Nature's Palette

When Mike and Ann Moore decided to build their dream home, they didn’t have to travel far—or anywhere, for that matter—to find the ideal building site.

When Mike and Ann Moore decided to build their dream home, they didn’t have to travel far—or anywhere, for that matter—to find the ideal building site.

The perfect lot was right up the hill from their existing home, on the seven-acre plot they had owned for decades in Evergreen. The couple, who met half a century ago in Peace Corps training, wanted to build an energy-efficient, solar-powered house with native landscaping and abundant outdoor spaces for relaxing and entertaining.

Ann Moore, a Master Gardener, had been collecting a file of magazine articles about gardens and landscapes for many years. A photo of a waterfall the couple especially admired led them to the Denver-based firm Designscapes Colorado, and landscape designer Scott Johnson. “We checked out some of the firm’s other projects, and they were all beautiful,” she says. “Equally important, we liked Scott and felt an instant connection with him.”

Working in collaboration with Evergreen architect J. Michael Jacoby for the conceptual design and Thomas Doerr of Doerr Architecture in Boulder for the green building design, the Moores involved Johnson in the early stages of planning. “I visited the site before they had broken ground,” Johnson says. “It was on a south-facing slope, tucked into the trees, with a meadow and lots of sunlight coming through. We reviewed the plans for a Southwestern-style home, and our discussions began to inspire the idea of incorporating a walled courtyard as a way to enclose the garden and shut out noise from the road.” The team also included a water feature off the master bedroom, along with a patio, fire pit and hot tub.

After grading the property’s rocky terrain to create a more manageable slope, the crew laid out a series of pathways flanked with new planting beds that connect the garden areas to the house. Native flagstone was carefully mortared in the paths and patio, and the wiring for accent lighting was laid and buried. Ann Moore found a pair of antique turquoise swinging doors at a Denver shop, and the courtyard wall was designed to accommodate them. At Johnson’s suggestion, windows were cut into the wall to bring in additional light and frame the views.

Deciding what to plant in the new garden beds was both daunting and exhilarating for Ann Moore. “It was like looking at a new, blank canvas with nothing painted on it,” she says. “Scott and I discussed a palette of colors we especially like: pinks, blues, purples, reds, whites and deep orange.”

Johnson adds, “We worked together to figure out what would thrive at this altitude of 8,000 feet. Our goal was to create little pockets of color and interest.” Plantings include a vibrant array of hardy perennials filled in with annuals and grounded by trees, shrubs and rocks. Flowers in oversized pots and hanging baskets provide additional color. A fence around the perimeter of the property protects the landscape from hungry animals.

The garden was completed in the summer of 2010 and has been thriving ever since. “We enjoy entertaining, and the space is perfect for welcoming guests,” Ann Moore says. “When it’s just the two of us here, we eat on the patio three meals a day. The garden is like a beautiful oasis, and we especially love the waterfall by our bedroom window. Mike and I used to do a lot of backpacking, and now we feel like we’re sleeping by the side of a stream—but in a really comfortable bed.”

6 Keys to a Successful High-Altitude Landscape
Phil Steinhauer, president of Designscapes Colorado, shares tips for creating a stunning outdoor oasis on high:

PLAN EARLY “The sooner you bring the landscape architect into the design discussions, the more you can save during the construction process,” Steinhauer says. “For example, if you’re running a gas line for an inside fireplace, you might as well run one for the outside fireplace. Your landscaper can also coordinate the design and materials so they work with the house.” 

GATHER INSPIRATION “We encourage our clients to bring photos and clippings of gardens, patios and landscaping that they like. We also ask a lot of questions, such as, ‘Do you tend to host big parties or small, intimate gatherings? Do you have kids and pets?’” 

KNOW YOUR STYLE “Along with discussing the specific plants and colors a client likes, we determine whether the landscape should have a formal look or something more casual and natural. The landscaping should be tied to the architecture of the house, so a contemporary home might dictate a clean, simple look with masses of ornamental grasses, while a Beaver Creek home might have more of a mountain look with boulders and wildflowers.”  

CONSIDER CRITTERS “Your plants can be a salad bar for elk and deer, so fencing or some other barrier may be needed. We can also incorporate flowers and shrubs that animals tend not to eat.” 

CHOOSE PLANTS CAREFULLY “A single property can have great variances in sun and wind exposure that need to be taken into account when choosing hardy plants that can withstand the elements. It’s important to plan the landscape based on water availability and plant needs.” 

THINK SEASONALLY “We like to design landscapes that are interesting year-round. Often we’ll combine deciduous trees and shrubs with evergreens. We think about the off-season elements of a plant like branch structure and color, and whether it produces berries or seed pods. We also consider ‘hardscape’ features like boulders, pergolas and arbors for winter interest.”

Landscape Architecture: Scott Johnson, Designscapes Colorado,
Architecture: J. Michael Jacoby, (303) 674-6745
Green Building Design: Thomas Doerr, Doerr Architecture,

Categories: Landscaping & Gardening