I had seen many posts about Keeyla Meadows’ garden in Albany, CA (like this, this, this and this) but I had never had the opportunity to visit it until the Garden Conservancy’s Spring 2016 East Bay Open Day last Saturday.
What did I think?
A simple three-letter word says it all: Wow.
I’ll be the first to admit that “wow” is overused and tends to lose its impact because of that. It should really be reserved for things like Keeyla’s garden. Look at the photos below and you’ll see what I mean.
As soon as my partner-in-crime, Kathy Stoner of GardenBook, and I walked up to Keeyla’s house, I knew a gardening goddess lives here. There was so much to take in just standing on the sidewalk, I didn’t know where to look first. Words like exuberance came to mind. Freedom from any kind of restraint. Keeyla clearly subscribes to the mantra “more is more,” and visitors like me are the beneficiaries. I felt exhilarated, a big smile plastered on my face. This garden is not the kind of space you analyze critically. You simply take it in and let the experience wash over you. And that’s what I did.
Even the hellstrip next to the sidewalk was special: Yucca ‘Blue Boy’ and the most amazing rocks
In the Open Days directory, Keeyla’s garden was described like this:
Keeyla Meadows is a painter, sculptor, and garden designer who makes gardens that are full-scale works of art that you can walk into and be a part of. Her own garden is a living painting of vibrant colors. Keeyla is known as a pioneer in making artistic gardens more accessible to small-scale gardens where color means filling the garden "frame" with attention to detail. Much of the planting color comes in through flowers. The garden is an invitation to local pollinators: 'Hummers', bees, and butterflies. All materials are included in the garden work: painterly pavings, wavy walls, mosaic benches, bronze sculpture, and brilliantly colorful plantings.
This gives you an idea of what there was waiting in the backyard.
I don’t think I’d ever seen such a riot of color—in the buildings, the flowers, the containers, and Keeyla’s art.
My head was in constant motion: looking down, looking up, looking right, looking left.
At every turn there were art pieces made by Keeyla. I don’t think there’s a medium she doesn’t work in. And her biggest piece—her masterpiece, I would argue—is the garden itself. It fuses all her sensibilities into one spectacular whole that far transcends the sum of its parts. This garden is art incarnate.
Keeyla has cited Gaudí and Mexico as major influences. Her very own interpretations of Gaudí and Mexico are everywhere.
A curious effect was at play here: The lot itself is only 5,000 square feet (I looked it up), far smaller than even our modest 8,100 sq. ft. lot, yet it seemed infinitely larger. Keeyla achieved this sleight of hand not only by creating distinct rooms delineated by dense plantings, but also through elevation changes: You constantly step up two or three stairs, down a slight incline, up again, down again. Large boulders and cast concrete elements constrict the pathways to single file before they open up again.
Keeyla was very busy, but I talked to her briefly, and she said that the approached the garden as one giant sculpture. That made total sense to me. This is garden design at the highest level because you don’t only see it, you experience it, feel it—much like you feel art that speaks to you.
While the front two thirds of the backyard was a riot of color, the far corner is a mesmerizing study in yellow, purple and green.
Keeyla’s studio (the building with the yellow wall you caught a glimpse of two photos above) was filled with large paintings, most of which incorporated real dresses. In the next photo, the space on the right is the toilet in the studio—easily the most colorful bathroom I’ve ever seen.
Seen outside the studio:
The space between the studio and the house is yet another art installation combining a pergola, various sculptures, hanging glass balls and I’m sure other elements I didn’t even notice:
Many of the more unusual plants in the garden came from Annie’s Annuals in Richmond, including the parrot’s bill (Clianthus puniceus) on the right:
One of Keeyla Meadows’ biggest metal sculpture is in the middle of the back yard on top of a small rise:
It was my favorite piece of hers, and that’s saying something in a garden filled with art.
Keeyla will participate in the Garden Conservancy’s Summer 2016 Open Day on July 30. Her garden is also open the first and second Sunday of the month from 1pm – 4pm (spring through August). The address is on her website.
- Making Gardens Works of Art: Creating Your Own Personal Paradise (Sasquatch Books, 2002)
- Fearless Color Gardens: The Creative Gardener's Guide to Jumping Off the Color Wheel (Timber Press, 2009)
Both books are great sources of inspiration and will make you less afraid of using bold colors in your own garden.