IN 2003, Ron Alessandrini and Mike Osterling fell in love with a rundown, Pepto-pink midcentury house in Woodinville engulfed by thickets of blackberries, tall grass and weeds. After looking around for only 20 minutes, Ron impetuously bought the place. “As corny as it sounds, the house spoke to me,” he recalls. “I felt like it needed to be healed.” Friends and colleagues thought he was crazy.
Today, the dilapidated, slated-for-demolition house on two overgrown acres has been restored to life, and the landscape pulses with positive energy, healthy plants and a generous warmth.
From the beginning, Ron and Mike decided to throw convention out the window and create a landscape that was a very personal expression of their vision: It would be intimate and engaging, and contain elements of surprise. “We developed the garden for us,” Ron says. “We had no idea it would bring so much joy to family, friends and strangers.”
The garden contains an eclectic mix of styles, with an Asian influence. Ron and Mike create and plant intuitively, without plans, walking the garden, pondering possibilities and letting the space inform their next project. They are a working staff of two, with big dreams and boundless energy. The entire landscape is maintained and watered by hand. “A sprinkler system would be nice,” Mike says. “But watering by hand grounds us in the garden. It helps us see what’s doing well, and what needs attention.”
The landscape sits comfortably within the wooded property, with very few straight lines. The men adhere to principles of feng shui and have crafted a garden that flows naturally from one area to the next, both visually and energetically. A series of “mini stages” draws guests out into the garden to explore, while numerous seating areas invite repose.
At the entrance to the garden, a naturalistic pond nestles into the base of the sloping property. Sounds of splashing water from a craggy waterfall and flashing orange koi animate the scene. Ron and Mike say they believe water promotes peace and harmony and have taken care to position fountains about the garden, especially near doors to their home.
A gravel and stone pathway rambles up the shady hillside through flowering hydrangea and deep beds of pristine hostas; Ron swears by an early-season application of economical de-icing salt and iron phosphate for controlling slugs and snails. At the top of the rise, rustic wooden chairs gathered around a portable fire pit provide a retreat in any season.
A series of stepped terraces bordered by cascading sheaves of golden Japanese forest grass emerges onto wide, sunny beds planted with colorful shrubs and perennials, anchored with artful glass and metal sculpture. Large containers filled with complementary plantings provide structure.
A meandering swath of lawn wends around the restored home, creating a green heart to the layered landscape. An open-air conservatory furnished with comfortable seating and containers abundantly planted for seasonal color and fragrance invites solitary lingering over morning coffee, or gathering with friends for a leisurely glass of wine at the end of the day. Come winter, the handmade arching aluminum structure resourcefully converts into a sheltering greenhouse for overwintering tender plants.
Reinvention and creative problem-solving are signatures of Ron and Mike’s garden. A shady area on the eastern side of the property, where turf failed to establish, has been transformed into one of the landscape’s most striking features, with river rock and used brick set into a sandy base in a swirling pattern reminiscent of neighboring fern fronds.
Ron and Mike’s extensive art collection transcends traditional indoor/outdoor barriers. Sinuous copper dragons that date to the Sung Dynasty guard a pebbled entry courtyard furnished with lush foliage and textural evergreens. Several years ago, while on a business trip to China, Ron purchased three 800-year-old, 5-foot-tall bronze statues of the Buddha that now preside over the garden.
Strolling the garden, you can’t miss the repeating cadence of crayon-red cubes. Initially, Ron and Mike commissioned a local metal worker to create five boxlike forms out of quarter-inch steel. It was only after the hollow, airtight pieces were installed in the garden, perched on poles, hovering above the plants, that the men discovered a delightful surprise. As the sun warms the cubes each morning, the air inside expands and resounds with a sonorous “bong.” The performance is repeated as temperatures cool at the end of the day. “It’s such a rush to watch people hear them for the first time,” Mike says. Today, you’ll find playful bonging red cubes in several sizes throughout the landscape.
Experiencing Ron and Mike’s garden is a departure from the everyday: a sensory feast filled with nature, beauty and warm hospitality. It’s storytelling at its botanical best.