Chocolate vine
Image: Bruce Wolf

Chocolate vine (Akebia quinata) twines through a string of lights draped from an arbor near the wedding grove at Cornelius Pass Roadhouse.

The Wild One

Nicky Love / Head Gardener, Cornelius Pass Roadhouse

"I TEND NATURE,” says Nicky Love, reveling in the spiritual gray area between what a gardener does and what a garden does. “Many people don’t get to spend much time around nature. My philosophy is to give people a chance to see some wildness—and to help them get turned on to the natural world by seeing unique and unusual plants.”

Love got her start in the equally free-spirited Joy Creek Nursery in Scappoose before developing the gardens at the Cornelius Pass Roadhouse nine years ago. Originally a working farm established by the Imbrie family, the six acres are punctuated by a 1866 Victorian-era Italian Villa–style home, an octagonal barn, and a granary that, built in the 1850s, is one of the oldest surviving agricultural structures left in the state. The McMenamins purchased the property in 1986. Surrounded by both Hillsboro’s suburban sprawl and numerous wetlands brimming with birds and wildlife, it now features a tiny pub (built in an old milking shed), a brewery, and a multilevel restaurant built with timbers from the former Blitz-Weinhard headquarters in downtown Portland.

Nicky Love
Image: Bruce Wolf

Cornelius Pass Roadhouse head gardener Nicky Love gently tames the wildness she cultivates.

A filigree of foliage from nearby trees half-obscures each structure, creating the experience of “unveiling” each nook of the property. Outdoor spaces seem carved out of the wild: a peaceful meadow surrounded by wild roses; grape vines clambering up walnut trees; a rustic magnolia glen; an archway made of golden chain trees (laburnum); and an original Imbrie family apple orchard, all connected by meandering paths through jungly brambles.

Honoring the McMenamins’ tradition of selective preservation, Love saved trees from the original family farm—walnuts, fruit trees, a stand of Douglas fir, and ornamental species—when the gardens were first developed. Bit by bit, she’s whittled down the thickets of invasive Himalayan blackberry and bindweed, replacing them with wildlife-friendly trees and shrubs.

Overall, Love strives for a balance between the ornamental features (which include a freshly planted new vegetable plot) and a subtle guardianship of the wilder parts of the garden. “My goal is to keep it feeling like an old family farm—with wild pockets,” says Love, “just as there would have been when the Imbries lived here.”