Enchanted Planting

Lifescape Colorado restores the gardens of Denver’s historic Richthofen Castle

Photography by Dan DeGrush

“We want a landscape that feels like it’s been here for hundreds of years.” That’s the challenge Dan DeGrush recalls receiving when he was asked to reinvigorate the 2.5-acre grounds of Richthofen Castle in Denver’s Montclair neighborhood.

Completed in 1888 for Baron Walter von Richthofen, uncle of the legendary World War I fighter pilot called the “Red Baron,” the property had been sorely neglected over recent decades. Then, in June 2012, Sylvia Y. Atencio-Jesperson and her husband, Jesse, bought the property, first dedicating themselves to the multiyear task of completely restoring the 35-room mansion.

Four young redbuds will eventually form a 20-foot canopy over the courtyard.

Two years ago, they turned to Lifescape Colorado and its senior landscape architect Dan DeGrush. The 32-year-old Colorado native was ideal to lead the project, having studied historical gardens while earning a B.S. in landscape architecture at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, followed by 50 days backpacking through Europe, reveling in its baroque estates. “This tied together all those experiences,” he says of the year-plus effort, which transformed the grounds into a fairy-tale setting that looks like it’s been there since once upon a time.

“On any garden project, small or large, one of the first questions to ask yourself is how you will use it. Is it for outdoor living and entertaining? Is it a formal garden? Or is it a spot to come out and have coffee or a glass of wine and be in your own quiet space?”

Maples along the driveway will grow together to partially conceal the castle.

“What forms do you see in the house that you can implement into the landscape, so the two feel like they belong together? At Richthofen Castle, we played off the home’s elegant arches with gently curved pathways, crisply contoured lawns and Old World perennial flowers in soft pastels. To complement a modern home, I might pick brighter, bolder colors and maybe plants that were taller or more squared off and rectangular rather than curvy.”

“Does your home lack good views? Then it’s more pleasant to look at a tree you’ve planted than at a neighbor’s wall. If your home has nice views of a mountain or a city or the ocean, you want plants that won’t block them. The view from your garden back to the house should look clean and organized, too. The landscaping has to work in both directions.”

Intimate seating lies just outside the formal living room.

“With new homes, builders often scrape the ground, removing the good soil. Even at Richthofen, where the soil was rich with years of decomposed plant matter, we amended it with beneficial bacteria, stimulating two to three years of growth for new plants in less than a year.”

“To conserve water and have a lush, beautiful garden that won’t break the bank, install efficient irrigation. Many people like sod lawns, which will reduce outdoor air temperature by about 8 degrees versus mulch or dirt, but they’re difficult to maintain or water. A great solution is to use sod very carefully in selected areas, complemented by plant beds.”

Antique griffins flanking the Richthofen Castle’s front door “grab attention where you want people to look,” says landscape architect Dan DeGrush.

Choose a variety of perennials that will bloom at different times of year. We planted black-eyed Susans, lilies and coneflowers for warmer months; sedum Autumn Joy for autumn; and peonies and tulip bulbs that erupt with color in springtime.”

A circle on the back lawn is designed to accommodate a tent for entertaining.

“In areas that get a lot of direct sunlight, we planted trees to grow up and form a canopy for shade. Along the driveway, we planted deciduous trees—autumn-blaze maples, a hybrid of silver and red maples—so the sun will come through in winter to melt icy patches. Hidden behind hydrangeas along the front of the castle, uplights wash the entire wall, and more uplights follow the bark of an old spruce tree and sculptures on the front façade. You don’t want to be able to see where the light is coming from, just its effect.”

LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Dan DeGrush, Lifescape Colorado

Categories: Landscaping & Gardening