Debra Prinzing

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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:

A visit to Sharon Lovejoy’s garden shed

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009
Sharon Lovejoy and me

Sharon Lovejoy and me

In the middle of last week, when I really didn’t have the time to do it, I drove northbound, to central California, where I spent 24 hours with talented writer-illustrator-naturalist Sharon Lovejoy and her smart and kind husband Jeff Prostovich. I met Sharon a little over two years ago when Nan Sterman and I drove to the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show with our friend Joan Bolton of Santa Barbara Garden Design. It was our Garden Writer Caravan and Road Trip. First, Nan took the train/bus from San Diego to my neck of the woods (Ventura Co.); then, the next morning, we drove to Santa Barbara to pick up Joan. Another 90 minutes north of Joan, up Hwy. 101, and we arrived to visit Sharon and Jeff. They fed us, feted us, and hopped in their car to follow the caravan.

A collection of Sharon's charming and inspiring books

A collection of Sharon's charming and inspiring books

Sharon is a total rock star in the Garden Writing Galaxy and I was so excited to have a chance to spend time with her and Jeff.

She has had a huge following ever since she started writing “Heart’s Ease,” a monthly naturalist’s column for the former Country Living Gardener magazine. Sharon’s blog is fun and highly personal – it’s read by friends and fans around the globe.

Her illustrated books about gardening, gardening with children, gardening for wildlife, gardening with food — oh, there are so many and they are like little love letters — have sold hundreds of thousands of copies over the years. In our world, that is unparalleled, I tell you.

61rTYy4K-jL__SL500_AA240_If, like me, you love the way Sharon involves children and their grownups with the natural world, be on the lookout for her next book – out in January 2010! It’s called Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars (and it features her sweet artist-granddaughter, Sara, on the cover).

Sharon and Jeff and I had a magical 24 hours in which we basically talked, ate, drank, cooked, went to see the Lone Pine Arboretum and the plant nursery at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, admired nature, and compared notes about our industry (?) and the “new media” platforms we’re all learning to navigate.

We had to force ourselves to go to bed last Tuesday night . . . the fire was burning in the fireplace and we had so much to say to one another. But we drifted off to sleep and rose on Wednesday morning in time for me to join Sharon at her writers’ group, during which yet another sparkling facet of this talented writer was revealed to me (hint: she is writing a wonderful young adult novel and I can’t wait for it to be completed AND published!).

A sweet retreat in the heart of Sharon's garden

A sweet retreat in the heart of Sharon's garden

It was nice to do something very spontaneous (and very nice that my own husband Bruce held down the fort at home so I could take the trip). I’ve been anxious to see Sharon’s new garden shed.

I had a sneaking suspicion I would be able to persuade Sharon to let me interview her on camera, so I asked – and lucky for you – she said yes. (And there was Jeff, the smart marketer, egging us on and actually directing us at one point.)

We made this totally rough-and-rugged video with my little Flip camera and gave the footage to Shirley Bovshow of Garden World Report. Shirley cleaned it up and used a portion of my tour with Sharon on today’s show. You can watch it here, along with contributions from Ken Druse and Ellen Zachos, two of my favorite garden writer-designers on the east coast.

Sharon promised me a personal tour, and here it is:


This entire experience reminded me of why I love what I do and the people with whom I share this journey.

Since this is Thanksgiving week, I’m thinking about gratitude:

1. I’m thankful that Nan introduced me to Sharon. Nan’s heart is big enough to share her blessings with her friends. I love that about Nan. It’s not the first time she’s opened a door for me, and I hope I can reciprocate.

2. I’m thankful that Sharon and Jeff have adopted me as a friend, and for their generous gift of time, ideas, support, encouragement, shelter (hey, I didn’t mention getting to sleep in the cozy loft at the top of a spiral staircase in Sharon’s art studio!!!) and food (oh, time around the table in their farmhouse kitchen was delicious – in more ways than one).

3. I’m thankful that there are so many kindred spirits in the gardening world, especially for innovators like Shirley Bovshow who just make things happen in new ways, pioneering the path that we all wish to follow (but when we don’t have a road map….she’s bound to!)

4. I’m thankful for my long-suffering spouse and partner, Bruce. He always encourages me to take these trips and excursions, even though it usually means more work for him. I can’t wait for the time when he’ll be freer to join me (and vice-versa).

That’s it for now.

Breaking News: Buyers step up for San Francisco Flower & Garden Show

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Duane Kelly, owner of the popular Northwest Flower & Garden Show and the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, dropped a big surprise gift into our laps last night at the SF Flower Show’s garden media reception in San Mateo, Calif.

While making remarks about the show’s history he announced that a deal was reached on Tuesday, March 17th with an investor group that will purchase the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show.

That means the show will go on! At least here in Northern California.

The 2010 San Francisco Flower & Garden Show will be staged by the new owners, a group of horticultural enthusiasts who recently joined forces to acquire and continue the wonderful spring event.  SF Garden Show LLC will be led by a new steering committee comprised of well-known landscape gardeners and growers including Davis Dalbok of Living Green, Mike Boss of Rock & Rose Landscapes, Robin Stockwell of Succulent Gardens, and led by Chairman Tim O’Shea of Greenworks Design.

The new team wants to ensure that the show will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year.

Congratulations to Duane Kelly and his awesome team of garden creators – the magical people who bring springtime to our gray, wet, cold days. Their legacy will continue in an exciting new way!

More details to follow. I filmed videotaped the announcement and remarks made by two of the new owners but I won’t be able to post my video clip until this weekend.

January 1st – a day to garden

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Enjoy this photo gallery of some of my New Year’s gardening projects, accomplished today. I’ll add a few comments with each image to explain what I did. Above: Two hyacinth bulbs from Brent and Becky Heath’s care package – I saved them to grow in these glass bulb vases in my kitchen windowsill.

The blogosphere and Twitter world have been busy today, with my friends and those whose work I admire/read writing about resolutions, garden mission statements, and more. I have really tried to tear myself away from the keyboard and screen. It’s ironic that I spend more time here at my desk – looking through the open shutters to the backyard – than I do actually touching, breathing and engaging with said yard.

So today I decided to spend time on gardening projects. I am stiff and tired. Six hours straight – pruning and deadheading, digging up, wheeling the barrow to and fro – is not my typical schedule these days. And I am determined to return to this routine (or an edited version of it) in 2009.

Because you know what? I’m feeling very happy.

At left: I finally planted this beautiful Billbergia nutans ‘Variegata’, which I am embarrassed to say I purchased in March 2008 at Western Hills Nursery in Occidental, Calif., during our post-SF Flower & Garden Show garden-gals’ field trip. Miraculously, this plant has not only endured, but seemingly thrived in a 6-inch pot all these months. It is a beautiful, strappy, striped plant and doesn’t it look nice with the Clare Dohna mosaic orb?

What’s been holding me back anyway?
Since leaving behind my cherished garden in Seattle in August 2006, and moving to what many people think is heaven on earth – Southern California – I have been fairly disengaged with my new yard. As I’ve said before, I can’t really call it a garden. It’s really just a yard filled with plants I don’t understand or particularly like. I’ve had bursts of energy now and then to try and tackle things, including hiring someone a year ago to dig up and haul to a landscaping dumpster a yard’s worth of big red lava-rock mulch that covered every surface of soil.

But my heart hasn’t been in it. My heart is so torn between my past life and my present life. Surely, I am a lucky woman. I have my family who I cherish. I have so many wonderful friendships that continue, regardless of whether I’m in Washington State, California or other places around the globe. I manage to keep writing articles about gardens and design topics that really get published by tangible publications (that’s a shocker) and so what’s the problem?

At right: Senecio cristobalensis is another survivor from the Western Hills plant-shopping excursion in March, now given a special place in my front border. What pretty leaves! It’s supposed to reach 6-ft x 6-ft so I will eventually have to relocate this fuzzy-leafed beauty. This is one of those plants I once purchased from Heronswood (I just found the original plant tag from 2001!) that never wintered over in Seattle. See? I already have a new reason to be grateful for living in Zone 10~

I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve been pondering on how to get out of my rut. And the answer is staring me right in the eye. I need to return to the garden. The one that I see if I lift my eyes away from the computer screen and look through the slats of the shutters. Sometimes we have to start moving forward even before we know the path. “Putting wheels on it,” is how my friend Stephanie would describe it. Moving anywhere is better than staying put. There’s a lot of safety at this keyboard. But I don’t want to be just an observer of other people’s gardens, homes, plants and collections. I need to have my own relationship with the land, the plants, and the wildlife that occupy my suburban backyard.  I’ll say it again:  I need to return to the garden.

Today, I did just that. And while I’m in no position to write a garden mission statement, I do have a simple goal (dare I say Resolution?) for myself. And that is to spend 1 hour a day, at least 5 days a week, in the garden. Lord knows, I waste that much time reading emails each day. I think there’s a much better use of my physical and mental energy – and that’s to get outdoors and garden.

I don’t have money to hire a landscaper to do all the things I dream of accomplishing here, but my investment of time and attention is bound to improve my environment. It’s bound to improve my emotional attitude about this place. I’ll try and use this blog to document my progress.

Above: I guess any month of the year is bulb-season here in LA. It’s just that my bulbs will have to be annuals. That’s something I will have to get used to, after investing in and planting hundreds of spring flowering bulbs back in Seattle. The hyacinths, narcissus, tulips and muscari I planted today were a surprise gift from Brent and Becky Heath. The box filled with 70 bulbs arrived a few weeks ago ~ what a treat! I planted layers of bulbs in 2 terracotta pots this afternoon. Then I sprinkled annual seeds on top of each (dwarf cosmos on one; nigella on the other). Who knows if you can pair annuals with bulbs? It’s worth a try! This is my chance to experiment, so stay tuned!

And Happy New Year to all of you. Let’s cherish what we have!

“Sustainable Spaces. Beautiful Places”

Friday, September 5th, 2008

 I’m standing with Richard Turner, editor-in-chief of Pacific Horticulture magazine. We’re volunteering at the 2008 NWFGS in Seattle, visiting with Dawn Chaplin, formerly a fellow board member of Northwest Horticultural Society and a great garden-touring pal (she’s now a Whatcom Co. Hort. Society board member).

The press release just arrived in my in-box, and it announced the 2009 Northwest Flower & Garden Show’s theme. It’s only six months away – and I’m already excited! The theme: SUSTAINABLE SPACES. BEAUTIFUL PLACES. I like it! A lot!

The Northwest Flower & Garden Show, created by my pal, the talented and visionary Duane Kelly, today announced its 2009 theme:

“. . . (the) show will place a major focus on gardening materials and techniques that are good for the environment,” said Duane Kelly, chairman and founder of the annual event, now in its twenty-first year. “Show goers can expect to come away with a number of great ideas that conserve resources such as water and soil while, at the same time, making their gardens more self-sustaining and easier to care for.

“During the past year, organic gardening and vegetable gardening have grown in popularity thanks to the public’s keen interest in doing what’s best for the environment.  The movement has also gained traction with consumers seeking homegrown fruits and vegetables that not only taste better but reduce ever increasing grocery bills.”