Cortesia Sanctuary

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Cortesia Sanctuary

Front Meadow
Cortesia Sanctuary
Atop a lovely, isolated ridgeline a thousand feet above Eugene, Oregon sits Cortesia Sanctuary. From its hilltop asylum, visitors are afforded sweeping views of over eighty miles toward the western valleys and coastal mountains of the southern Willamette Valley. They are also gifted with peaceful excursions through organic gardens, deep woods and open meadows.

Beyond its beauty, perhaps the most haunting aspect is Cortesia Sanctuary's profound sense of Peace emanating from pure natural sounds - whispering wind through conifer forests, babbling water in the gardens; windchimes and gregarious birds.

Owners and caretakers Christopher Forrest McDowell and Tricia Clark-McDowell steward the land, creating a seamless transition between 20-acres of towering conifers and mixed hardwood, and over two-acres of gardens. Reverent livelihood with nature and an unconditional desire to serve the earth and humanity - this best describes the efforts at this private sanctuary.

In this section of, experience life at this extraordinary refuge, designated by the White House in 2000 as a National Heritage Garden via the Millennium Green Project. Such an honor is bestowed only for those who exemplify stewardship and preservation of regional natural resources, in particular, the unique Pacific Northwest forests and regional style of gardening. Although a private Sanctuary, visitors are welcome by appointment or scheduled event.

Cortesia Sanctuary has continued to grow in the national and international limelight. The bestselling book, The Sanctuary Garden (Fireside Books, 1998) by Christopher Forrest McDowell and Tricia Clark-McDowell, feature articles in Better Homes & Gardens' Garden Ideas (Summer 1998), Yoga Journal (May-June, 1998), Walking, Pools & Spas, Sunset, and numerous other magazines and newspapers, all have created the desire in people from afar to make a pilgrimage to Cortesia.

We are humbled by such a response and desire for people to understand the principles of creating a sanctuary garden. Both the gardens and woods are integrated intimately with our home setting, a Hansel and Gretal-sized house with so many windows one may not know if they are inside or out! We also have two other round wooden yurts - one (looking deep into the woods) for meditation and intimate gatherings, the other an art gallery with a panoramic view into the gardens.

Cortesia Sanctuary is a private setting, and visitors are welcome by arrangement.

Plan to stay awhile, sit, meander, and relax. Although the gardens are over 20 years old, there are always new projects being undertaken, so perhaps you might lend a hand when you visit. For further information contact us.

With Reverence
The McDowells

Enjoy your visit.

Navigate the sections of this webpage by clicking on the title links in the lefthand menu.

Owners & Stewards of Cortesia Sanctuary

For over 25 years, the McDowells have been owners/stewards of the private 22-acre Cortesia Sanctuary nestled atop an isolated ridgeline above Eugene, Oregon.

Cortesia Sanctuary has deep woods, panoramic vistas, and two acres of woodland and open-meadow gardens and garden rooms. The gardens have been featured in major and regional gardening magazines, and are noted for their unique natural/organic design honoring the Pacific Northwest. In 2000, Cortesia Sanctuary was designated a National Heritage Garden by the White House.

Tricia and Forrest are dedicated to educating and assisting people worldwide to embrace sanctuary and peace in daily life. Their literature, workshops, and informative website have inspired thousands of people to see their gardens, homes, rooms, workplaces, even bedrooms for the severely ill and dying in a new light - as personal refuges to enrich the soul and regenerate or heal the world-weary spirit.

With the release of their bestselling book, The Sanctuary Garden (Fireside Books, 1998; presently out-of-print, to be re-released by Cortesia Press, Fall 2008), thousands of people have been introduced to a more soulful and reverential way to steward their gardens and yards. The McDowell's sanctuary garden design, with its simple seven design elements, has been hailed as one of the most innovative new designs to be introduced into home and institutional gardens; it has also launched a dedicated spiritual and healing garden movement, including over a dozen fine books by other author/gardeners.

Additionally, their 32-page guide, Home Composting Made Easy (Cortesia Press), is the world's most popular book on the subject with over 1 million copies in print. It is used by over 200 municipal waste management agencies (at the local and state levels) and businesses in the United States.

The McDowells richly celebrate life through numerous creative and service-oriented activities. Tricia is a Master Gardener, Reiki Master, minister, and flower essence practitioner. She is also an accomplished, writer, watercolor artist and photographer, with numerous annual showings (visit her website at Forrest holds a PhD in counseling psychology and is a dedicated writer. He is also an accomplished concert guitarist and composer who performs regularly. His serene and lyrical Sanctuary CD, featured throughout this website ( is often used in hospice care, birthing, yoga and bodywork. Both share a lifelong dedication to daily meditation, yoga and simple living, and are actively involved in their community's Interfaith outreach.

Tricia and Forrest speak on a very personal, reverent level, integrating decades of experience with both light-heartedness and expert knowledge. Their public presentations include stunning slides and inspiring examples of sanctuary garden design elements, interlaced with beautiful original music by Forrest. Also included are practical "how-to" handouts and other support material.

As a couple for 30 years, the McDowells work very consciously on their partnership. Theirs is a deeply honoring and loving "spiritual marriage." They keep a daily journal on the dining room table, consistently pouring out their affection to each other through poetry and letters. From late Spring to Fall, they sit for hours on a favorite bench to watch the sunset. After working hours in the gardens, they rub each other's feet or Forrest seranades Tricia amidst the deep auburn sunset that sets afire the 150-year old woods surrounding their quaint (960 square feet) "Hansel and Gretal" house.

Tricia and Forrest often consider themselves simply "feathers on the breath of God," who so happened to land together amidst the peace and beauty of Cortesia Sanctuary.

The Meaning of Cortesia

Cortesia is derived from the 900-year old French word cortese, meaning a deep and noble courtesy as if all were sacred. The best modern interpretation is summarized by the word reverence.
Further understanding about cortesia and the Cortesian Worldview can be found in the Inspiration section of this website.

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History & Guide/Map of the Land

The ridgetop setting is actually an isolated spine of lava flow from the ancient collapsed volcano now known as Spencer's Butte, the predominant geographical feature of Eugene, Oregon. Eugene lays at the southern end of the verdant 100-mile long Willamette Valley, sixty miles from the Pacific Ocean to the west, and sixty miles from the Cascade Mountains to the east. The South Hills of Eugene loom fifteen hundred feet or more over the valley floor. Amidst these hills are dense conifer and hardwood forests and meadows, mostly held by private landowners. The aquifers of the South Hills are geologically connected to and dependent upon the snowpack of the Cascades, unlike the Valley floor where water is supplied by the Willamette and McKenzie rivers.

St. Francis benches at sunset
Cortesia Sanctuary
Cortesia is part of the old McBeth homestead, the barn of which once stood where the house now sits. The homestead acreage numbered many hundreds and supported environmentally correct and sustainable logging for several generations. Over time, the acreage was parceled out, eventually creating, in the mid-1980s, the 22-acre Cortesia Sanctuary.

The unique multi-layered geography of Eugene's South Hills allows Cortesia Sanctuary to perch atop an isolated ridgeline. This affords a phenomenal view to the northwest, not over the city but towards the Coastal Range. It is believed that this setting was once used by Native Indians before white settlers arrived in the early 1800's, as it afforded a commanding view and advantage to see and hear any sounds coming up the McBeth watershed. Today, benches sit at various spots along the northern edge of the woods, affording vistas of valleys, a distant lake and the coastal mountains. These are "must" locations for sunset watching.

When visitors arrive, they usually park in a small area of a rectangular 3-acre meadow to the west of the gardens. Surrounded by towering 150-year old firs, the meadow is over 100 years old, most of the time lying abandoned. Almost all of the fir forests of Eugene's South Hills were planted by settlers in the early 1800's, and logged at least twice. Cortesia's woods appear to have been logged only once followed by selective cutting. This is why the forest is so mature. The woods of Cortesia Sanctuary are called Shantivan, the Sanskrit word for "Forest of Peace." The woodland and open meadow gardens are called Gan Eden, Hebrew for "Garden of Joy."

Sunset view - St. Francis benches
Cortesia Sanctuary
The McDowells came to Cortesia in 1986 and have lived in Eugene over 30 years. The house was built in 1971, the round yurts in 1988 and 1992. The unique yurts are 18-sided wooden structures: Tricia's Art Gallery, looking into the gardens, and a Guest/Meditation cottage, looking into the woods. Here at Cortesia the McDowells raised their son and daughter in a reverent and simple pioneering style.

[.pdf file of Guide/Map]

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Gan Eden - The "Gardens of Joy"


The maritime climate of the Pacific Northwest provides a year-round canvas upon which the garden steward may dabble to their heart's content. The Willamette Valley is no exception. However, the challenge of gardening is to have a respectful relationship between human and nature - to create a true sense of sanctuary for all.

Deck Garden
Cortesia Sanctuary
The organically and naturally grown gardens at Cortesia are defined by the drama of the deep woods and intimate open meadows. Tucked in the corner of a 3-acre meadow is the one-acre Meadow Garden. The 150-foot tall firs that border it on three sides offer it only 6 hours of direct sun accompanied by several hours of filtered light. The smaller and more rustic Woodland Garden flows from the main house and yurts into the Meadow Garden. It mostly receives shade to partial sun. A qualified garden itself is also the front, south-facing Deck Garden of the house. The 4-tiered deck flows down into the large Front Meadow, where most events (concerts, celebrations, weddings, etc.) are held. The Deck Garden is the first thing a visitor sees when approaching the entrance gate to the other gardens. Its raised beds, containers and pots provide an oasis of color and visual form against the backdrop of the cedar shingled house and the verdant surrounding forest.
Vegetable & Flower Raised-beds - Meadow Garden
Cortesia Sanctuary

Many gardeners in the Willamette Valley are challenged by clay soils. Fortunately, on the ridgeline of Cortesia, the clay soil is light enough to be worked and "grown." The soil in the gardens has been grown for over 20 years as a result of extensive composting, mulching and the use of rock dust. An area of the garden, unseen by visitors, is dedicated to composting. Another factor in the beauty and balance of the gardens is the decision to garden with raised-beds. This greatly helps to raise soil temperatures (to offset minimal sunlight conditions); it also prevents soil compaction in the beds.

The gardens at Cortesia were entirely created by hand in several stages. The vegetable/flower gardens were begun in 1986, consistently expanding as wild blackberries and thistle were removed. In 1991 the Meadow Garden was doubled in size, its design evolving to incorporate numerous special "rooms" for solitude and visiting with guests. In 1991, the Woodland Garden was tied into the Meadow Garden by a path that meanders from the entrance (by the house), between the Art Gallery and Meditation/Guest yurts, and finally into the Meadow Garden itself.
Raised-beds for vegetables
Cortesia Sanctuary

Diverse vegetation - native plants, annuals, perennials, small trees, shrubs, trellised vines, etc. - and healthy soils foster natural pest control (no external pest control is used or necessary at all). A strong "edge effect" along the borders allows the gardens to flow into the wildness of the woods. A commitment is made to creatively use wood and rock from the land for fencing, trellises, and structures. The gardens support a lot of bird life and beneficial insects. The organically grown flowers/herbs are used for Cortesia Flower Essences. The gardens also incorporate many benches and art.

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Gan Eden - The "Gardens of Joy"


As you walk from your car toward the entrance of the gardens, you are captivated by the Front Meadow. Two acres of park-like grasses and gigantic ferns are surrounded by firs and oak, laced with long beards of usnea.

You can imagine a wedding here, perhaps an evening celebration of music and dining beneath the stars. And you are right, this does happen at Cortesia!

You might even enjoy sitting quietly on the meadow's fringe, enjoying the view from one of our home-made Leopold benches.

The McDowells' quaint residence rises up from the Front Meadow, its Deck Garden beckoning the visitor.

Only in Spring and late Fall, when the sun's angle is further south, does a visual surprise take place: the sun shining beams of light through the foggy mist of trees in the Front Meadow.

Formal Entrance Gate to Gan Eden
Cortesia Sanctuary

Gan Eden - The "Gardens of Joy"


We believe that a formal garden should be held from view, as if by a veil.

The entrance threshold is like an outer garden that draws the visitor gradually into sacred space. This is an opportunity for surrender - into the drama and intimacy of nature and spirit. Here the world is left behind. The naturally woven fence and gates create a magic between human and natural creation.

From inside the threshold, you look back. Are those your cares and woes hanging at the gated entrance? You can now fully exhale into this peaceful setting, taking in water sounds, wind, birds, and the beauty of a woodland garden.

This rich woodland garden thrives with multitude layers of plants and colors, native to the Cascadia bioregion.

The dance of filtered sunlight and shadow gently massages the spirit as one gazes at a small cascading pond, water bowls, garden art, wood, rock, and quaint sitting areas.

Some people sit here for hours, going no further. Sanctuary has been found. Still, others are enticed by the winding path that leads toward a larger light - that of the open meadow gardens.

The visitor passes by sweet woodruff and other enticing groundcover, finally passing through a natural oak-limbed arbor. Their senses are now more attuned to the experience ahead.

If you are fortunate to visit Cortesia Sanctuary in late afternoon or early evening, the lighting is a visual phenomenon. Standing in the Woodland Garden and looking east to the nearby forest, one is witness to the the golden sunlight.

Woodland Garden view of Shantivan - Forest of Peace
Cortesia Sanctuary

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Directions to Cortesia Sanctuary

84540 McBeth Rd, Eugene, OR 97405
(541) 343-9544


Tricia Clark-McDowell & C. Forrest McDowell

  1. Take Willamette Street south, rising up into the South Hills, until it dead-ends with Fox Hollow Road. Turn right at stop sign, going west.
  2. Travel 2 miles, winding uphill, passing a phenomenal vista of the northwest valley, Fern Ridge Resevoir and the Coastal Range. (Note: we locals call this spot Praise Point; there's a sitting bench - enjoy the view)
  3. Downhill from Praise Point (1/2 mile), come to the rural Fox Hollow fire station on your right. At this juncture, Fox Hollow Rd curves sharply to the left, and McBeth Rd curves sharply to the right, around the fire station. Follow the McBeth Rd curve!
  4. Slow down: within a few hundred yards come to the Cortesia Sanctuary driveway entrance on the left. Look for metal gate and sign at entrance.
  5. Drive down the 1000-foot driveway through some woods, coming to a large parking meadow on the left.
  6. Park in the meadow, far enough in so that other visitors can easily manipulate their cars.



For Your Information

    • Downtown Eugene to Cortesia Sanctuary is about 7-8 miles (it seems a lot longer!), taking 15-20 minutes.
    • Check-in with caretakers; request Map/Guide; please sign Gratitude Book after visiting.
    • Always bring a sweater or jacket, even during summer. It is cooler because of the higher elevation, deep woods, and a regular breeze. Sturdy shoes are best.
    • Visitors are welcome to bring a food treat to eat while hanging out in the woods or gardens. Please take all garbage home with you when you leave.
    • There are numerous foot trails in the woods. Most trails are somewhat uneven, narrow, or rocky, but still leisurely accessible.
    • There is little or no poison oak, especially on or near trails and benches. Nevertheless, wearing socks or long pants is ideal prevention but not necessary. Better yet, we appreciate if if you stay on the trails.
    • A well-maintained and spacious Compost Toilet is near the gardens (if not available, ask to use the indoor bathroom).
    • Please, no smoking, radios, drugs or pets.

    • Donation fee for entrance. Your appreciation for the beauty and setting of Cortesia Sanctuary, and all the work involved in its stewardship, can be shown by a monetary offering. We suggest $5.00 - 15.00+.

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