Debra Prinzing

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Sunday in the park with Debra

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

Dahlia 'Duo'

Last Sunday morning, while staying a few extra days in San Francisco after my Garden Conservancy talk, I took two Muni buses (47 & 5) to Golden Gate Park where all things artistic, botanical and cultural seem to reside.

My objective was to see the amazing living roof at the California Academy of Sciences, but once I realized I only had 90 minutes, my plans took a slight detour. Art and flowers beckoned.

The Conservatory of Flowers, with Dahlia Dell in the foreground

First stop was the Conservatory of Flowers, circa 1879. It is one of the last remaining Victorian-era conservatories on the West coast (the other resides in Seattle’s Volunteer Park). Before I could even approach the conservatory, my attention was diverted by a late autumn display of dahlias.

Called “Dahlia Dell” and dating to 1924, two demonstration flower beds thrive here, located to the east of the conservatory. They are maintained by volunteers from the San Francisco Dahlia Society for the simple purpose of educating local gardeners and flower lovers about the diversity of dahlia color, form, size and culture. I have a feeling that Paula Jaffe, a dahlia expert and educator who I profiled in “Dazzling Dahlias,” a 2008 Perennials magazine article, is one of the passionate individuals responsible for this joy-inducing floral display.

It was fun to play around with the “tulip” Macro button on the back of my Canon G10 camera and take pics of the fading beauties. These dahlias have withstood the combination of late-season rain, fog and sunshine and they’re still producing pretty blooms. I can’t wait to grow dahlias again, especially because they play well with flower vases. Really well. Enjoy this diverse display. Most (but not all) of the plants were labeled, thankfully.

Dahlia 'Western Spanish Dancer'

Dahlia 'The Phantom'

Dahlia 'Sir Richard'

Dahlia 'Shipley Spot'

Dahlia 'Shea's Rainbow'

Aptly named: Dahlia 'Pooh'

Dahlia 'Pink Paradise'

Dahlia 'Horse Feathers'

Dahlia 'Green D'Or' orange sport

Dahlia 'George C'

Dahlia 'Elvira' (a miniature)

Dahlia 'Delta Red'

Dahlia 'Creamy Beige'

Dahlia 'Bo De O'

Dahlia 'Belle Fiore'

Dahlia 'Badger Twinkle'

Dahlia 'Arulen Princess'


The de Young's tower - against a blue autumn sky.

After spending an hour with the dahlias, I moseyed over to the California Academy of Sciences, but discovered that – from ground level – it is nearly impossible to see, let alone get a sense of its scale and magnificence, Renzo Piano’s green living roof.

So I compromised and spent my museum admission budget to enterthe de Young art museum where “Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musee d’Orsay” was in full swing. It was exciting to see the many amazing and exciting canvasses on display. I’ve been to the Musee d’Orsay twice before when in Paris and so I enjoyed revisiting some of the paintings and drawings again. Twelve galleries of paintings were incredible to take in. You can never have too much of this artwork. The show continues through January 18, 2011.

Here's a closer look at the pointillistic-style perforated copper exterior.

After I left the galleries, I took the elevator to the viewing tower.

Actually, this was the first time I’ve been to the de Young since it was renovated and reopened in October 2005. The “new” building is clad in a perforated copper sheath, which may sound rigid but has a sensual fluidity that reacts to the light and dark.

Depending on how the sun moves through the sky, the building’s surface has dot-like patterns and a shimmery quality. The 144-foot tower is one of the most alluring aspects of the new design, by Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron and Fong & Chan Architects in San Francisco. From way up high, you can see the best of San Francisco – a 360-degree, mind-blowing perspective.

This roof is incredible - a horticultural masterpiece on top of the California Academy of Sciences in SF

A closer look of one of the roof's mounded forms

From here, I got some photographs of that green, living roof.

 I’ve already decided that on my next visit to San Francisco, I will have to see that installation up close and personal. Because while peering down on it and photographing it (through the glass-walled viewing gallery), I noticed that people were up on the roof doing just that.

Not a bad lineup for a few hours at Golden Gate Park, huh?

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"

Southern California’s horticultural wonders

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

1. Wisteria sinensis

Wistaria, known as Wisteria chinensis

My week began with a very special botanical field trip to Sierra Madre, a hamlet near Pasadena that each year celebrates its hometown hero on the second Sunday of March.

That hero is a 116-year-old plant. Isn’t that cool?

Invited by Paula Panich, who enticed me with promises that I would see “one of the seven horticultural wonders of the world” (seriously, who could resist that offer!?), I drove 60 miles east to Sierra Madre and joined Paula’s entourage.

The Sierra Madre Wistaria Festival, a full-blown, main-street celebration, was under way to celebrate what the Guinness Book of World Records has named the world’s largest blooming plant – a Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis).

A cloud of pale, purple blooms create a one-acre floral canopy

Said wisteria, which the locals more accurately call Wistaria*, was planted in 1894 by Alice Brugman. She rode by horse and buggy to the R.H. Wilson Pioneer Nursery in nearby Monrovia to purchase the vine in a one gallon pot, spending 75-cents.

It now covers nearly one acre, weighs over 250 tons, and produces more than 1.5 million blossoms during a glorious, five-week run each spring. The festival occurs for one day only, when the property’s owners (aka the “flower stewards”) open up their gardens for thousands of visitors.

We were in attendance a little early in the vine’s bloom cycle, as you can see. But still, it was a sight to behold!

 The vine covers two private residential gardens and is supported by a sturdy matrix of metal arbors. We walked underneath the canopy formed by lightly-scented, pale purple clusters that looked gorgeous against the intense-blue sky.

A festive day indeed! 


As pretty as Victorian wallpaper, the vines and blossoms trace the sky

*Wisteria or Wistaria?

According to a brochure distributed at the festival, experts at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden have always used the correct spelling with “a” rather than “e.”

“The plant was named to honor Caspar Wistar (1761-1818), an American physician and University of Pennsylvania teacher. Among his accomplishments, he wrote the first text book on anatomy. When the name of the genus Wisteria was recorded, it was incorrectly spelled. So, one could say that all along, Sierra Madre has correctly spelled Wistaria.”

 Now you know.

2. Eschscholtzia californica 

Spring is here! The poppies are in bloom!

This being perhaps my last spring as a full-time resident of Southern California, I was eager to squeeze in a visit to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. My goal was to see the valley’s meadows and rolling hills awash in vibrant orange – a celebration of the California Poppy, the State Flower since 1903.

While poppies grow in many areas, along the edges of highways and in surprising pockets both urban and rural, the only remaining large fields are in the western Antelope Valley. This area is part of northern Los Angeles Co., about 90 minutes northeast of my home in Thousand Oaks.

My parents were en route to visit this weekend (from the Phoenix area) and so I convinced them to take the detour north off of Hwy. 14 to meet me for a Friday morning Poppy Adventure.

Anita and Fred Prinzing, my wildflower-hunting companions (Mom and Dad)

We arrived at the 1,800-acre reserve located about 15 miles west of the town of Lancaster. As with my wisteria visit, we were definitely too early for the peak poppy bloom.

Despite plenty of spring precipitation, the temperatures here had not warmed up enough to prompt massive blooms. There were beautiful patches of orange poppies, intermixed with other lovely wildflowers – including blue lupines. We took joy in what we saw and promised ourselves to return in the future.

I wish I could go back in two week’s time – that’s when the display will be the showiest!

3. Yucca brevifolia 

Magnificent Joshua Tree - in bloom

On our way out of the Antelope Valley, we discovered an obscure state park called the Ripley Desert Woodland. This 560-acre “virgin forest” is populated with Joshua Trees (Yucca brevifolia) and California junipers (Juniperus californica). According to the brochure we picked up:

“This is how the western part of the Mojave Desert must have appeared to early explorers as they came through the area” in the late 18th and early 19th century. . . .”

The park is named for Arthur Ripley, a farmer who willed the acreage to California when he died in 1988. He farmed a large amount of land in Antelope Valley, but he also was concerned enough about the Joshua/juniper woodlands to preserve a pristine area.

I was quite moved by this wild place. Walking through this desert woodland was pretty awe-inspiring. To find it, drive on Lancaster Road, heading west, about 5 miles beyond the Poppy Reserve.

Gardens under glass

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

In a setting of snow on the last day of 2009, the Phipps Conservatory makes a grand statement

In a setting of snow on the last day of 2009, the Phipps Conservatory makes a grand statement

An amazing garden under glass, The Phipps Conservatory is a delightful destination in the heart of urban Pittsburgh.

I visited last week when the outdoor daytime weather averaged 20-degrees Fahrenheit.

But once we walked indoors, of course, the “season” changed. Blooms more likely to be seen in my Los Angeles backyard were thriving in the conservatory’s dozen-plus “rooms,” including the tropical-like Palm Court, Fern Room, Orchid room and Sunken Garden.

The Desert Room looked oh-so-familiar to me, with agaves, aoeniums, aloes and opuntias poking through the sand-colored gravel floor.

This was a new combination to me: Ti plants (Cordyline sp.) with Poinsettia

This was a new combination to me: Ti plants (Cordyline sp.) with Poinsettia

I visited on New Year’s Eve day and was delighted to learn that the Phipps actually remains open until 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, welcoming those more interested in a serene, candlelit celebration than louder festivities.

Right now, many of the plant displays here are dotted with glass sculptures by an artist named Hans Godo Frabel, who is know for his “realistic and otherworldly glass figures.”

Chihuly's brilliant chandelier in mimosa yellow hangs from the ceiling of the new entry

Chihuly's brilliant chandelier in mimosa yellow hangs from the ceiling of the new entry

Glass of a different sort was presented here in the past – the Dale Chihuly sort – and a few of his pieces remain in the permanent collection, which my photos show here.

My son Alex, who is 12, was very intrigued by Frabel’s alienlike glass creatures, as well as by his realistic glass flowers and salamanders. We took lots of “alien” photos.

One of the eery glass aliens by Hans Godo Frabel

One of the eery glass aliens by Hans Godo Frabel

Fortunately, these disparate works of art were grouped together to present little stories in distinct wings of the conservatory. Otherwise I would have been completely confused.

In the 2000 book Crystal Palaces: Garden Conservatories of the United States, Anne S. Cunningham profiled the remaining major glass gardens. She wrote:

“Phipps Conservatory is a reminder of Pittsburg’s greatness in the time when Andrew Carnegie and Henry Phipps helped transform the American landscape with steel, steam engines, and civic philanthropy. Among his many contributions, Phipps (1839-1930) gave the city a conservatory “for public instruction and pleasure” in the newly developed Schenley Park.

When it was built, the Phipps Conservatory was the largest of its kind in the country. The shimmering Romanesque-style edifice made of steel, cypress, stone and glass reached 64 ft. tall and covered more than 43,000 square feet. It was originally filled with plants chosen at the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago. Writes Cunningham: “. . . the entire tropical plant display was shipped by train across the Midwest in time for the debut of the conservatory.”

From the height of fame to unfortunate neglect, this place barely survived subsequent decades. Sadly, the glorious conservatory fell into disrepair during the Depression. According to Cunningham: “by the 1930s, rats and weeds competed for space; a savage storm in 1937 damaged the big glasshouse and destroyed the greenhouses in back. By 1940, WPA crews had reconstructed the production houses, but the conservatory continued to suffer from natural deterioration and inconsistent community support.”

The Phipps’s renaissance  came in 1993 when a private foundation purchased it and began to restore and revive the grand garden under glass. The Phipps seems to have come full circle with the 2009 highlight of hosting President and Mrs. Obama and the G-20 summit last September. The conservatory was the site of the opening dinner and reception for the world’s leaders. How wonderful that a garden was the backdrop for this powerful gathering.

The rebirth of this grand conservatory is indeed cause for celebration. Here are some impressions from our visit last Thursday:

Garden Field Trip: Descanso Gardens, Los Angeles

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010
An unlabeled dark pink Camellia in winter at Descanso Gardens

An unlabeled dark pink Camellia in winter at Descanso Gardens

Camellias are oh-so-beautiful, delicate and almost porcelain-like in their perfection.

Deb and Anita (Mom) in Japanese garden

Deb and Anita (Mom) in Japanese garden

On the day after Christmas, my parents and I visited Los Angeles’s most established camellia collection at Descanso Gardens

The mature camellia shrubs (many of which are tree-like in their proportions) are protected from Southern California’s harsh heat and sunlight because they’re planted in the understory of even more mature sycamore and live oak trees. They are happiest in the cooler months of the year.

Here, you really do feel like the paths lead through an established woodland. It’s actually an urban woodland, just off of the junction of two freeways. But that’s LA for you.

When we moved to Los Angeles in August, 2006, we got off the plane at Burbank Airport and while waiting for luggage, I noticed a huge DESCANSO GARDENS billboard above the luggage claim area. I remember thinking, “what kind of garden could exist among all this concrete?” 

Anita (Mom) and Fred (Dad) at entrance to Oak-and-Camellia Forest

Anita (Mom) and Fred (Dad) at entrance to Oak-and-Camellia Forest

Later, I was lucky enough to visit. Descanso Gardens is a 160-acre natural woodland and botanical garden located just north of Burbank in a community called La Canada-Flintridge. It’s about a one-hour drive east of where I live in Thousand Oaks and about 20 minutes west of Pasadena. If you plan a visit to the Huntington Botanical Garden, you can easily add a side trip to Descanso. 

I was invited to give a talk at Descanso a few summers ago and was blown away by its immense scale, as urban gardens go. But until last week, I had never visited during the winter Camellia season.

Descanso’s founder, E. Manchester Boddy, publisher and owner of the Los Angeles Daily News, preserved the land (gardens, woodland and chaparral) to share Southern California’s natural beauty with future generations. This is where he lived, building a home in 1938 with views of the San Gabriel mountains. The Boddy family left the house in 1953 when they sold Descanso to Los Angeles County.   

A beautiful pink camellia display

A beautiful pink camellia display

About the Camellia Forest:


Thousands of camellias grow in the understory of a 20-acre oak forest. Boddy began planting camellias in the late 1930s, originally to supply the florist trade.
Many plants were purchased from F.M. Uyematsu, a Japanese-American nurseryman whose camellias were well known to the trade.   Other plants came directly from china, including Camellia reticulata cultivars, imported by Boddy in 1948.  Camellias bloom here from October through May, so you can actually enjoy them most of the year except for summer.

Here are some more of the flowers and garden features that we enjoyed on our winter visit. I especially love the glossy red container plantings of Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’ because they remind me of the same ones growing in my former Seattle garden, espaliered against the fence for a beautiful winter floral display.

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:

What can we learn from a classic Tuscan garden?

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009
The stone steps of La Foce's terraced garden draw the eye upward, towards two large Italian cypresses

The stone steps of La Foce's terraced garden draw the eye upward, towards two large Italian cypresses

I’ve barely been home from Italy for 24 hours and despite jet lag, I am still alert enough to post my first report about the two week trip to Tuscany.

One of the most memorable days was our tour of La Foce, a Tuscan estate and garden with influences dating to the 15th century when the property was built as an Inn (“Osteria”) by the Hospital of S. Maria della Scala.  It is located in the town of Chianciano, about 30 minutes southeast of where we stayed in Montisi.

“Foce” (pronounced Foe-CHAY) means “opening” or “meeting place,” and its origins are traced to the Etruscans. The name refers to the osteria’s location as a stopping place where two prominent roads intersect. The roads were traveled by pilgrims, merchants and travelers who sought rest from their journeys at La Foce.


North Carolina in September: Gardens Galore; even more Garden Writers

Monday, September 28th, 2009
"A buckeye in your pocket for good luck"

"A buckeye in your pocket for good luck"

The 61st annual Garden Writers Association annual symposium took place this past week, hosted by a fabulous group of Raleigh garden communicators who put together a great lineup of uncommon gardens, mouthwatering menus and Southern hospitality. The occasion drew 655 registrants, the second-largest gathering ever in GWA’s history after Philadelphia/Brandywine Valley in 2006.

More than our profession’s top event for education, inspiration and networking, the symposium is an affirmation that what we do every day is connect people with the natural world and the environment of plants, water, soil, sun, and animals through stories and photographs. Garden writers communicate information and share inspiration, so that’s why I love and value how I spend my life.

This week on Shedstyle, I will feature a day-by-day recap of my week in North Carolina. I’ll start with Monday & Tuesday:

with my new garden friends, Charlie and Lois Brummitt

with my new garden friends, Charlie and Lois Brummitt

I flew to Greensboro, NC, to be welcomed as a guest speaker for the Guilford County Horticultural Society. Because my lecture was scheduled for Monday evening, I arrived very late Sunday and was met by Lois and Charlie Brummitt, two gracious garden hosts.

They gave me a cozy, quiet place to stay, let me sleep in on Monday, made sure I had a mug of English breakfast tea and a scone (along with Internet service to do a little writing in the AM). Lois and her friend Nanny took me out to lunch at Undercurrent, a lovely restaurant (spinach salad for me; oysters and quail salad, respectively, for them – Southern specialties!).

Graham Ray (center), showing Lois Brummit (right) and friend Mary Halyburton his dwarf conifer collection

Graham Ray (center), showing Lois Brummit (right) and friend Mary Halyburton his dwarf conifer collection

We then toured some of Greensboro’s great private, residential gardens, including the gracious Southern gardens of landscape designer and historian Chuck Callaway and the expansive backyard spread created by Diane Flint. Then we headed for Graham Ray’s woodland landscape.

Graham has devoted 40 years to cultivating his property using a plantsman’s keen intuition to design harmonious compositions of excellent plants in just the right setting. Some of these photos will just have to speak for themselves.

The “buckeye” shown at the top of this page is Aesculus pavia or Red Buckeye, native to the Eastern U.S. and a relative of the Common Horse Chestnut often seen in Seattle (Aesculus hippocastanum). It grows in Graham’s garden and he gave me a pocketful of several to carry home with me. I hope they bring me good fortune!

The Greensboro audience gets ready for my slide show - a great turnout

The Greensboro audience gets ready for my slide show - a great turnout

We arrived at the local Natural Science Center in time for me to set up my slides and meet Lynda Waldrep, who made it all possible as the society’s program coordinator. A special thanks to Lee and Larry Newlin of Garden Discovery Tours for suggesting me and my talk on The Abundant Garden (“Lush and Layered”).

My audience was superb and generous. We had fun conversing about design, plants, and ornamentation in the landscape. And surprisingly, there’s much that North Carolina and Western Washington gardens have in common, including the predominant green palette.

PS, a late dinner of Italian red wine and gourmet pizza, back at Charlie and Lois’s house, was a perfect capper to my 24 hours in Greensboro. We went out to see their garden at night and Charlie pointed out Venus in the sky – magical.

Before I left the next morning, I battled a few mosquitoes to stroll through and snap a few photos of their landscape. It’s a place I hope to return to in the future, to be with new friends and kindred spirits.



Thank you, everyone in Greensboro!

Next . . . Garden Writers Invade Raleigh. What’s better, the food or the plants?!

Check out the Chihuly Glass sculptures at Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden

Friday, February 6th, 2009

If you’re lucky enough to travel anywhere in the world, there’s no excuse not to try and visit the local botanical garden or arboretum. My family has become used to this mission of mine and they often accommodate me.

Last weekend, though, I was with my fellow hort geeks, and no one tried to stop me from a garden side trip! I traveled to Phoenix for the Garden Writers Association winter board meeting. After sitting indoors in a board room all day, we rewarded ourselves by racing over to the Desert Botanical Garden, a magnificent place in the heart of Phoenix.

I first visited DBG about five years ago while staying with my parents (they have spent their winters in Mesa, AZ, a suburb of Phoenix for the past five or six years). At the time, I was a Seattle gardener. I was not interested in cactuses or other thorny desert plants. But the visit changed my mindset. The garden dates back to the late 1930s and it is designed beautifully. Who knew then that I would eventually live in Southern California where all these alien plants thrive with little or no water, heat, sun and (practically) neglect!?

Here are a few shots I took on that first visit:

The January 31, 2009 visit had an agenda.

Number one: Tour “Chihuly: The Nature of Glass” show, the Seattle artist’s first installation entirely within a desert garden environment.  Number two: Meet Ken Schutz, the garden’s executive director, who led the GWA board on guided tour of the show (plus, he graciously joined us for dinner following our hour-long walk through the plants-and-glass extravaganza).

We gathered at the DBG entrance and were welcomed with a refreshing drink, straight from the desert: Prickly Pear Margaritas topped with a wedge of lime! You can purchase the Prickly Pear syrup in the garden’s wonderful gift shop.


Enjoy my narrated introduction, followed by my favorite images:


A virtual tour of the gorgeous glass sculpture display:

“Sun,” the opening sculpture

Agaves in glass: the new entry piece