A dense wilderness of blackberry bushes and poison oak stood between Robert and Lucia Scott's early-20th-century log cabin and the Applegate River.
Sixteen years since purchasing the five-acre property, the Scotts have more than 700 feet of sandy beach under huge, old trees.
"Now it's like a park. We've cleared it all up, between us and the horses," says Lucia Scott. "For five years, we didn't have horses, and the whole beach turned back into a tall, weedy mess. We can't do it without a horse. They eat everything. Our gardening is beating the plants into submission. It took us eight to 10 years to get to the stage where we could manage and start adding a few things."
They never have had more than two horses at a time, and in the first years, while the horses concentrated on clearing the beach, the Scotts worked on making the old cabin more livable. Then they turned their attention to the grounds.
"The trees are all old-growth or second-growth," says Scott. "We have one fir it takes three women to stretch around, fingertip to fingertip."
The old homestead has mature pine, fir, oak, madrone, maple, black walnut, English walnut, apple, cherry and a whole row of plum trees.
Masses of vinca cluster under the trees, which all came from one volunteer that floated down the river one year. On the bluff where the house was built are older flower gardens and just one small section of grass.
"There are 56-year-old tree peonies here," Scott notes, along with old roses, Oregon grape, masses of daffodils and nandina, hellebores, lilacs and snowball hydrangeas.
"One thing I love about this place is there is always something blooming. We have an outside dog, so we don't have to worry about the deer."
The house is built high above the flood plain, with decks all around. Scott designed a multicolor scheme for the deck railings of dark gray, green, barn-red, chocolate and blue-gray. The same colors are used on the pantry doors inside the house. While painting alternate railings different colors is a lot of work, it is very visually pleasing, as is the painted rug on the main section of the deck.
"The deck was so big, and I thought if I have to paint it, I might as well do something fun," says Scott. "And we added more deck on the driveway side, so I can walk all the way around the house without tracking dirt inside."
The Scotts also added benches on the tall stairs down to the beach, so people unused to the climb can stop and rest.
Among the many whimsical touches are three, giant, wooden irises on the front of the house hovering above the iris bed. The Scotts recycled the wood from the old outhouse, and the green leaves are the original outhouse paint. Old, metal bedsteads are used as garden gates. And their latest addition is a log gazebo.
Robert Scott and son Adam built the gazebo, but the floor — a mosaic of small pieces of tile — was Lucia Scott's project.
"What I love is the floor is totally symmetrical, but you would never know that just looking at it, you have to study it. It's symmetrical in an asymmetrical way. I used all pre-Columbian designs (to reflect her Mexican-American heritage), and it had to tell something about us or the river. No piece of tile is bigger than an inch. I would sit in the evenings and break tile, then put them in the next morning."
Scott has developed her own way for doing many things. The leaves are all raked into the pathways, where they are walked on until they fall into little pieces, then pitched into the flower beds.
"I'm real sloppy as a gardener — I want it all to be easy maintenance," says Scott. "At this point, our only real maintenance is cutting back. What we love about this place is you can play with it — it's all about the fun and the beauty of the place and the integrity of its history."