HERE, hidden in plain sight, is a spiritually settling garden nestled at the mouth of the scenic Columbia River gorge in Troutdale, Oregon. A labor of love created and maintained by Terry Cook and his wife Linda with only occasional help from professionals, this garden has been 40+ years in the making.
The property was purchased by the Cooks in 1977 and in the words of Linda’s father when he first saw it: “You are going to burn it, aren’t you?”. Burning it was never in the cards, but with a vision for what it could be, redeveloping it was. Seven remodels later, the home and gardens are what they are today.
Amongst the initial work was filling an old pond used for irrigating nursery stock, removing sheds ready to collapse and adding an indoor bathroom in the home. The original house was built prior to indoor plumbing so it lacked any interior piping for water or waste. The kitchen sink floor joists had rotted through due to leakage ignored for years, the entire home needed new electrical wiring and the “basement”, such as it was suffered frequent water inundation due to rising ground water in the winter.
It may have been easier to just tear it down and start over.
After a year of rebuilding the home was livable and comfortable. The grounds were next. However, it would be another five years before the garden began to take shape. By the late 1980’s, it was clear that the vision of ‘the farm’, a country retreat home designed as an escape to beauty, was coming together.
Ove the years, the farm would evolve into the Bella Terra, an intense and enchanting garden of 2 acres as part of a 7.8 acre property in the thriving burb of Springdale located on the Historic Columbia River Highway. It contains enchanted walkways, a conversation garden, multiple species of ornamental grass plants, flowering plants, annuals and perennials, exquisite pastoral views, garden art and custom metal artwork, screens and trellises made by Studio P2717 in the on-site art studio. Known today for its charm, it is a welcoming and delightful place of beauty that provides rest and rejuvenation for the weary soul.
When the Cook’s oldest daughter, who had grown up on the farm, got engaged in 2003, her desire was to be married in the garden. It didn’t take much persuading for Dad to agree, but it did take a new vision for how to make the garden “wedding friendly”.
Working with a landscape architect colleague, Cook redesigned the garden to include a plaza with fountain and gazebo, a linear, sunken garden and a raised oval landing along the main axis with several smaller axes tucked in with additional gardens.
Laid out to provide focus on the bride, guests have uninterrupted views of the wedding party as they move through the sunken garden ending at the raised Oval where the service is performed. From there, the celebration continues to a large grassed open area where options are available for hosting the reception, sit down garden dinner and evening entertainment. With on-site, valet parking for over 100 cars, the Bella Terra has hosted weddings up to 325 guests conveniently.
Both Cook daughters got married in the garden, which led to other family members and friends also beginning their family formation at the Bella Terra. Although the gardens have frequently hosted garden tours, non-profit fund-raising dinners and other special events, all activities are private and not offered as a business opportunity, a wedding venue or any other for-profit operation. Events originate and are selected on a referral only basis.
The grounds are laid out in an axial development pattern reminiscent of the French style of landscape design. The primary east/west axis is the sunken garden, anchored on the east end with the plaza, fountain and pergolas and the west end with the raised platform Oval and pedestal fountain. Through the center of the Oval a secondary north/south axis runs through an alle’e of Pennsylvania Ash trees leading to an emerging wetland outside the garden proper on the north and a private outdoor home patio on the south.
The conversation garden is surrounded by a garden wall and a fire pit in the center with surrounding benches. This small, formal garden space is encircled with a small, trimmed Boxwood hedge and cascading Golden Japanese Forest grasses. The N/S axis through the conversation garden connects the guest suite to the larger garden while the E/W axis leads from the double doors at the home’s kitchen through the firepit to a niche in the garden wall surrounding a copper fountain. This garden is a place of solitude and contemplation after a busy day of work or play.
Throughout the garden one will find numerous places to sit, rest and enjoy the sweet spirit of the place fill one’s senses.