TILLAMOOK, Ore. — Join me for a visit to see blooms galore across a Tillamook County farmland that offers flowers, a paradise for cross-country runners and one of the largest corn mazes and pumpkin patches in the state. Oregon’s Hydrangea Ranch is a living masterpiece and its owner, Pat Zweifel, is the gifted artist who created it.
“I think of (my farm) almost like my canvas,” said Zweifel. ”I’m like an artist and for this year’s corn maze, I went in there free form with a tractor and I was able to produce circles that kind of come at each other. It’s really different and unique.”
He’s a third-generation Tillamook County farmer, but he doesn’t raise dairy cows.
Rather, Zweifel cultivates flowers, gorgeous colorful hydrangeas like Hamburg, Lacecap and Pistachio.
“Hamburg is just beginning to turn burgundy and that’s what my customers love. You have all this burgundy and then a dark green on the fringes. It’s like a brilliant jewel," he said.
Zweifel farms 64 acres along the Kilchis River and he owns the largest operation to grow so many hydrangea beauties in the state.
A Living Masterpiece
While he has grown scores of different flowers over the past quarter century on his ranch, he settled on hydrangeas a decade ago. He prizes them for their long blooming season.
“If you have hydrangeas protected from the direct sun, they bloom from June all the way through November," Zweifel said. "It makes a nice ornamental flower.”
But the early days weren’t easy. Zweifel recalls back in 1996 when he came home from the bank with his first mortgage and he found a herd of elk eating his profits.
“I was a 30-year-old man, sobbing over there on the other side of the fence," he said. "I was working hard, trying to keep the elk out of my crops and I didn’t have the money to build a proper fence. But you know, I could have quit because it was all so hard and so scary. I like to give that endurance illustration when I’m coaching kids. I ask them, when things get hard are you just going to stop or work harder and keep going forward?”
A living masterpiece
Coaching? That’s right! Zweifel is a former Oregon high school and college cross-country champion and he cultivates athletes each spring thru fall.
“I was born to coach," he said. "I believe the flower business prepared me for coaching. So, on my farm we hold running camps throughout the summer. It’s real running too, you’re not out on busy asphalt streets, you’re out here in nature.”
Each September, the capstone running event is called the “Ulti-Mook.” Earlier this month, 2,500 runners from 114 teams raced across the fields, forested hills and the Kilchis River.
“They run through a mud pit and twice across the river," Zweifel said. "It’s amazing because they run through and are just covered in mud, but then they come out of the river a second time and they’re all washed clean.”
Zweifel's seasonal pride and joy at his Hydrangea Ranch is a huge corn maze and sprawling pumpkin patch – both are open, ripe and ready.
“We have the corn maze and pumpkin patch and a hayride too," he said. "People like that it’s not a carnival setting, but really down to earth. People enjoy it for the quality family entertainment."
It’s the sort of entertainment your family will enjoy the next few weeks. Be sure to watch the weekly half-hour program of Grant’s Getaways. The show airs each Saturday and Sunday at 4 p.m. on KGW.
For something different, you can follow my Oregon adventures via the Grant’s Getaways Podcast: Each segment is a story-telling session where I relate behind-the-scenes stories from four decades of travel and television reporting
You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:
- "Grants Getaways I," Photography by Steve Terrill
- "Grant's Getaways II," Photography by Steve Terrill
- “Grant’s Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures,” Photography by Jeff Kastner
- “Grant’s Getaways: Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon,” Photography by Jeff Kastner
- "Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids,” Photography by Jeff Kastner
The collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promises to engage a kid of any age.