A Tea Garden in Tivoli

American Garden Design Inspired by the Japanese Way of Tea

Drawing from her decades-long study of the Japanese Tea Tradition where great–even legendary–gardens are small by necessity, Bettina Mueller turned her backyard in the small Hudson Valley village of Tivoli, New York into a private world of beauty and tranquility.

A Tea Garden in Tivoli is a guide to garden design and flower arranging woven around the story of Bettina’s unique garden. The book won the Silver Independent Publishers Award for Best Garden Book in 2016 and the garden won the Best International Garden Design Award from Gardenista in 2015.

Flower arranging – Chabana

Chabana literally translates as “Flowers for Tea.”  Flowers are a central part of every tea ceremony, gathered from the garden in the morning and placed in a vase in the tea room alcove, arranged as though growing wild in a field.

Each flower is talked about. Some have wonderful poetic names such as Nigella damascena “Love in the Mist.”

Today, there’s a new trend in flower arranging toward seasonal and freshly gathered flowers. Flowers arranged in the “Tea Style” express this new movement.



Garden talks and events

Besides holding tea ceremony events in the tea house, the Tivoli garden has been on the Garden Conservancy Open Garden Days. Bettina has given talks at the Philadelphia Garden and Flower show and local garden clubs.

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Monty Don in Japan

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Moss obsession

By the side entrance to the Tea House is a flood run-off ditch that fills with water in the spring and fall. It's in deep shade and I've become obsessed with cultivating moss in this small area. Last spring I ordered a 6 foot square sheet of moss from Moss Acres. The...

Spring is fleeting

I've planted in some wonderful pockets of shade and this is the time of year when the spring ephemerals start to appear. The colors seem to be a range of blue and yellow with Brunnera, Virginia Bluebells, and Celdon Poppy.  Soon a white Trillium will show up. In the...

After the rain

Short video of the tea garden in the rain


If I wasn’t careful I would cover my entire property with flowers, trees and shrubs. But there is something refreshing about pulling back, becoming more simple and allowing the natural rhythm of the landscape to unfold. I'm learning restraint and allowing the...

How to arrange flowers

How to arrange flowers in the Tea Style To begin, choose an odd number of flowers plus a grass. Each flower should be a different color and shape with a different leaf pattern. Wash and clean the leaves to remove any dirt, and re-cut the stems under water. The water...

A black fence

This past fall I finally put in a deer fence and added a gate to my small garden. I have a white Victorian house and after much thought decided to paint the fence and gate BLACK. In fact, "Panther Black." It was kind of daring. I painted it in the early spring before...

The World in a Bowl of Tea

It is bright and clear this San Francisco morning as I arrive for my tea lesson.  I climb the steps of an ordinary looking building, walk through the door, and enter the world of tea. The fragrance of incense and the gentle rustling of my sensei's kimono greet me from...

A Japanese Garden

Here is a beautiful quote from the curator of the Portland Japanese Garden, Sadafumi Uchiyama. He expresses the essence of a tea garden and for me, the essence of Japanese art and culture.  

A video introduction