A Colorado Garden: A Serene Asian-Inspired Garden

Kyoto meets Giverny in this artful garden, a sublime space for contemplation.

| March/April 2006

  • Japanese shoji screens traditionally are made from translucent rice paper, but the owners chose a durable, light-penetrating fabric that will prevail in harsh weather. It allows filtered light without sacrificing privacy. The floor is salvaged pine planks from a park ranger’s mountain cabin, and a round window brings in the garden even when the doors are closed.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • In this shady garden, colorful daylilies, bellflowers and foxgloves blend with the subtle green palette of hostas and several varieties of thyme. Both daylilies and bellflowers thrive in light shade, which often preserves their coloring.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • An aqua bridge, reminiscent of Claude Monet’s garden outside Paris, beckons visitors to enter a private realm. The most colorful plantings line an irrigation ditch paved with flagstones to prevent erosion.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • This “bridge” is a lightweight arch made of bamboo. Each hollow bamboo reed is individually strung to provide a sculptural windchime. The arch was constructed to provide privacy without obstructing the stream.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • The meditation garden relies on artfully placed rocks and foliage to provide texture, size and variegated stripes.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • In late spring, Foxtail lilies’ tall spires rise as high as 50 inches, making a striking foil for shade plants in dappled sunlight. These lilies can be planted in the fall in well-drained soil and mulched throughout the winter.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Honey locust trees surround the garden, and in early summer their seeds sprout to produce young trees. The partial shade along the stream’s edge provides a perfect incubator for young trees.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Daylilies mass along the stream bank, nodding their blooms in a slight breeze. The tough plants are situated where they most like to be: in moist but well-drained soil with partial shade. While each bloom lasts for only a day, daylilies offer a parade of blooms at the peak of summer.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • A Japanese stone lantern is nestled among perennials. The lantern top comes off to allow a votive candle to be placed inside.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison

Ten years ago, a Boulder, Colorado, couple bought a house on a patch of grass with some overgrown shrubs, sliced by an irrigation ditch. Where many people might have seen desolation, these intrepid gardeners saw the opportunity to create a private world of solitude and renewal. In the process, they discovered that designing and planting is as soothing as enjoying the completed garden.

The contemplative garden they’ve created gently nods to Asian style while embracing European impressionism. It borrows from 19th-century impressionist painter Claude Monet, as well as from the Japanese love of plant textures, weeping trees and artfully placed rocks. It includes water, rocks, expanses of greenery and winding paths, but not the formal Japanese plantings that require so much upkeep.

Monet’s famous garden in Giverny, France, includes a Japanese bridge over a water lily pond. In this Colorado garden, a pale-aqua bridge arches over an irrigation ditch that’s been funneling water to farmers for 100 years. Just as the lily pad pond became the Monet garden’s major draw, the ditch has been transformed—lined with sandstone rocks alongside a bed of river rocks. Gold, yellow and orange daylilies drape the bank, blooming in midsummer when the Siberian and Japanese irises offer only seed pods. Ornamental grasses bend and sway to the breeze stirred up by the water’s flow. The ditch is an enticement; visitors brace against the railing and peer into the water, watching blossoms float downstream.

Every corner of this garden was designed with careful thought, not lavish funds. A decade of hard work and trial-and-error provided an education.

Piecing together elegance

Every corner of this garden was designed with careful thought, not lavish funds. A decade of hard work and trial-and-error provided an education. In hindsight, the homeowners believe their decision to tackle their garden in small pieces rather than taking on the entire half-acre saved them time, money and frustration.

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