Farmhouse revival at the former Ferrini ranch house in SLO

Visit the home and garden of Doug and Pamella Wood, a historic homestead that crowns the heights of Bishop Peak

Special to The TribuneOctober 16, 2013 

There are two ways to visit the old Ferrini farmhouse in San Luis Obispo. One is to simply drive up the hill near Bishop Peak. The other is to hike up rosemary-lined steps on a steep slope, bow low under the sweeping branch of an ancient oak, step onto the front porch, and marvel breathlessly at the view of the city.

“You took the hard way,” Doug Wood said about the hike up their stairs. He and his wife, Pamella, now own the farmhouse, and give the property the same loving attention the Ferrini family did when the area was a cattle ranch.

We’d have missed enchantment if we’d driven, because a scrub jay and a tree squirrel were having breakfast together under the oak. The Woods value the oak so highly that they have respected its footprint by not planting under the drip line, which can kill mature oaks with too much water and fertilizer.

The huge tree, estimated to be 250 years old, has a custom-made crutch for one massive low-hanging branch. The crutch was designed to slowly raise the branch so visitors can avoid hitting their heads. Doug Wood has served the community as an environmental consultant for 31 years, but he credits his wife Pam’s effort for much of the beauty of their garden, and both wanted to thank Suzanne Morrison of EarthScapes in Los Osos for her firm’s help in designing a landscape that is both drought-tolerant and attractive.

Plants that draw hummingbirds and butterflies were included in the design. Milkweed (Asclepias sp.) abounds and bright, fuchsia colored bougainvillea stretch along the driveway.

Most visitors enter by car and then follow the scent of vanilla to the kitchen door by way of an arbor-covered courtyard. That scent comes from the vanilla trumpet vine. The previous grape arbor in this garden brought raccoon families and possums that liked to party into the night. The trumpet vine offers the same shade benefits without drawing critters.

Large pots of thriving cymbidium orchids are located next to the columns while the window box overflows with red geraniums.

Entering the house through the kitchen door feels like Lassie’s home with its warm, welcoming atmosphere. From the custom tiled floor to the corner kitchen sink with its city view, this sunny space is a kitchen anyone would enjoy. A steep spiral staircase in the kitchen leads up to a room with a panoramic view where children like to play.

“It was so stormy in 1941, the year the house was built, it blew the roof right off,” Felton Ferrini said. That year the family moved to the mountain top from their original home on Foothill Boulevard where they owned the second largest dairy in the county. Within a few years the family started raising cattle on this land.

The Woods retained the feel of the era in which the house was built as they restored different spaces. Their furniture complements the home so well one might think it was always there. Doug Wood inherited the sturdy and elegant dining table and chairs that are used every day from his beloved grandmother.

When Al Ferrini and his wife Hilda, original owners of the Wood’s home, subdivided the Ferrini Ranch, they used family names for street names in the area. These include AlHil, a combination of Al and Hilda’s names, and FelMar, a combination of son Felton and daughter Marlene’s names, Felton Ferrini said.

The steep slopes in the area demand creative thinking when it comes to planting, and at the Wood’s home the plants are from at least three different zones, including California, the Mediterranean, and New Zealand. These include rockrose, Mexican sage with its velvety purple blooms, yellow flowering phlomis, also known as Jerusalem sage, and a row of California pepper trees. These trees have long been used in traditional California landscapes.

“The slope drains so quickly we have to pick and choose what to plant,” Doug Wood said. Their home is on top of what appears to be a mountain, but Bishop Peak is the real deal, all 1,559 feet of it, and it impacts everything in Ferrini Heights, from water to weather.

Hiking the peak offers the hardy the best look at what grows well on a steep slope. A plaque near the trail head reads in part:

“Ferrini Ranch Open Space

“This Bishop’s Peak trail leads to a very special place in the community of San Luis Obispo. For almost a century the Ferrini Family have been the stewards of this land and in 1995 they gifted this trail and 138 acres of open space to the people of San Luis Obispo. This dedication was done in memory of all Ferrini Family members.”

Gifts or sale of land by the Ferrini, Gnesa, Madonna and Bunnell families added to the open space.

TIPS FOR PLANTING ON SLOPES FROM DOUG AND PAMELLA WOOD

• Deep-rooted and drought-tolerant plants such as rosemary, ceanothus, manzanita, and sage work well because they hold the soil.

• Plant in the fall to take advantage of the winter rains to establish plants.

• Dealing with deer definitely dictates your plant palate. Aromatic or fuzzy leafed plants such as rosemary, lavender and echium seem to deter most hungry deer.

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