This Water-inspired Landscape Design Goes With the Flow

On a sloping plateau in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, a mountain breeze teases a ripple across a serene pond. A stream winds through the property, the water rushing over rocky outcroppings and a series of small waterfalls. Native flowers and grasses grow abundantly in the high meadow, which is perched above a steep basin with mountains visible in every direction.

Incredibly, before Design Workshop’s landscape architecture team transformed the site, its primary water feature was a working irrigation ditch. The original lot was a grassy pastureland punctuated with Gambel oaks and deciduous trees typical of Colorado’s semi-arid Western Slope region. 

“When the clients charged Design Workshop with creating a natural setting on the water for their new mountain home, a top priority was figuring out how to unite a new landscape with the larger topography,” says Mike Albert, one of the firm’s Aspen-based principals and partners. “The project definitely provided some interesting questions and opportunities.”

The team worked in tandem with the property’s residential architectural firm, Sausalito, California-based Backen Gillam & Kroeger Architects, to explore solutions. “From the beginning, one of the most important aspects of the overall design was how the water and the home could leverage each other, and how the notion of water could strengthen the home’s relationship to the larger setting,” Albert says.

The final landscape plan cleverly utilized an existing resource—the irrigation ditch—transforming it to create a mountain pond and streams. “One of our biggest challenges was reshaping the topography to create the new pond, so that it would appear as natural as possible,” Albert explains. “Positioning the water body between the arrival drive and the home allowed us to capture a powerful reflection of the house onto the water that is experienced as you approach.”

The home was built on a slight rise to better reflect the water and views. “When you’re inside the house looking out from the living room, you gaze across the pond and also experience reflections of the mountains and sky,” Albert says.

A curved swimming pool with an infinity edge and a spa encircled with Colorado sandstone integrate seamlessly into the landscape. Grass growing between the pavers begins to emerge several feet back from the pool deck, an effect Albert says helps knit the pool terrace to the lawn. “Then the lawn transitions to an area of native grass, so that it appears that the landscape has been carved out of this larger grassland,” he adds.

Broad drifts of black-eyed Susans and coneflowers, mounds of native grasses and daylilies, and stands of aspens and cottonwoods—trees that grow naturally in the area—unite the distant vistas with the home’s garden areas. Many of the new plantings were chosen for year-round visual interest. “Our design strategy always takes seasonal change into consideration,” Albert explains. “Even in winter, plants like red twig dogwoods and Gambel oaks provide strong forms and colors.”

Spacious patios are sited to allow the home’s interior spaces to open onto the landscape, with low-profile walls of lichen-covered stone delineating boundaries and providing casual seating. “The outdoor spaces were designed to take full advantage of the views,” Albert says. “It’s incredibly relaxing to sit there and watch the ever-changing reflections on the water.”

A meandering stream that leads from the pond is bordered by daylilies and guided by a series of boulders.

The property’s irrigation ditch was transformed into a mountain stream that winds through the property and empties into the pond. Large boulders were strategically placed to accommodate natural drops in the terrain, with smooth river rocks positioned at the base of the falls. The rush of water adds a layer of sound and movement to the landscape.

Drifts of daylilies flank the banks of a stream that was created with gentle curves to guide the eye toward the layered flowers, aspens and conifers of the mid-ground and continue to the larger vistas beyond.

Design Workshop’s team planted masses of black-eyed Susans and purple coneflowers to mimic nature’s patterns and soften the transition between the driveway, the garden and the meadow.

At the southwest corner of the home, a Colorado sandstone terrace is contained by a moss rock wall built low to provide informal seating and unobstructed views of the stream and pond.

“To capture the powerful reflection of the aspens near the pond, we made a conscious decision to cluster them in a scale appropriate for the larger landscape,” Albert says.

 A curved swimming pool with an infinity edge offers a dramatic perspective on the valley below. Grass between the Colorado sandstone patio pavers is planted with increasing density as it approaches the lawn.


LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE & PLANNING: Design Workshop, Aspen, CO,, 970 925-8354  ARCHITECTURE by Backen, Gillam & Kroeger Architects, Sausalito and St. Helena, CA,, 415-289-3860

Categories: Outdoor Living