When Lori Pippin was a little girl she really, really wanted a pony. Her father even promised her one. Then he went into the motel business, and it was impossible. But for the past three decades Pippin has been living her dream on a 5-acre property hidden in the middle of urban University Place: a sanctuary of grassy pastures, forest, wildlife, a pond and a creek.
Next weekend, the Pippin ranch will open for visitors as one of the five gardens featured on the city’s annual Tour of Gardens.
“It’s a little slice of heaven,” says Pippin, who has lived on the ranch for 32 years with her husband, Bob, and a rotation of dogs, cats and horses. “We love it.”
Now in its fourth year, the Tour of Gardens is held to raise money for the University Place Historical Society and is centered around the Curran House, designed in 1955 by architect Robert Price and newly renovated with garden tour funding. Other properties include the Japanese-themed Weled garden, the woodland-setting Dionne garden, and a garden packed with rhododendron varieties by master gardener Steve Johnson.
But the Pippin ranch, which was on the first tour in 2012, is perhaps the most unusual. Tucked away on a dead-end road, the ranch lies along a sweeping driveway framed by tall gateposts. Dark brown fence railings lead to a hay barn, converted by Bob Pippin from a bland flat-topped garage into a barn with sweet-smelling tack room, several stalls, hayloft and even a stall for Bob’s tractor. (Yes, tractor. He uses it for yard work.)
In front of the house is the pond, rock-rimmed and big enough for a canoe, miniature dock and two waterfalls.
“I feed about 30 ducks,” says Lori. “But right now they’re all sitting on nests in the woods.”
The local birds also love the pond, with swallows and robins soaring in to the bird feeder near the old cartwheel. The Pippins also see red-tail hawks, owls, even eagles, all scouting out the goldfish and koi.
“We put trout in the pond once,” Lori remembers. “But we have otters that fish there, raccoons, blue herons.”
It’s a little slice of heaven.
With clear, shallow Leach Creek bubbling through ferns on one edge of the property and forest skirting the rest, the Pippins also see plenty of deer and coyotes — enough that they keep their black poodle Ty close at hand. They’ve even had bobcats and cougars.
But the star animals are, of course, the horses. At the moment there are three: Pippin’s black Tennessee Walker, Roxy, plus a tan quarter horse and a Rocky Mountain she keeps for a friend. University Place isn’t exactly calm enough for trail riding, so Pippin trailers Roxy to Fort Steilacoom when they want a long ride, though she also has a dressage arena on their property across the street.
While the property mostly has a ranch feel, Pippin does have a few garden beds: a splendid Japanese feather maple cascading under the balcony of the house (now fully recovered from a goat they once owned), a weeping spruce spreading into the strawberry patch by the front door. There’s candytuft in some antique milk churns and a wishing well full of petunias. Around the back there’s a larger-than-life bald eagle carved into an old pine stump, 8 feet above the ground.
“It still gives me a shock sometimes when I look out,” Pippin says.
Other wood carvings dot the property: a small bear, a stallion bench by the entry.
For the garden tour, Bob Pippin will bring out his collection of rebuilt and modified vintage cars: a two-tone ’54 Chevy truck with horses etched on the rear glass panels, a bright magenta ’30 Model A Ford, and a ’27 Model T half-rebuilt inside the garage workshop. The Pippins will even serve glasses of Horse Play Rollicking Red wine, just to keep the theme going.
But mostly, what garden tour visitors will come away with is the tranquility, a rural quiet almost unheard of in the middle of a city.
“Now I have my horse,” says Lori Pippin. “This is something I’ve always wanted. … I just like the serenity of it, seeing the horses, all the wildlife. It’s so private.”
“Peace,” adds Bob. “Peace.”
University Place Tour of Gardens
What: University Place Historical Society event.
When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and May 22.
Where: Various locations; addresses provided with ticket purchase.
Tickets: $20 from Willow Tree Gardens, Grassi’s Boutique, Portland Avenue Nursery, and Chirp and Co.; also day of event at Curran House, 4009 Curran Lane, University Place.
Other South Sound garden tours
What: Gig Harbor Garden Tour.
When: June 25-26.
Note: The Vashon Island garden tour and Olympia Secret Garden tour will happen in 2016.