Admire landscape inspired by photographer Art Wolfe on the West Seattle Gardens Tour

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Stepping into the WOLFE ART GARDEN, perched on a cliff in West Seattle, is like stepping into a work of art – both a painting and a performance.

Wolfe, a world-renowned photographer, grew up in West Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington with degrees in fine arts and arts education. In a typical year without COVID, he spends seven to eight months on the road, taking pictures in remote locations. His work, which he describes as “focusing on what is beautiful on Earth”, is rooted in conservation, and he is a passionate advocate for the environment and Indigenous culture.

An avid world traveler, Wolfe always returns home to recharge in his garden, where mature cedars and carefully sculpted black pines frame a distant view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountain Range. Cleverly placed standing stones populate the landscape, a reference to the nearby mountains and around the globe, while the sound of water flowing from the pond to the pool provides a tranquil soundtrack to the calm and mostly green surroundings.

For 35 years Wolfe tended to this landscape, but when he purchased the property in 1986 it was abandoned and unwanted. The house and the hill were completely engulfed in English ivy. Where others saw nothing but backbreaking work, Wolfe saw the view and the trees, and he set out to create a garden inspired by his travels in the Far East and the beautiful alpine landscapes he explored on hikes and climbs.

Gardening is a refuge and a seasonal practice for Wolfe. “I love working the dirt,” he says, enthusiastically describing how he carves the branches of black pines (Pinus thunbergii) using wire and stone weights to create unique tree figures in the landscape.

Besides the clever black pines, the foliage of the red Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) provide contrast to the verdant color palette, while their sculptural limbs introduce graceful lines into the landscape. Brass buttons (Leptinella squalida) cover the ground plane of the garden with a fine texture and provide a carpeted backdrop to the occasional fern. The result is a serene composition. “I resisted adding a lot of flowers,” says Wolfe. “I like them, but I’m looking for continuity throughout the year.”

Hot red flagstone walkways that meander between granite boulders, pools and waterfalls encourage visitors to stroll through the garden. Everywhere you look, small vignettes of moss-covered stone and twisted limbs testify to the maturity of the deeply restful landscape.

“I look out of a window and I see green; I see the sky, the water and the mountains,” says Wolfe. This is no coincidence, according to the photographer who, at 70, still travels the world. “My garden uplifts me and gives me energy,” he says.

Wolfe is happy to open his garden again for the Seattle West Gardens Tour. This is the third time he has taken part in the popular fundraising campaign that supports the community that means so much to him. This year’s tour will take place on Sunday, June 26, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are available online and at select partner retailers. Details about westseattlegardentour.org.

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