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Country Garden Estates perfect fit for owners, guests

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Sherwood's Julie Theberge had been dreaming for years of finding a place where she could take the knowledge gained through decades of photographing major events, and put it to use as a host.

Theberge, owner of Portraits by Design studio, wanted someplace where she could expand her photography business, and also host weddings, galas and other events with a team of local contacts she's worked with over years. On a six-acre piece of property tucked between a vineyard and tree farm on Chehalem Mountain, she found a place that not only fit those criteria, but was virtually ready for business.

Country Garden Estates, currently in its first full season of hosting events, is the site of a former rhodedendran orchard on Chapman Road. From 1990 until 2005, a couple who were serious gardening enthusiasts lived there and tended to the grounds, creating an elaborate Japanese garden highlighting the mutli-colored flowers on the site, and installing fountaions, small bridges and other embellishments that, while they weren't thinking about it at the time, would make an ideal setting for a wedding or dinner event.

Enter Theberge and fianee JiXm XXX. The couple had their realtor on alert for just such a place, and while the six-bedroom home and accompanying lot was a little more than they bargained for in terms of price, after visiting, they couldn't pass it up.

'We saw this place and decided we had to make it work,' she explained.

It's easy to see why they fell in love with the property. On the way to the house there are commanding views of Mount Hood with Ross Vineyards' grapevines in the foreground - and that's just the view from the driveway. Venture further onto the property and paths weave through dense and intricate gardens with waterfall features and small ponds. There is a wood-slat walled artist's work area covered with vines that serves as the 'groom's room' during weddings, a stage and seating area where a fabricated home once stood, and of course, the six bedroom home, the bottom floor of which becomes the caterer's kitchen the bride's quarters during events.

In addition to events, the flowering rhodadendra, waterfalls and beaocolic scenes present Julie with a ready backdrop for outdoor photos like senior portraits.

Depite its picture-perfect scenery and almost turn-key readiness, Country Garden Estates has come with its share of challenges. For one, getting the word out isn't easy. The relative isolation that makes the spot so special also cuts into its visibility. Chapman Road is hardly a bustling thoroughfare, and even for those who do drive by the site, it can go almost unnoticed. From the road, it merely looks like a driveway leading up to a private residence tucked behind trees. Then there has been the challenge of learning the ins and outs of planning events for hundreds of people.

Theberge has been combatting the visibility issue partly through advertising at her portrait studio in the Sherwood Plaza Shopping Center on SW Langer Drive, a highly visible location that's also only about two miles from Country Garden Estates, allowing her to run hopme to show off the venue to potential clients.

As for learning the ropes of event planning, Julie did a number of events at cost last year. By the time the first was over, she and her small staff - which includes mostly family and close acquaintances - had already faced some of the most adversity they would see. Their first event, a wedding, was met with relentless storms featuring slashing rainfall and winds. So they went to plan B, clearing out the great room on the second floor of the house, and working with the caterer to condense the buffet line into something that would fit into the kitchen. The whole ordeal was made a little easier by the fact that she works alongside people she has known for years.

'I just don't have to worry because we trust eahc other and I've done business with them for so many years,' she said.

But those initial events are starting to pay off, and currently, the property is booked for events as far ahead as August 2007. It recently hosted the Sherwood Chamber of Commerce annual awards banquet, and is gearing up for the second of two benefit events for local Sherwood residents. For information on Country Garden Estates call Portraits by Design at 503-625-3779. For an online tour, visit http://www.bravowedding.com, click on the 'virtual tours' icon for reception locations, and select Country Garden Estates.