ENTERING ART WOLFE’S garden, perched on a bluff in West Seattle, is like stepping into a work of art — at once 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 art education. In a typical non-COVID year, he spends seven to eight months on the road, taking pictures in far-flung locations. His work, which he describes as “focusing on what’s beautiful on the Earth,” is rooted in conservation, and he is a passionate advocate for the environment and Indigenous culture.
An avid global traveler, Wolfe always comes 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. Thoughtfully placed standing stones populate the landscape, a reference to mountains near and around the globe, while the sound of spilling water channeled from pond to pool provides a tranquil soundtrack to the quiet, mostly green environment.
For 35 years, Wolfe has tended this landscape, but when he purchased the property in 1986, it was forlorn and unwanted. Both the house and the hillside were completely engulfed by 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 to the Far East and the beautiful alpine landscapes he explored while hiking and climbing.
Garden-making is a refuge and a seasonal practice for Wolfe. “I love working the land,” he says, enthusiastically describing how he sculpts the branches of black pines (Pinus thunbergii) using wire and stone weights to create unique arboreal characters in the landscape.
In addition to the artful black pines, the foliage of red Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) provides contrast to the verdant color scheme, while their sculptural limbs introduce graceful lines to the landscape. Brass buttons (Leptinella squalida) cover the garden’s ground plane with fine texture and provide a carpeted backdrop to the occasional fern. The result is a serene composition. “I’ve resisted adding a lot of flowers,” Wolfe says. “I like them, but I’m looking for continuity throughout the year.”
Warm, red flagstone pathways that wind among the granite boulders, pools and waterfalls encourage visitors to stroll through the garden. Everywhere you look, little vignettes of moss-covered stone and twisted limbs speak to the maturity of the deeply restful landscape.
“I look out a window, and I see green; I see sky and water and mountains,” Wolfe says. That’s no accident, according to the photographer, who at 70 is still traveling the world. “My garden lifts me up and feeds me energy,” he says.
Wolfe is pleased to open his garden once again for the West Seattle Garden Tour. This is his third time participating in the popular fundraising endeavor that supports the community that means so much to him. This year’s tour takes place Sunday, June 26, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are available online and from select retail partners. Details at westseattlegardentour.org.