest garden will create a sustainable area for organic and biodynamic food production, and also meet “the needs of nature, with provisions for wild animal mobility and life cycles.”
Hitchcock calls the farm “a tribute to people working together,” fostering a multi-generational community.
“It’s very healing for all concerned,” she said. “It’s been really fun.
“I would recommend it. It’s a great way to retire.”
Everything operates on a tight budget, she said, but that sometimes leads to more creative solutions.
“The whole story of this is about reinvention,” Hitchcock said. Kucala’s theme, she said, is inspiration, while Schroeder’s is sustainability, making for a powerful combination.
“For people who have land and are unable to work it themselves, there’s a possibility for allowing people to come onto your land and work it,” Hitchcock said. “It feels like an idea whose time has come.”
SUMMER GARDEN TOUR AND FAIRE
- What: McMinnville Garden Club annual tour of gardens, and garden faire.
- Where: Throughout McMinnville and environs. Faire will be held on Cowls Street in downtown McMinnville.
- When: Sunday, June 23. Faire opens at 9 a.m.; garden tours open at 10. Both end at 4 p.m.
- Cost: $10
- Tickets: McMinnville Farmer’s Market, Incahoots, Kraemer’s Garden Center and Roth’s IGA in McMinnville, and Amity Foods & Coffee in Amity, and Godfrey’s Nursery in Aumsville.They also will be sold at the garden faire.
- More information: Call Judy at 503-434-1656, or Elsie at 503-434-5380.