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Behind the Garden Design Process

An Aspen Tree Lined Walkway

At Escape Garden Design we create gardens in the construction industry with the intention for people to enjoy our creations; for us as the designers and builders to impart a lasting feeling on the users.

Often a feeling of peace, and calmness, sometimes an invigorating feeling and social atmosphere.  Regardless of the goal, it is driven by the people that surround us, human nature and an end desire.

In this post, we give you an inside peak at our design process and how integral we are as a team throughout the development of a project.

Come join us in discovering the development of an Escape Garden creation.

As always, your thoughts and comments are appreciated.


Jennifer Dolecki-Smith, ASLA, RLA

Behind the Scenes at Escape

A Garden Fountain In Aspen, Colorado

From the initial conversations with our clients through all phases of design, construction, artistic integrity and on-going maintenance, there are many transformations.  Follow us through this process as it unfolds and becomes a living work of art.


In the Beginning

A Garden Stone Wall

When we are approached to begin a garden project, we see a blank page that will end up as a composition; much like a painting or fine art. The initial step of our garden design process is to meet with the client to discuss their specific needs and desires. As we work together, to develop the design, direction is given and elements are decided upon.

For this garden creation, a naturalized water feature was chosen to transform the property, enhance the client’s lifestyle, and increase the value of their overall investment.

To help them decide on a direction for this feature, sketches were developed for discussion and feedback.

Garden Sketch #1

Sketch 1

Garden Sketch #2

Sketch 2

Garden Sketch #3

Sketch 4

Design and Permitting

Garden Fountain Conceptual Sketch
 Sketch 3 –  After considering the options, Sketch 3 was chosen to reflect our thoughts on scale and overall garden concept.


Once a conceptual idea is decided upon, a conceptual plan is created. Our designers and professional construction teams work together to produce a realistic budget for the project.  This conceptual budget is then presented to the client for approval.

At this point, the garden conceptual plans that have been used in the sketching, and estimating are refined. A grading plan is finalized and used for permitting, engineering if necessary, and construction.  A final budget is established.

In Aspen and Pitkin County, large landscape projects require a permitting phase.  This phase can last from a month up to 3 or 4+ months dependant on the type and complexity of the permits needed.  Ideally we like to allow for a generous amount of time in this phase.  This particular water feature was engineered due to its size and the hillside it retains.

Internally, we create a plan that has rough boulder sizing and character included on it.  This assists with material selection in our next phase.  Even though the sketches are used to communicate with the clients and within our office, these sketches are taken as a loose concept and an open mind is set in order for the next phase.

Bringing the Garden Design into Reality

Boulder Selection Sketch

From the largest trees, to each boulder, and every individual flower, materials all add to the outcome of the project.  Because of this, all of our materials are hand selected.  In this way, we can control the quality, scale, health and artistry to create  perfect substance and balance.



In the image to the left, you can see one of our internal communications used in boulder selection.


“A Stone Has Seven Faces”

The faces of a garden boulder

The above drawing and sketches are then taken into the field where we continue to construct the project.

This step of the garden creation process takes the design from sketch to the natural building blocks that will create the composition.  In natural products,  just as a color may vary, so does the character and face that each stone wishes to show.  The Sketch begins to gain its dimensionality as it guides the building block selection.  It is the interface between man and nature.

Each boulder has seven faces, and while in nature it may be laying down or on its side, we as the artists must see all the potential ways a stone may desire to be presented.

At the same time the boulders are being considered, we are also selecting specialty evergreens and other plant material that will fit within the garden puzzle and enhance the composition.

Below you can see a number of the actual stones used on this project in the selection process.

Garden Boulder Selection

This set was found lying down.  It is the set that forms the bottom middle and right side of the feature.

Garden Boulder Selection #2

Occasionally in the process of moving the stones from their resting place to a trailer for transport, new things are discovered.  Occasionally a stone that we thought was free from the earth is still connected.  Other times we have an unexpected break.  This set was considered as a backup for the previous set.

Garden Boulder #3

The stone here was a possibility for the water origin at the top of the feature

Moving into Action

Coordination, delivery schedules, site prep

After rough grade preparations, stone setting begins.

Moving a boulder #1

Extreme care is taken at every phase to keep the natural quality of the materials beautiful and intact.

Moving a boulder #2

Pieces found in the field are put together like a puzzle, finding the ways each boulder fits to the next and how each piece presents itself

Moving a boulder #3

The formation is taking shape.

A scale image of a garden boulder

Here you can see the scale of the boulders used on this project.  In late November, the “bones” of the water feature are in place.  It takes great talent and a respect for the stones to achieve a composition like the one shown here.

Pictured:  Alfredo Rodriguez (left) and Jorge Flores “Boulder Artist” (Right)

The Melody- Natures Music

A garden waterfall

Here the mechanical equipment has been installed and the water feature is functioning- fully lined and re-circulating.  During this process, we fine-tune the flows of the feature to give the desired look and sound.  High tones, low tones and different volumes of water are refined for the appropriate and most appealing musical composition.

And the Canvas is ready for Paint –

Painting the Canvas

Completed garden waterfall

Much as the boulders have their presentation, the plants serve to draw the eye through the composition.

Specialty Evergreens and larger plants have been planned for the entire time to be installed in places that will enhance the boulder sets and frame different views.

The perennials that have been carefully decided upon and selected are then laid out.  The layout is designed to lead the viewer through the design in a pleasing and enjoyable way.  As the plants cycle through the seasons there needs to be a consistency in how the composition develops-  a smooth viewing of the entire space can vary with the seasons as the plants change, but must always remain in balance.

Inside view of garden waterfall

BIM BAM BOOM – Garden Creation Transformation Complete

Completed Garden Waterfall


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