Growing up in Orange County, Southern California, Teresa “Teá” Chaffee remembers a childhood charmed by the sea.
She watched her mother forage for rocks and driftwood for ikebana arrangements, saw the passion for ocean lanes in her father’s eyes, enjoyed picnics on the beach with picked clams in the waters by a local dive club for fresh clam chowder and cycled daily picking up shells off the sand.
Later, she worked as an artist for a surf apparel company there, designing clothes, creating patterns and doing illustrations, before raising three children.
Today, Teá (pronounced Tee-ya) is a Mill Valley resident, singer in a Sausalito band named – appropriately – King Tide and owner of a new business, SeaGardens Marin.
“I started the business at the height of the pandemic in 2020, when we were all in lockdown and had to shelter in place for such a long time,” she says. “I was bored to tears and lacking connection with my friends and the outside world, so I found myself spending a lot more time in my backyard.”
It was then that she really noticed “the beautiful succulents growing so happily in the garden, completely oblivious to the chaos of the world,” she says.
Soon her garden and little greenhouse became her “happy creative space”, where she played with different ways to show off her succulents, until one day she remembered some seashells she had stored in his garage.
“I grabbed the biggest one I could find and started arranging some succulents in it to see how it would turn out,” she says. “Well, I’ll never forget that moment when I felt like I had created something truly magical.”
She posted a photo of the arrangement on her personal Instagram account and immediately found an audience for her work, and soon found a business that would fuel her creative spark.
SeaGardens Marin offers unique, made-to-order shell and succulent arrangements that can be picked up locally or delivered nationwide.
Arrangements include seasonally available succulents that are propagated from Chaffee’s garden or purchased from small, independent nurseries and then planted in household shells of various shapes, sizes and colors.
“I buy shells from beachcombers on the east coast, where shells of varying sizes and neutral colors wash up on the shores,” she says. “I do not support or buy from sellers who use seashells found with a living creature inside.”
His arrangements often favor New Jersey’s state shell, button whelk; the Delaware state shell, the channeled whelk; and Florida’s state shell, horse conch.
“If a customer has a special request, like a shell color or a certain type of succulent (or wants to use their own container), they can contact me,” she says. “But, generally, clients seem very happy to let me have the art creations alive.
“I add splashes of color by accenting each SeaGarden with dried flowers, small seashells, coral and/or mother-of-pearl, and a care card is included with every purchase.”
SeaGardens are statement pieces, she says, that add interest to spaces in the home and make thoughtful gifts.
“One of the best features of a SeaGarden is that it lasts a very long time and will last months longer than cut flowers,” she says.
They are best displayed anywhere there is natural light, whether indoors or outdoors. Ideal locations may include kitchen counters, desks, and outdoor tables.
“When succulents outgrow the shell, they can be easily removed and replanted in the garden,” she says. “Succulents are incredibly hearty and drought tolerant. When planted in your garden, they grow and spread with very little care. They are magical that way.
The empty shell can become a decorative piece or, for a fee, Chaffee will refresh the shell with new succulents.
Her latest line includes arrangements of orchids and succulents planted in vintage seashell planters that are only available at trade shows or for local pickup.
Customers can browse sample SeaGarden arrangements and purchase similar ones at SeaGardensMarin.com. Prices range from $20 to $200. First online orders get a discount using the current promotional code.
If you have a beautiful or interesting Marin garden or a newly designed Marin house, I would love to hear about it.
Please send an email describing one (or both), what you like best, and a photo or two. I will publish the best in the next columns. Your name will be published and you must be over 18 and a resident of Marin.
• Art by local artists Liz Campbell, Josie Iselin, Marcia Donahue, Lyn Swan, along with three other artists, is on display in the shop from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until September 17 at the Marin Art and Garden Center at 30 Sir Boul. Francis Drake at Ross. Call 415-455-5260 or visit maringarden.org.
PJ Bremier writes on home, garden, design and entertainment topics every Saturday. She can be contacted at PO Box 412, Kentfield 94914, or at [email protected]