Home/garden decor biz shapes up

Donna Marie Tetiva, better known as “Teva,” makes and sells topiaries, which are plants trained into different shapes.  Sequim Gazette photo by Ashley Miller

Wearing light makeup, sparkling earrings and matching peach-colored shirt, clogs and apron, Donna Marie Tetiva looks like she walked out of an L.L. Bean magazine ad.

An elegant watch is wrapped around her dainty wrist and her hair is pulled back in an almost perfect bun.

Upon closer examination, however, it's obvious that Tetiva - known by her friends and family as "Teva" - isn't as prim and proper as she looks. In fact, she has moss in her hair.

That's right, moss.

Four years ago, Teva started experimenting with topiaries. Topiary is a word to describe plants that are trained into different shapes.

From a simple hedge to a detailed animal or human figure, Teva creates custom work using sturdy frames stuffed with sphagnum moss, wrapped a second time with sphagnum moss or treated "green" moss and held together with fish line.

With training, shearing and proper care, the topiary becomes "alive."

This year, Teva started selling her "pets" at farmers' markets peninsulawide.

"We have been pleasantly surprised with the positive response to our product," she said.

"As winter draws near and the Open Aire and farmers markets close, we would like to rent a small space with an existing business that will complement our product with theirs."

The possibilities with topiaries are endless.

Plants can be inserted and trained to grow inside the frame. Ivy is the most common plant used.

Self-contained, moss-filled topiaries should be kept moist at all times, especially during the dry months of the year.

Think of the topiary as a planted hanging basket, Teva encouraged, and remember that moss, by nature, prefers shade or filtered shade as opposed to direct sunlight.

Upon request, Teva can install an irrigation system into the stuffed frame that can be connected to a sprinkler and timer. This is recommended for larger, expensive frames that require more water.

Many of the topiaries by Teva are created to scale, like this life-size schnauzer.   Submitted photo

Braving the cold

During the winter months, topiaries do best if protected from wind and harsh weather.

"We bring ours into the greenhouse or garage area," Teva said.

"Just remember to keep your topiary moist through the winter."

Topiaries make great interior decorations, too.

"My idea is a classic look not a cluttered look," she said.

"It needs to look like it's supposed to be there, like a focal point or a pleasant surprise."

A large dog could be positioned by the fireplace, patio or entryway, as if guarding the front door, or a frog or snail nestled in the grass by the pond or a fountain. A curious cat or squirrel could be perched upon a fence, perhaps hiding behind a bush.

One of the things Teva enjoys most is helping people decide where to place their topiary.

Frames can be illuminated or used as a centerpiece for weddings. Mother's Day, holidays or other special occasions are popular times to use topiaries.

"Let your imagination run wild or let us help you with the endless use of topiaries," Teva said.

"What could be more original or special than the gift of topiary?"

Just this week, Teva received orders for two llamas, a Westie and a pug dog, two pilgrim shoes, and a cup and saucer.

As the holidays draw near, Teva advises placing custom orders at least 30 days in advance.

Thanksgiving and Christmas favorites include wreathes, cones, towers and hearts. The most popular topiaries year-round are life-size dogs.

"I've done almost every kind of dog known to mankind," she said with a light-hearted laugh.

"People love their dogs."

Prices start at about $35 and increase with size and complexity.

No retirment in sight

Teva and her husband, Jerry Tetiva, moved to Sequim in 2004 after living in the San Francisco area for 30 years. Teva owned a dress boutique in Foster City, Calif., for a while then spent the rest of her working years as a mortgage broker.

Jerry traveled the U.S. selling financial services for major banking institutions.

Teva's interest in roses and gardening led her to becoming a consulting rosarian. Her home is considered by many as a "spectacular" viewing garden.

Topiaries seemed a natural step forward, Teva said, challenging her artistically to shape plants, wreathes, framed animals and most any other object a person might desire to display in their home or garden.

"I hate the 'R' word," Teva confessed.

"Retirement," she said, almost as if it's a dirty word, "doesn't do much for me and I never found satisfaction or fulfillment in knitting or crocheting or going to book club.

"I needed something to fill a void for myself," she said about her topiaries.

"I didn't know if they would be accepted in Sequim or not but they have and I couldn't be happier."

Visits to the greenhouse are by appointment. Individuals, families, garden groups, Master Gardeners and clubs all are welcome.

For more information, call 360-808-1621.

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