Debra Prinzing

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More cool gardens, garden art, and sheds

September 28th, 2008

Visting Bellingham and the Whatcom Horticultural Society

Bright and early on September 17th, I flew from Burbank, CA to Bellingham, WA (by way of Seattle and a 2-hour layover). I was pretty tired, having only four hours of sleep the night before, so I dozed a bit on the small Horizon Air jet that transported me from Seattle to B’ham in barely 25 minutes.

As the plane began to descend, I perked up and looked out the window to see – oh glory – Puget Sound, and several of its islands including Lummi Island. I was so happy (exhilarated, actually) to gaze upon the gray-blue palette of the water and islands, the scenery dotted witha few boats; the islands populated with cabins and summer cottages. What a “welcome home”!

My friend, Dawn Chaplin, garden designer and nurserywoman (seen with me above, in front of the Whatcom Museum), invited me to speak at the September meeting for the Whatcom Horticultural Society. I have a special place in my heart for this group, thanks to my friendship with the late Stephanie Feeney, who was one of the founding mothers of WHS. Stephanie, creator of the Northwest Gardener”s Resource Directory, originally started her garden touring “reference” (as a few photocopied pages stapled together at the corner), for her use and for her WHS friends. Upon her death in 2000, I inherited the editorship of her book and produced the 9th edition, still in print.

Dawn and her husband David met me at the airport and whisked me off on a whirlwind tour of Bellingham’s fantastic gardens and even a few magical “sheds” and shelters in the garden. In this misty, foggy maritime place on the map, people in Bellingham use color and art in very exciting ways. Here is a travelogue of our garden-filled afternoon:

Our tour kept gathering up friends and bringing them along. In front, from left: Dawn Chaplin, landscape designer Susann Schwiesow, and Laurie Satushek discussing plants in Susann’s glorious front border; In the back, Steve Satushek and David Chaplin.


The wild and crazy landscape owned by Steve and Laurie Satushek

Photographer Steve Satushek and artist/teacher Laurie Satushek live and garden on about 8 acres overlooking the Nooksack River Delta and Bellingham Bay. They have transformed a nondescript ranch house and unkempt field into a colorful residence and equally brilliant landscape. Every surface of their residence is embellished with mosaics, mirrors, three-dimensional objects, and Steve’s oversize “outdoor” photographs — all rendered in a crayon box-inspired palette.

The informal but exuberant garden makes creative use of cobalt glass wine and water bottles (seen above, at left and below) and Steve’s cleverly-engineered and equally beautiful photography (he combines nature and botanical photographs with several innovative processes for weatherproofing oversize canvases). Together, the gallery-house and gallery-garden lure visitors to explore, observe, and fill their eyes with a surprising interpretation of art infused into every aspect of life.

More blue bottles: Here, they are mounted upside down on rebar posts. Staggered “rows” create a waist-high blue wall that lines the driveway. Citrus-cutouts of dancers add whimsical contrast.


Since Steve is a talented stock photographer who shoots just about everything (Getty Images represents his work), it’s no surprise that he’s come up with a way to showcase his garden photography – where else? – in the garden! Hanging from many sides of their vivid house (Steve and Laurie painted each outer wall in a different color, and tinkered with the plant palette, accordingly) are B-I-G photo canvases. We’re talking 3-by-4 feet and up! The effect is quite mesmerizing because you feel as if you’re at a photo exhibit while also taking in the sights, smells, sounds and other sensations of the garden. Case in point, at left. Against the periwinkle-blue exterior, Steve and Laurie’s huge stand of orange-flowering cannas blur the lines between reality and fantasy . . . because just behind them is a huge outdoor photo of the canna bloom.

Steve’s technique applies a photo to tile, metal or Sintra (a PVC vinyl material). He uses 1/8-inch thick Sintra sheets; the printing process embeds UV-resistant inks into the material itself for a durable and weatherproof finish. The projected outdoor lifespan is many years, depending on exposure to the sun (thus, North-facing displays last longer). The Sintra-photo is supported on a 2-inch thick panel of construction grade polystyrene, with a metal edging. Steve attaches a wire hanger to the back and textures/stains the edges . . . voila! Hang your favorite garden image outdoors.


Sometimes, the photography belongs elsewhere in the landscape rather than hanging from the house. Here, a moody, misty black-and-white shot of geese flying over a stand of conifers is mounted on posts against the hedgerow.

A butterfly perches on a rosebud, against the purple wall. Notice how touches of bright orange and lime green trim adjacent windows and doors for more color play.


Here, a montage of six 12-inch tiles, form a beautiful pattern taken from a single detail shot of violets. This illustrates the photo-tile technique quite well. And those shades of lavender-pink and purple look terrific against the green wall of Laurie and Steve’s house.


This place is so special, so here are a few more of the scenes that spoke to me, including Steve’s unconventional “guy shed,” below:

A natural pathway intersects the meadow of grasses and late-summer perennials.

A copper birdbath, one of Laurie’s additions. She added shimmer to ordinary concrete objects and terra cotta pots by spraying them with metallic-copper paint. When the sun shines, the copper is reflected throughout the garden – plus, it now matches the copper trim that Laurie added to portions of the house!

Oh joy! A shed! Laurie and Steve inherited this corrugated barn-like structure (possibly used by prior owners to store a boat). It houses their mutual studios and is made all the more artful because Laurie and a painter-friend of hers rendered giant sunflowers across its face.

Here’s Steve, showing off his “Jungle Hut,” a shelter down near the beach that he fabricated from old windows and anything that washed up on shore after a store. This is where he, the dog, and male friends escape to for occasional drumming sessions and other clandestine activities (just kidding!)


The entry garden is a private Mediterranean-inspired courtyard enclosed by an undulating “ruin-like” wall (right), a fountain and pool, path, seating patio and color, color, color – everywhere. The couple fashioned their concrete, arbor-topped columns, a la David Lewis and George Little (left). The word “Imagine” appears above the entrance, invoking the creative spirit to all who walk through its welcoming portal.  This is a happy place, populated with art, plants, and love. Imagine and be inspired by what you see!


I visited two other great gardens on my visit to Bellingham. Stay tuned for a mini-report on those verdant destinations in the near future.


7 Responses to “More cool gardens, garden art, and sheds”

  1. Dee/reddirtramblings Says:

    Debra, that was so cool. I forwarded the link on to my friend, Wanda, who lives in Anacortes. I thought she would love to see this.~~Dee

  2. Beth Evans-Ramos Says:

    Oh my goodness – I love the cobalt bottles on the rebar stakes! I’m glad you had such a feast for the eyes tour. I wanted to let you know the salvage studio has given you a I Love Your Blog award, and hope you will share it with seven favorite blogs of yours – ones you would like others to know about. Please visit our blog, for more info. We miss you like crazy still here in the Northwest. I am enjoying your blog and keeping track of what you are doing.

  3. Kim Taylor Says:

    Ooh, I love the bottle wall! I’ve seen bottle trees before, but never a wall. Very clever.

  4. Jayme Says:

    I love the blue bottles on, what is it, rebar? I may have to steal this idea for my own backyard. Fabulous!
    Yes, Jayme. Get yourself some ordinary rebar; add those blue bottles from Trader Joe’s, and voila! Your own bottle sculpture! I bet you could have lots of fun with other colored bottles, too. DKP

  5. Dennis Van Dusen Says:

    Check out my blue bottle yard art and youtube video mosaic water fountain

  6. house painter Says:

    house painter…

    Debra Prinzing » Blog Archive » More cool gardens, garden art, and sheds…

  7. Norah Crance Says:

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