Art collectors and gardeners Bruce and JoAnn Amundson have turned their half-acre hillside into a creative mix of monumental sculptures and beautiful plants.
THE SIGN POSTED at the entry to Bruce and JoAnn Amundson’s Shoreline garden reads, “Great art teaches us to live life more alertly.”
Visitors to this art-studded, half-acre garden high above Puget Sound certainly will leave stirred, if not transfixed, by a garden that unfolds down the hillside to reveal monumental sculptures integrated with artful plantings. Paths and steps lead from the house down a slope to terraces and meadows, through groves of trees, ending at a bench overlooking a forested ravine. Bruce puts it simply: “It’s been so fun to merge art and plants; it makes the garden so much more rewarding.”
The property was nothing but a hillside covered in blackberries when the couple set out more than 20 years ago to install the basic hardscape. They consulted with a landscape architect before developing a design. “The plantings have continued to be a work in progress, of course, but the addition of the sculptures has been the main creative effort,” says Bruce.
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The Amundsons traveled in Europe, New Zealand and across the United States to visit outdoor sculpture gardens for ideas and inspiration. They created the garden first, then sought out pieces to suit the contours of the land. Most of the pieces are by Northwest artists, but the couple also has bought art in California, Utah and Minnesota. They sited the sculptures to be seen from the house, and now every room offers views to at least one piece of art.
JoAnn, a watercolorist, is the main gardener, while Bruce is the designated mower. His job grows easier as the couple keeps removing lawn and putting in more ornamental grasses and large-leafed plants like rodgersia for contrast. They created drama at the top of the slope by hauling in large boulders and planting a garden of purple and chartreuse foliage and flowers, including Spirea japonica ‘Magic Carpet’, golden-toned hostas and Japanese forest grass, purple wallflowers and purple-leafed ajuga.
One of the earlier pieces they collected holds pride of place in this colorful garden area. The stone fountain named “Sword and Music” is by Northwest sculptor Richard Hestekind. It stands near the top of the slope as a welcome to the garden, dripping water into a sea of glossy black stones.
Halfway down the hillside you can look westward to a panorama of Puget Sound, or down into the grassy bowl-shaped garden for a bird’s-eye view of the most spectacular piece in the collection. The 17-foot-tall metal sculpture called “A Bolt from Earth” was created specifically for the site by San Juan Island artist Micajah Bienvenu. The sinuous spiral of stainless steel is lent scale by the bitter cherry trees (Prunus emarginata) clustered around it. “There’s nothing flowery down here,” says JoAnn of the lower garden. The sculptures stand out in the simplicity of trees, grass and hillside.
The only figurative piece in the collection, a seated woman that JoAnn describes as “the essence of African motherhood,” is by Nigerian artist Nnamdi Okonkwo. It is titled “Resolution” and rests in a meadow beneath fir trees. Although they prefer more modern works, they’ve come to love this piece, perhaps because they spent time in West Africa when Bruce served as a Peace Corps physician.
The most complex piece is sited a little farther down the slope, just above the creek and ravine. The massive glass and metal sculpture by California artist Bruce Johnson is tilted on its side, with a boulder suspended at its center. Its glass surfaces reflect trees and passing clouds. Near the bench overlooking the ravine are two tall cairn-like stacks of pottery pieces, the first outdoor art the couple purchased.
While Bruce’s favorite piece is the stainless-steel spiral, the one JoAnn most admires is back up at the top of the garden. A lantern as tall as a man, made of redwood, copper and glass, also by Johnson, stands among azaleas and pines. Behind is a big view of water and mountains, emphasizing the vision and artistry of these two avid art collectors.