Friday, April 29, 2016

A riot of color: Keeyla Meadows’ Bay Area art garden

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.

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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.

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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.

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I don’t think I’d ever seen such a riot of color—in the buildings, the flowers, the containers, and Keeyla’s art.

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My head was in constant motion: looking down, looking up, looking right, looking left.

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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.

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Keeyla has cited Gaudí and Mexico as major influences. Her very own interpretations of Gaudí and Mexico are everywhere.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Seen outside the studio:

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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:

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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:

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One of Keeyla Meadows’ biggest metal sculpture is in the middle of the back yard on top of a small rise:

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It was my favorite piece of hers, and that’s saying something in a garden filled with art.

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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.

In addition to being a sculptor and painter, Keeyla is a garden designer and has written two books:

keeylabook1  keeylabook2

Both books are great sources of inspiration and will make you less afraid of using bold colors in your own garden.

 

RELATED POSTS:

Spring 2016 Garden Conservancy’s East Bay Open Day

16 comments:

  1. Wow and beautiful! What a great garden!

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    1. I love being pushed outside my lazy zone, if you know what I mean.

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  2. I'm thinking July 30 might be an opportune time for another visit to the Bay Area. I don't remember the office siding being pink/orange, and it looks like fresh paint too. She's a dynamo!

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    1. Denise, please let me know if you come up. Would love to meet.

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  3. Just wow, such incredible color everywhere. I read her book on color in the garden, it's a workbook designed to get readers out of the color comfort zone. I enjoyed it very much and think of her book whenever I add something colorful to my garden. Thanks for the enthusiastic tour!

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    1. I will be the first to admit that I'm somewhat uncomfortable using this much color in my own garden. But I'm willing to try. Baby steps!

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  4. What an incredible garden. It must be hard to keep up but looks like lots of love involved.

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  5. The technicolor "wow" seems very appropriate! I've seen her garden in books and articles but I was surprised to learn its size in your post. I would have guessed it was much larger than my own, which is actually more than 4 times the size of hers. I clearly need to do more cram-scaping! I wonder how much maintenance her garden requires?

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    1. As I was walking through Keeyla's garden, I was trying to wrap my mind around the sheer number of plants. Everything was so densely planted! Of course that helps keep the soil moist and cut down on watering.

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  6. I couldn't have said it better Gerhard..Your photos turned out much better than mine-kudos to you for taking good photos in such a distracting atmosphere !

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    1. It was a bit of a circus, wasn't it? But I'm fairly good at tuning people out and focusing on the garden.

      As for my photos, I had to tweak almost every single one because they were so contrasty. I use ON1 Effects from within Photoshop.

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  7. Awe thanks for taking me back. I really didn't think I would like this garden but quickly realized I loved it. This, and a few others seen that same weekend, helped me realize there is a difference between garden ART and an artful garden. One is forced, one is natural. Keeyla rocks!

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    1. Excellent observation re: artful garden. We visited Marcia Donahue's garden right after Keeyla Meadows' so I received a back-to-back master class in how it's done.

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  8. It's changed since the SF Fling, but just as good, and as colorful. She sure knows how to fill every inch with something--so exuberant.

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    1. I've ever seen a garden quite like it. JJ deSouza's garden in Portland was similar, but Keeyla's is even more packed with plants.

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