Plants, art, architecture restore abandoned home to full beauty

  • Written by Shannon Michael Features Writer

Garden 2872Dozens of potted dahlias surround just one of the nine garden rooms found throughout Ron Alessandrini and Mike Osterling’s two-acre property. The garden was recently featured in Garden Design magazine. He couldn’t even see the house from the road. That’s how overgrown the yard was when Ron Alessandrini first saw his dream home in 2003, five months after moving to the Seattle area. The abandoned house was in complete shambles, but he turned to his realtor on the spot and said, "I’ll buy it."

Ten years later, Alessandrini and his partner of five years, Mike Osterling, have turned two acres of land and an eyesore house that neighbors just wanted torn down into a stunning gem nestled into the rolling hills east of downtown Woodinville.

To understand the turnaround of the property, a little history is needed for perspective.

Charles Jr. and Mary Clise, descendants of the pioneer family instrumental in developing large swaths of downtown Seattle and the mansion and property that is now Marymoor Park, designed the home to be their family’s summer home in the late 1960s.

It stood on 40 acres of land looking east towards the Cascade Mountains.

In 1979, Mr. Clise passed away.

His wife soon sold the home.

Through the years, the home went through several owners, eventually falling into disrepair until finally it was uninhabitable by the time Alessandrini stepped into it.

Alessandrini, a vice president for a company that imported consumer products from Asia at the time, became the general contractor as he slowly resurrected the home from the ground up.

Making it livable and cleaning up and designing the front yard were his first priorities — not only to himself but also to his neighbors.

The property’s list of projects needing to be done was so large, they were divided up by seasons.

"Winter time was spent working on the house, while summertime was spent in the yard," said Alessandrini.

The work has paid off. The unique 3,300-square- foot home, with its blend of Asian and Northwest modern influences, has been masterfully restored to its original design with just a few modern updates for rooms like the kitchen.

Garden 2898When Ron Alessandrini first bought his home in 2003 the front courtyard entrance was completely covered by overgrown plants and debris. Now, it’s a tranquil entry to the home and features art installations as visitors approach the front door.Updating the home also included careful consideration of the couple’s large collection of eclectic art, including Warhol, Picasso, and even an original Dr. Seuss given to Alessandrini by the author’s wife, a personal friend, to dozens of Asian statues including a whimsical one of the Chinese communist leader Mao that Alessandrini recently discovered on a trip to Asia and had shipped home.

When Alessandrini and Osterling talked about all the work that went into restoring the home, they both mentioned several times, "We healed it."

It is clear from walking throughout the house and gardens that indeed they did.

All of the work the couple has done on the house and yard is purely a labor of love.

A love of a house with great bone structure. A love of discovering the joy of gardening.

A love of showcasing their art collection both in the home and out in the garden.

It’s understandable when you see the gardens surrounding their home that the couple knows what they’re doing.

However, when Alessandrini first moved there he knew nothing about gardening.

"Ron has done an amazing job visually putting things together," said Osterling.

Using inspirations from Asia, employing the concept of feng shui, installing art all over the property, and their own concept of "architectural gardening" through the use of over 200 pots of varying sizes to create height and drama throughout the garden, has resulted in one of the most eclectic gardens around the region.

With the help of local nurseries like Molbak’s, Flowerworld and McLendon’s, combined with the generosity of other gardeners sharing cuttings of their favorite plants, they have slowly turned a jungle of weeds and overgrown plants into a kaleidoscope of color and texture.

"We’ve purposely planned our garden to bloom from early spring into winter. And, our sculptures provide visual detail even in winter," Osterling said.

Neighbors and friends began to really take notice of the garden’s unique characteristics, including nine areas called garden rooms — areas with chairs for sitting to read a book, drink a morning cup of coffee or converse with friends.

Finally, in 2012 one neighbor suggested their garden might be a good candidate for the annual Woodinville Garden Club’s tour of gardens.

The couple applied, and they were thrilled to have their home added to the 2012 tour.

"We were taken with their enthusiasm and the unique sense of design and use of color in the garden," said Lisa Brennan, co-president of the Woodinville Garden Club, which is now accepting applications for the 2014 tour. 

"We had 900 people come through our garden," Alessandrini said, adding, "It was the most gratifying experience we’ve had. It was validation for all the work we’ve done."

That tour of their garden created buzz in the gardening world. Since the tour, regional garden clubs have come for private tours with their members.

Garden designers have visited and helped spread the word. And, this summer their garden was featured in Garden Design Magazine.

Since the magazine’s publication, they’ve received calls from across the country asking to tour their garden.

When asked what lessons they’ve learned in the gardening process along the way, Alessandrini said, "My biggest lesson was to try it. Don’t be restricted by what the plant label says."

Osterling added, "You don’t know if something will work in a spot unless you try it."

They’ve also appreciated the advice and ideas they’ve received from area garden clubs and garden designers who’ve visited.

"Our garden will always be changing. It’s an evolution," Osterling said, adding that sometimes they get tired of how one section looks so they change it.

"The best compliment we’ve received is ‘This is different!’" Alessandrini said.

Different is right, if you include the plant that’s Osterling’s favorite when hard-pressed to choose just one.

Torn between several choices, he finally settled on the gunnera, a kind of prehistoric plant that grows to about 10 feet tall and wide with giant leaves.

For Alessandrini his favorite is the hosta.

They conservatively estimate over 300 hostas of all different colors are planted around their property.

He also cites a yellow flowering corn plant that came from his father’s garden in North Carolina.

Maintaining their garden in the summertime takes hours each day, with watering consuming the most time. With all the pots in use throughout the garden, an automatic watering system isn’t as effective as hand-watering, so it takes up to four hours each day to make sure each potted plant is adequately watered.

While that may seem like a chore to some people, Alessandrini and Osterling love it so much they never leave town during the summer. And, to share the fruits of their gardening labor, they host an annual summer garden party in late July right when their garden is at its stunning best.

The party, which always has a theme, has become so popular the guest list now hovers at 350.

Next year, the couple wants to turn the experience into an opportunity to give back to their local community, so they plan to make their party a fundraiser for two local nonprofits and ask party attendees to make a small donation.

For now, though, they are focused on preparing their garden for fall.

Even with all the plants they have in pots, it is only the dahlias that they move into storage for winter.

Until that time comes, don’t be surprised if you drive by their home and see one or both of the men outside, a pair of clippers or hose in hand, tending to their labor of love.

For more information about arranging a tour of the garden, please contact Ron Alessandrini at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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