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.
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.
“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.
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.”