Stonehedge Gardens offers a getaway without leaving town

Mike Caldwell shakes his head as he sits on a terrace of the vast and multi-leveled patio of Stonehedge Gardens, one of three Hood River restaurants he and his wife, Shawna, own.

“We only planned on doing the one terrace,” he says, pointing vaguely toward the smallest patio next to the historic house-turned-restaurant hidden in six acres of trees at the west end of Cascade Avenue. That patio seated 30 people; now there are five individual terraced patios with enough room to seat 250 people, all surrounded by carefully tended natural gardens.

Caldwell may sigh at the small vision that turned into a vastly different — and far more expensive — reality, but visitors to Stonehedge Gardens this summer will delight in the outdoor haven that has become an oasis of nature practically smack in the middle of town.

The story of Stonehedge goes back to the early years of Hood River. A Portland lumber magnate began building the home in 1898, hauling materials by barge up the Columbia River. A second owner did an extensive renovation to the house, turning it into a restaurant that opened in 1977. Former Hood River teacher Jean Harmon was the third owner, and operated the restaurant — then called Stonehedge Inn — until selling it to Caldwell, one of her former students, three years ago.

The Caldwells did a major remodel to the restaurant’s interior before re-opening as Stonehedge Gardens. They decided to re-do the decrepit old patio last year after potholes and uneven ground became a hazard to guests.

Caldwell hired Hood River’s Classic Stoneworks to lay a new patio. “(They) got here and said, ‘Now that we have the equipment in here ...’” Caldwell recalls. He and Shawna decided to revamp the entire grounds so they could host large outdoor weddings and other events. They left most of the design work of the patio up to Classic Stoneworks.

“Our only criteria was maximum seating and maximum intimacy,” Caldwell says. Another requirement was to maintain as many of the indigenous plants and rocks as possible.

The area beyond the house/restaurant had become a tangle of overgrown trees and shrubs. Several gnarled oak trees whose branches routinely broke off had to be removed. The dying trees also had choked off lower limbs of soaring firs, many of which had to be removed.

“That gave the tree cutting company fits,” Caldwell laughs. In an effort to preserve a 100-year-old cypress and some other weathered but healthy plants and shrubs, the limbs had to be “cabled out,” according to Caldwell, rather than just cut to the ground and hauled away.

The terraced patios were finished last year. Caldwell turned his attention to the gardens this year, enlisting the help of his mother and other gardeners to turn the gardens into a subtle showpiece that blends in with the natural setting.

“We’ve tried hard to keep the indigenous feel,” Caldwell says. “I love tulips as much as the next guy, but they don’t really fit in here.” Along with all the trees and shrubs, bunches of natural grasses, azaleas and delicate wildflowers are sprinkled around the grounds. Even poison oak glistens beyond the stone walls that give the restaurant its name — well away from traffic paths but there nonetheless.

“We’ve had to pull back sometimes,” Caldwell says. “You’re compelled to plant more and more, but then you realize that the trees, the stones and the (house) are what it’s about. You come here to relax, you don’t want to be overwhelmed.”

The natural setting is a haven for wildlife; squirrels scamper across the patios, quail mosey with familiarity along the garden’s cobblestone paths and four young jays peer down from a nest tucked in an eave of the house.

“That’s what I get a kick out of,” Caldwell says of the wildlife that seem at home in the garden surroundings.

“I just want this place to just be a fun, relaxing place for people,” he adds.

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Stonehedge Gardens is open 7 nights a week with a new Northwest Bistro-style menu. It’s located at 3405 Cascade; the telephone number is 386-3940.

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