Debra Prinzing

Get the Email Newsletter!

A true blue garden with a heart of gold

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Tina sure knows how to enjoy herself in the garden! Here she is, resting on my vintage wicker in my former Seattle garden, 2006.

Great container design paired with whimsical glass art makes this pot a stunning focal point in Tina and Paul's garden.

I first met Tina Dixon in the early 2000’s when I was asked to join her as a judge for the Washington State Nursery & Landscape Association design awards.

Her bubbly personality and welcoming nature included me in the circle of other judges, most of whom had previously served together. Our judging session took place at her home in Bothell, just north of Seattle, allowing me to gain a better sense of just who Tina is. In short, Tina is a connector. She connects colleagues, clients and friends, helping everyone feel part of the Seattle horticultural community. You can’t help but have fun when she’s in the room (or on the tour bus or in the garden).

Through Plants a la Cart, her container design business, Tina creates breathtakingly gorgeous planted pots for some of the Seattle area’s poshest addresses.

Several years ago, she turned her attention to the property she owns with her husband Paul Stredwick. Their hand-crafted garden is a vibrant, color-infused, texture-layered, art-filled spot on the map. And garden tour-goers, if they are lucky, can occasionally get beyond the denim blue-stained gate to see the surprising horticultural world inside.

The photographs shared here are ones I took in 2006 when Tina and Paul opened their Golden Trowel Award-winning garden to the Hardy Plant Study Weekend participants. I served on the event’s planning committee that year, so I knew what a treat was in store for the several hundred participants who flocked there during the Open Garden schedule.

In 2007, Garden Design magazine awarded Tina and landscape designer Mike Jeppesen the Golden Trowel Award for this gorgeous Blue-Themed landscape

Since then, I know that Tina and Paul have received numerous requests to add their garden to area tours. They recently decided to open the property to benefit a cause that they personally support, Hopelink. Hopelink is an United Way agency that offers an array of programs that enable families in crisis to make progress toward and achieve self-sufficiency.

You can see the garden next Sunday, August 15th, at two different events. An evening Garden Party (6-8 p.m.) includes wine, hors d’oeuvres and music by The Chromatics. Knowledgeable docents will be on hand to answer questions during the festivities. Tickets to the private garden gala are $150 with a portion tax-deductible. Register online or call 425-897-3703.

The Dixon-Stredwick garden is also open earlier in the day, Noon-5 p.m. for a $50 donation to Hopelink. You can pre-order tickets for the tour here. Or call the number above.

For some background on this garden, here is the story I wrote in April 2007, which appeared in Seattle Homes & Lifestyles magazine. Subsequently, their garden has been featured by other publications, so I feel pleased that Tina said “yes” to me first!

True Blue: Designed with a harmonious blue-hued palette, a Bothell garden shows off art, architecture and plants

Written by Debra Prinzing

Painted periwinkle, two concrete pears by Woodinville artist Judy Thomas continue the color story.

If, as color theorists say, blue has therapeutic qualities, then Tina Dixon is a very healthy woman. Whether it’s a bright or subdued blue, Tina thrives on the hue.

Owner of Plants a la Cart, a successful container-garden design service, Tina considers the serene hue her signature color. Although she doesn’t limit clients to her preferred palette, Tina is well known for filling azure- and cobalt-glazed urns with dazzling combinations of leaf shapes, textures and colors.

Her penchant for blue infuses her own landscape, giving it a cohesive theme. “Blue is my favorite color,” she proclaims.  

When they bought a one-third-acre Bothell pasture in 1983 (previously inhabited by a lone calf), Tina and her husband, Paul Stredwick, were in their late 20s and intent on building their first home, a gray, barn-shaped Dutch colonial, trimmed in blue. Landscaping was not on their minds or in their budget.

By 1987, Tina abandoned an office job for a horticultural career. She studied landscape design at Lake Washington Technical College and launched Plants a la Cart. The pasture was by then home to two rambunctious golden retrievers.

Occasionally, Tina and Paul had time to tackle their own backyard. They renovated a deck and planted an 80-foot-long mixed perennial border against the south fence. “Paul and I were trying to pick away at the landscape,” she recalls. “Wherever we stopped one year, we started there the next. It wasn’t quite flowing.”

The blue-stained arbor is supported by DIY columns.

In 2002, knowing they wanted lighting, irrigation and hardscaping in the garden, Tina and Paul agreed to ask a landscape designer for an overall plan.

It was almost inevitable that Mike Jeppesen of Sammamish Landscape would help the couple create their blue-themed dream garden, since he and Tina had collaborated earlier that year on a gold-medal “Blue Garden” for the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. With a blue-stained gate and arbor, Pennsylvania bluestone pavers, blue Asian pots and collections of blue-tinged conifers, the designers made a rare statement with this cool palette. The design also earned them the Pacific Horticulture Award.

“Like Tina, I prefer to deal with foliage—this garden is virtually a tapestry of texture and leaf color,” Jeppesen says. “I also knew that even though Tina and Paul and the dogs needed to enjoy the garden, it also had to be a space for her to show off what she does best—it’s a garden that people will visit.”   

Tina and Paul’s garden invites visitors to enter along a charming walkway, pass through an oversize blue gate and pause at a dramatic “foyer” where one of eight ochre-stained concrete columns appears as a focal point.

From here, a 4-foot-wide strolling path meanders clockwise around the garden’s perimeter. An irregular section of lawn is reserved at the center for playing ball with the dogs. More free-standing columns punctuate the heavily planted borders, drawing the eye through the landscape to a four-column pergola in the distance.

A grouping of blue Asian pots presents Tina’s favorite container designs, incorporating bear’s breech (Acanthus mollis), golden smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’) and Canna ‘Tropicanna’.

“Columns were on my wish list but were killing the budget,” Tina admits. Jeppesen suggested using concrete waste-water pipes, set on end, to serve as columns. At $80 each, the 8-foot-long pipes were a perfect solution. Tina asked artist Johnny Ward to transform the ordinary concrete with a rich gold-brown patina. Blue-stained lattice boards and rafters form the pergola, complementing a Pennsylvania bluestone terrace beneath.

To give the landscape the feeling of maturity, Jeppesen and his crew placed boulders, large rocks and stone steps throughout the landscape. He also encouraged Tina and Paul to incorporate large trees and shrubs into the design. “Even though Tina deals more with perennial-style plants, I wanted her to use trees and shrubs to provide interest when there are no flowers in bloom,” he says. “They give substance to this landscape.”

Tina and Paul agreed and headed to Oregon, where they used Tina’s wholesale connections with a tree farm. They selected trees to complement the scale of their house, including several hinoki false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa>‘Gracilis’), plume cryptomeria (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans’), weeping copper European beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea Pendula’) and a flowering dogwood (Cornus x rutgersensis ‘Constellation’).

Wine, burgundy and maroon foliage are great complements to blue tones.

One-color gardens are appealing because of their simplicity, allowing plants and constructed elements to speak a common design language. Tina recognized that gold, lime, wine and silver foliage plants gain a visual boost when placed near blue pots and architecture.

She adapted container design techniques when planting the landscape. “Because I work on such a small scale, it was an overwhelming thought at first,” she says, “but you just have to take the principles of putting the right leaf shapes and textures together and use them in the larger context.”

Blue-glazed Vietnamese pots hold everything from gold-leafed ornamental trees and striped tropical plants to exuberant vines and silvery succulents. Tina’s adventurous designs rely on attention-grabbing plants that look even better when paired with blue. “I’ve been really tempted to use other container colors,” she says. “But that would feel like a mixed jar of jelly beans. Instead, I decided to be bold and consistent. The blue pots make sense and tell a story.”

Landscape designer-contractor: Mike Jeppesen, Sammamish Landscape, (360) 435-3769 or

Container designer: Tina Dixon, Plants a la Cart, (425) 481-2194 or

Carpenter (pergola, entry arbor and fence): Cliff Chatel, Woodmark Construction, (425) 827-5242

More photos to delight – and tempt you to attend next Sunday’s tour and garden party:

There is a small patch of dog-friendly lawn in this garden, yet Tina can't resist placing sculptural black crows on its surface.

Another detail shot revealing Tina's incredible container design talent and her color sensibility.

A brilliant, blue-glazed urn is a delightful counterpoint to trees, shrubs and rock.

Playful “hopscotch” pavers guide visitors to the blue-stained entry gate (a hand-painted sign nearby reads “All who enter must hop” and another, inside the garden, asks “Did you hop?”).

Here's a cool detail showing how Tina and her landscape cohort Mike Jeppesen carved the decking around a piece of basalt - just like a puzzle piece.

Not much to say but: "Feast your eyes on this tapestry of texture and color"

Keeyla Meadows colors her garden world

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

Note: A version of this Q&A appeared earlier this week in “LA At Home,” the Los Angeles Times’ daily home and garden blog.

Mary Ann caught one glimpse of the awesome coat and matching socks . . . and said - Hey, that's Keeyla Meadows!

Mary Ann caught one glimpse of the awesome coat and matching socks . . . and said - Hey, that's Keeyla Meadows!

Los Angeles native Keeyla Meadows lives in Berkeley where she makes art and designs gardens. Her cheerful, 50-by-100 foot city lot is a living canvas packed with life-sized female figures and not-so-perfect vessels, hand-built in clay and glazed in a palette of turquoise, apricot and lavender.

An exuberant color palette that few would dare to use - here's Keeyla's Berkeley bungalow and street-side "sunset" garden

An exuberant color palette that few would dare to use - here's Keeyla's Berkeley bungalow and street-side "sunset" garden

No surface here is left unadorned. Whether it’s her swirly ceramic paving, custom metal benches or sculpted walls, Keeyla artistically places favorite objects and plants with a carefree confidence that few of us can master.

Fans of Keeyla have long admired her award-winning gardens, including a ‘Best in Show’ at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show a few years back. Her beautiful first book, Making Gardens a Work of Art, was published in 2004 by Sasquatch Books, a Seattle imprint that also published my first book, The Northwest Gardener’s Resource Directory.

Lorene and me ~ gal pals in Keeyla's garden

Lorene and me ~ gal pals in Keeyla's garden

In 2008, I lucked into an impromptu visit to Keeyla’s personal wonderland when my girlfriend Mary Ann Newcomer boldly followed her into Café Fanny’s in Berkeley, an Alice Waters bistro, and snagged an invite for our group of breakfasting garden writers.

Lorene Edwards Forkner, Mary Ann and I hopped in the car and followed Keeyla to her bungalow, a few blocks away. It is fair to say we were hyperventilating!

“You can take photos, but don’t publish them until my book is out,” Keeyla requested. It was the least we could do, having feasted our eyes on her botanical paint box, imagining how we might try her playful ideas in our own backyards.

9780881929409_CMYKHer new book, Fearless Color Gardens: The creative gardener’s guide to jumping off the color wheel (Timber Press, $27.95), has just been published. Filled with Keeyla’s photography of design projects, as well as her doodles and sketches, it reads like a colorist’s memoir, complete with a muse named Emerald.

Strong on fantasy, it’s also a useful workbook for garden owners who need a nudge toward the more vibrant end of the color spectrum. I recently asked Keeyla about the book.

Q: How do you teach students to feel confident as garden designers?

Keeyla's color sensibility is in her DNA as evidenced by the orange side of her house punctuated by a tree-inspird sculpture

Keeyla's color sensibility is in her DNA as evidenced by the orange side of her house punctuated by a tree-inspird sculpture

A: A lot of people have this mantra that says, “I’m not a creative person. I’m not an artist.” Our lives are built around the practicality of what we have to do everyday so many people shut those doors to creativity a long time ago. I suggest you treat garden design like something you do all the time. The physical activity of placing plants in a space can be as easy as folding laundry and putting it away, or setting the table, or baking a cake.

Q. How can I make a landscape project feel less overwhelming?

Mary Anne Newcomer, Keeyla Meadows and Lorene Edwards Forkner

Mary Anne Newcomer, Keeyla Meadows and Lorene Edwards Forkner

A. I suggest you divide your space up like a series of photographs or like windows.

Decide what “picture” you’re working with, where it starts and ends. Start with looking out the kitchen window and use plants and art to fill the frame.

Q. Where does your color inspiration come from?

A. A lot of my color sense comes from growing up in Los Angeles and living with its “colorfulness” – the light, tile work and Catalina Island all inspired me. Right now, I’m designing a new garden for the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show in March. It’s a habitat garden and the colors I’m using come from the red-headed garter snake, an endangered snake from the San Mateo coastline. It has a read head with a turquoise and red stripe down the back, so it’s providing my design motif, my imagery and my color combination.

Jump off the conventional Color Wheel and play with Keeyla's Color Triangle

Jump off the conventional Color Wheel and play with Keeyla's Color Triangle

Q. How do you suggest people “jump off” the color wheel?

A. The traditional color wheel makes my head spin. I use a color triangle, which is so stabilizing. I put blue at the top of the pyramid – it represents the sky. The other two points are red and yellow. Between the three primary colors are the secondary colors. On either side of any point is a harmonic chord of color. You’ll never go wrong if you take one of the points – red, yellow or blue – and use one of those chords of color on either side of it.

 Q. How do you balance artwork with the plants in your garden? 

A checkerboard of color in a patio installation

A checkerboard of color in a patio installation

A. Art gives me a constant relationship to plant against, a very stable feature to move through the seasons with.

Art creates so much focus and orients the whole space so one is not always reinventing. It is like a stage setting.

The artwork and hardscape set the stage for your plants to really become the stars.

Here’s a quote from Keeyla’s book that seems apropos:

“In my gardens, color refers to everything – absolutely everything. I don’t just make a bland holder, a neutral vase, for colorful plants. Color includes the rocks, the pavings, and the artwork. It also connects up with the color of the house and the sky above. So it’s really like bringing the camera to your eye. When you take a photo, you are looking at everything in the frame. In creating color gardens we will look at everything that is part of the garden picture. . . “

More photos to share from our visit to Keeyla’s magical garden: