Debra Prinzing

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Sublime and serene Idaho hideaways

July 30th, 2008

Rosemarie B.’s glorious river view

Garden touring is *work*, people. That”s what I keep telling my husband, at least.

Last weekend, Ms. Idaho Gardener (aka Mary Ann Newcomer or the Diva of Dirt) hosted me for a strenuous garden-touring workout. I think we visited 14 gardens, plus or minus, in 24 hours – on our Sun Valley-Ketchum, Idaho tour.

Now what good thing did I do to deserve this kind of spectacular treatment? Hmmm. I told my husband that the 3-day trip from LA to Idaho was a self-indulgent “getaway” that I planned in anticipation of his 12-day (yes twelve days) getaway in August to go to the Beijing Olympics. That was kind of a snarky thing to say. But it certainly got me a ticket to the airport!

Mary Ann (seen here on the right, walking and talking with talented Sun Valley-Los Angeles gardener Kathleen Phelan) has been raving about Sun Valley’s Sawtooth Botanical Garden summer tour for a couple of years, enticing me with the descriptions of residential landscapes in such a beautiful place. Surrounded by awe-inspiring mountains, under intense sunshine, and just far enough away from the rat race for creativity to flourish. . . the gifted and adventurous gardeners here blew me away. We had a tres bien time. Our local hostess, Julie Caldwell, made it all the more enjoyable by adding laughter, taking us to great eateries, and navigating our side trips. Of course, I was on the lookout for Stylish Sheds, or reasonable facsimiles of such. And I was not disappointed. Here are a few of the creative shelters that we found:


An Old-World tradition dressed up as a sublime summertime escape! Artist and landscape designer Cindy Hamlin is known around Sun Valley for her intricate, hand-built birdhouses. It was a joy to tour Cindy’s garden and studio where I caught glimpses of her natural artistry.

No twig, branch or piece of moss is sent to the compost heap here. Instead, with miniature architectural detailing, Cindy creates one-of-a-kind habitats for winged residents. We were especially awed to see a Bird Lodge, created for a special client, seen at right.

Mary Ann and Cindy met a few years ago at a design charette at Sawtooth Botanical Garden. Their connection was my introduction to this talented Sun Valley gal (who, incidentally, grew up in Seattle!). Cindy has always admired the wheeled wagon-huts used by Basque sheepherders. The Basque people settled in Idaho in the early part of the 20th century, and their influences are still strong in agriculture and ranching communities. After many years of lusting for one, Cindy was able to find an authentic, brilliant green-and-red shepherd’s wagon and convince her husband to let her bring it to their property in Ketchum.

She bought it from a guy named Cotton Riley (gotta love the name Cotton Riley), who renovates and restores these charming movable shelters. Inside, beneath the canvas wagon “roof,” Cindy has installed a queen-sized mattress – perfect for sleep-outs when it’s too hot to stay indoors. It doubles as a getaway when guests arrive. There is also a traditional wood-burning cast-iron stove. I’m so curious to learn how that works come winter, when Cindy and her family bundle up and head out to the wagon, stomping across the snow-covered path holding with mugs of hot cocoa in their mittened hands. (At right, clockwise, from top: Cindy, Mary Ann, Julie). When I first saw her gem of a wagon, I said to Cindy: You are going to be in my next book!!! Love it!

A Post-Script: After dinner on Saturday night, at Ciro Pizza & Wine Bar in “downtown” Ketchum, we wandered the village and came across a corner shop called Ketchum on the Fly, a clothing, gear and adventure emporium. On display outside was the “Go Green” camper, which to me looks like a modern-day equivalent of the Basque Sheep Wagon, n’est ce pas? For $7,995, you can have one of your own. It weighs 840 lbs. It can be towed behind any vehicle (even a hybrid), and you can add a bike or kayak rack on the top when the whole thing is collapsed to its portable state. If I can’t acquire the real thing (a Basque Wagon), I think the Go Green is a great alternative!!!


Mary Ann also procured an impromptu invite from Kim Peterson, gardener, floral designer, flower-grower extraordinaire.  (See us together, right)

Kim owns Red Gate Gardens, and you can catch a glimpse of her cool sense of style and color here. Kim invited Mary Ann and her entourage (which, by then included Julie, Cindy and me) to come over late Saturday afternoon. Mind you, this is after the poor girl had designed flowers for no fewer than five weddings in one day! Kim grows awesome blooms for local florists, including Tara Bella, a Sun Valley design studio. On on that day, she had been pressed into service to make flower magic for a plethora of brides. But still, Kim said: “come on over.”

We arrived, and began our self-guided tour of her awesome garden. I was drawn to the teepee, which is hidden at the end of a secluded pathway at the distant reaches of Kim’s property. Once inside, I discovered yet another bed (below, left). I love the sleeping-in-the-shed  idea inspired by gals like Cindy and Kim.

A former resident of Puget Sound (Bainbridge Island), Kim has designs in her mind for creating her next backyard hideaway. She is going to build a garden shed to replace the teepee, based on some structures she saw in Skagit Valley. I couldn’t be more excited to see what she conjures up!

Over refreshing cocktails on Kim’s back porch, we had a wonderful “aha moment.” Mary Ann walked out from Kim’s house holding The Abundant Garden, a book I wrote with photographer Barbara Denk in 2005, and said, “oh, Deb, here’s your book.” That’s when Kim realized (and reminded me) that we met at the Boise Flower Show in 2005! It all came back: She, of long legs and blonde hair. Friendly smile and eager energy: “I once lived on Bainbridge Island,” she said. “I know the spirit of these gardens.” Oh, what charisma!

Isn’t it nice when kindred spirits reunite? Kim is a sassy, free-spirited floral artist. You can see it in every corner of her delightful garden. How fun to realize we connected a few years ago – and met again in an unexpected way. I can’t wait to return to Sun Valley and see what she does next.

A final note: Here is an authentic Shed – vintage 1920s. Owned by Rosemarie B., this is a split-log cabin (with its bark remaining on each log) that truly evokes a sense of place. What a privilege to visit~

3 Responses to “Sublime and serene Idaho hideaways”

  1. Lydia Plunk Says:

    What a glorious whirlwind trip that must have been.
    The detail on the birdhouse was amazing. I was hoping Cindy had an internet site to shop from, but did not find.

  2. Ken Moore Says:

    thanks so much for sharing a slice of your life. I was minding my own biz; browsing for pics of garden retreats; when I came across the three of you sharing in your garden. I could literally feel the love when i read your prose about the meeting of kindred spirits.

    good day,
    GREAT Spring,
    ken jr – Houston gardener

  3. Ted at Apple Trees Says:

    Hello there, I have just started up a blog website and in the middle of making rather varied articles. Do you mind if I blog something about this article? I will of course give you and this post due credit.

    Hi Ted, sure – you are welcome to blog about this article! Please just link to, okay? Good luck with your blog, Debra

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