Asian accents abound in this garden that was a labor of love, with friends and family pitching in to help.
By Lisa Truesdale
Photos by weinrauchphotography.com
You don’t have to be a musician to love music. You don’t need artistic talent to enjoy art. And, according to Judy Cardell, you can absolutely cherish your garden even if you have no interest whatsoever in actually doing any gardening.
“It’s true, I don’t like to garden at all,” Cardell says. “I just like to sit out there and enjoy it.”
How, then, does she have one of the loveliest, most admired gardens on Mapleton Hill?
Luckily for Cardell, she’s surrounded by people who do like gardening and who were more than willing to help her make some sense of the sad, barren backyard she adopted when she purchased her 1920s Boulder home in 1996.
“The sloped yard was pretty much just dead grass, weeds and some poppies all the way back to an ugly clothesline,” she recalls. “And then there was what I called the ‘rubble wall’—a crumbling pile near the house. It all looked terrible.”
Over the next five years, the yard underwent such a complete transformation that someone who happened to see it 18 years ago wouldn’t recognize it today. Cardell takes none of the credit, however, willingly giving it all to her daughter, her carpenter, her friend, her landscaper and the scores of dedicated workers who made it all possible.
“My daughter gave me the gift of a landscape plan the year after I moved to the house,” Cardell says. “Then I started to think, ‘How in the world would I ever do that?’”
So Cardell enlisted the help of her friend, landscape architect Catherine Schweiger, who gave her ideas for the yard’s original plantings.
Cardell’s partner, Bill Larson, is a master carpenter who’s handcrafted things out of wood for decades. He lovingly built the Asian-inspired gate that welcomes guests as they enter the yard from the driveway, and also designed and crafted the matching redwood and cedar fencing that rings the yard.
But the garden’s main focal point—and Larson’s pride and joy—is the Japanese meditation teahouse majestically perched on the top of the slope at the property’s northern edge. Larson used fir to build it, and the teahouse’s paper accents were imported from Japan. The copper shingles are remnants from their roofer.
“I pretty much just let Bill do what he wanted, and look what I got!” Cardell says with a laugh, adding that the carpentry was completed over several years—“a little bit here, and little bit there”—starting in 2004.
Landscape designer Justin Sacks-chewsky, who was working at Boulder’s Harlequin’s Gardens at the time but recently ventured out on his own, took over Cardell’s project three years ago. It was like a dream come true, he says.
“And wow, what a canvas I had to work with,” says Sackschewsky of his first landscape-design project. “It was perfect—a large yard protected on all sides from the wind by mature trees, with good drainage and good, neutral-pH soils. You couldn’t ask for anything better.
“Bill had already put such care into the fence and the teahouse,” he continues. “It was a fun challenge seeing the work he had already done and marrying it with Judy’s vision, as well as the existing hardscape parts of the landscape. I like to make the landscape belong with what’s already there.”
Sackschewsky’s first order of business was to create a series of four terraces in the sloping yard, interspersed with meandering, meditative flagstones that lead to the teahouse and a Buddha statue at the top of the small hill. The terraces are edged with stone walls, including one that replaced the crumbling structure next to the patio.
Knowing that Cardell was definitely not going to enjoy dealing with any difficult plants, Sackschewsky chose flowers, trees and shrubs that would be easy to maintain but would still fit in with the Asian-inspired garden theme. He planted three varieties of Japanese maple and two of Korean boxwood, plus ‘Green Velvet’ boxwood and golden ligustrum.
There’s also weeping blue Atlas cedar, weeping Norway spruce and ‘Tolleson’s Blue Weeping’ juniper. Hydrangeas, peonies and azaleas are scattered about, while potted potato vines and coleus add color to the patio near the house.
One of Cardell’s favorites is the ‘Silverstripe’ bamboo that lives near the teahouse, where she often receives clients as part of the part-time therapy practice she runs from her home.
Treasure vs. Toil
To help with planting, rock-lugging, wall building and other gardening duties during the big yard makeover, Cardell employed a group of willing workers—men from Boulder’s homeless community whom she had met during the 30-plus years she was involved with the St. Thomas Aquinas food bank and hospitality center.
“I paid them a very good wage, plus home-cooked meals,” Cardell says, “and some of them still come by and help me out around here. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the chronically homeless, so I find things for them to do, like washing windows and keeping the yard looking good.”
When Sackschewsky returns to the garden, which he often does to check in and add a few new plantings here and there, he’s happy to see how well it’s flourishing.
“How lovely to come back and see that it’s just as beautiful as when you left,” he says. “It’s so wonderful to have the home—owners involved in their garden.”
Well, Cardell’s involved, all right, but not so much with the day-to-day upkeep, and that’s fine with her.
“I just want to sit quietly in the garden and breathe. That’s what a garden like this is for.”