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Image: Brent Bingham

It’s hard to imagine a spot more conducive to contemplating beauty, whimsy, or the ephemeral nature of being than a thoughtfully designed garden (mountaintop and backcountry meadow notwithstanding). Located just outside downtown Aspen, one residential landscape in particular proves the point.

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Image: Brent Bingham

The garden is a perfect combination of soul-soothing haven and imagination-stirring play area. And it is just what the homeowners had in mind when they engaged the services of landscape architect Jennifer Dolecki-Smith of Escape Garden Design to help them bring their idea to life.

“They were clear about wanting a peaceful and aesthetic landscape that would be fun for all ages,” Dolecki-Smith says. She began the design process by envisioning the property as several distinct yet cohesive spaces, with each area lending itself organically to a different purpose: meditation, conversation, wandering, play.

To achieve an overarching sense of calm, the designer kept colors to a minimum. The mostly green palette runs the gamut from sunny chartreuse to cool, blue-green spruce. Punctuating the greenery are the white pointillism of sweet woodruff and an occasional soft splash of purple iris. Dolecki-Smith employed a variety of textures to layer in visual interest. Each step along a meandering stone path reveals another tactile treasure: ferns form a feathery canopy beside a manmade brook; a patch of clematis encroaches on the path here; a carpet of woolly thyme unfolds there.

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Image: Brent Bingham

“Different plants take you through the landscape the way colors do through a painting,” the designer says as we survey the landscape seated on wooden chairs in the shade of the conversation area. “The thyme interacts with the irises and leads your eye through a composition.”

Defining and anchoring the various spaces are dozens of large granite boulders. Each rock (weighing between ten and twenty-five thousand pounds) has been hand selected and installed by construction foreman Jorge Flores, whom Dolecki-Smith calls “the boulder artist.” The rocks provide enticing climbing surfaces for young limbs and also serve as key structural elements for the garden’s stunning water features.

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Image: Brent Bingham

The brook on the property’s north side trundles apace before plunging off a boulder into a small pond. Nearby, a curtain of water cascades over a rock cluster that appears as if it has always been there. As you move through the landscape, the sound of water waxes and wanes, shifting in tone and timbre, weaving a rich auditory experience into the visual one.

A dirt path on the other side of the brook loops through a dense stand of mature aspens. Along the path, you discover a spirit house in the style of a Japanese temple. And a little farther on: a rustic clay bell suspended from a branch like a piece of ripe fruit. “Sometimes I think like a child,” Dolecki-Smith says. “Hidden things are fun—even as adults we want to experience mystery.”

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