Beyond the Vase

Words by Johanna Harlow

Words by Johanna Harlow

Tanya Slye’s seaside residence is awash in green, a tidal wave of trees and plants rising up between street and home. When she tells you she runs her own botanical styling, succulent and floral design business, it seems the most organic choice in the world.

“Being around living things is fantastic and it keeps me outside a lot,” smiles the owner of Tanya Slye Designs. “Living in Half Moon Bay, you can garden year-round. Succulents grow really well on the coast.”

Perhaps most distinctive is Tanya’s work with these squat, fleshy plants, adored by both green thumbs and those green to gardening. “I like working with succulents because they’re really long-lasting—even when they’re not in soil,” muses Tanya. Among her offerings, Tanya incorporates her garden’s succulents into corsages, earrings, necklaces and even atop locally-grown pumpkins. They’ve been quite the smash!

Cover Photo: Courtesy of Tanya Slye / Photo: Paulette Phlipot

But let’s go back to her roots. From an early age, Tanya has tread the garden path. “I was always picking flowers and doing gardening and weeding,” she recalls of her youth, adding, “We traveled a lot when I was a kid and we visited any botanical garden in any place that we went. Some of my favorite traveling memories from childhood are from VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, Queen Elizabeth Park or gardens in Europe.”

Enchanted by flower shops, Tanya started working at one at 16, and in years to come, managed four: one in Davis, one in Seattle, two in New York. From there, she studied organic farming and sustainable agriculture at UC Santa Cruz.

Photography: Courtesy of Tanya Slye

It was while caring for UCSC’s Alan Chadwick Garden—tending to its raised beds fed by organic fertilizers and nurturing its orchards with 80+ apple varieties—that another area of Tanya’s life bloomed. She met her future husband Richard and the two cultivated a connection. “He is an estate gardener, so we definitely connected over a shared love of gardens, plants and food—and we continue to work together on projects,” Tanya says. Smiling, she adds, “We have quite a few friends who are also ‘Farmie Couples.’”

Then, nearly a decade ago, Tanya started making botanical jewelry with pea-sized succulents. “I studied with an amazing floral artist: Francoise Weeks,” Tanya recounts. “She opened my eyes to a world beyond just flowers and vases.”

In some ways, it’s unsurprising that pumpkins would later become a muse for Tanya’s expanded offerings. It’s hard not to think about Halloween’s favorite gourd when, every October, a traffic-halting influx of jack-o’-lantern junkies take Half Moon Bay’s pumpkin patches by storm.

Photo: Paulette Phlipot

Each fall, Tanya partners with local farmers to grow her pumpkins, then harvests them herself. (“So that I can get long stems and include some of the tendrils,” she explains.) She then adds succulents in crownlike combinations on top. “One great thing about succulent pumpkins is that they last for months!” she shares. “Many of my clients have mentioned that they plant them in the garden after the holidays—and then have succulents growing the next year.” Tanya’s white pumpkins are particularly popular for bridal showers.

“Every single one is different,” she reflects. “I love the diversity of shapes and textures and colors… Succulents come in such a wide array of rosettes and strings of pearls. Some of them are red-hued and some are purple-hued and lots of green, of course.”

Other plant projects for Tanya include bringing weekly floral arrangements to her clients’ homes as well as crafting customized moss walls. “It’s basically a way to bring greenery into your home that you never have to do anything to,” she describes. “You don’t water it. You don’t touch it. And it can last for years looking beautiful because it’s preserved moss.”

Photo: Paulette Phlipot

When Tanya isn’t nurturing plants, she tends to her husband and two teen boys. She also partners with four other founders to run Half Moon Bay’s wildly popular Jettywave Distillery. As the team’s creative chief, Tanya influences the nautical aesthetics of the distillery and cultivates the patio’s edible garden. The rosemary, sage, nasturtium flowers and countless other herbs and flowers flourishing around the property go straight from planter to plate (or cocktail glass).

And when Tanya returns home after a busy day, her own artful planter beds will be waiting for her—ready for a little therapeutic weeding, of course. As Rudyard Kipling once said, “Gardens are not made by singing,‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.”

Sensational Succulents: