Sustainable & Stunning
By Carol Brock
Photos by Scott Deemer, courtesy Outdoor Craftsmen
Whether he’s sculpting metal, perfecting impasto techniques or tenderly placing a shrub in the soil, Scott Deemer is “first and foremost” an artist, says the owner of Outdoor Craftsmen, an award-winning Boulder landscape design firm.
As a fine artist, Deemer weaves paint, composition and color to create bold canvases. As a sculptor, he wields metal and stone into forceful shapes and signatures. As a landscape designer, he blends textures, fragrances, colors and materials to create earthen aesthetics that are not only inspired, they’re eco-friendly, water wise and sustainable. At his landscape architecture firm, Deemer calls on his artistry daily to create palettes that reflect nature in all her aspects.
But it wasn’t always so. Growing up in Illinois, Deemer started cutting lawns at age 7 and got his first official landscape job fresh out of college at Scott Byron and Co. “It’s really where I learned my craft,” he says. Working solely on high-end, high-quality landscapes in Chicago’s North Shore helped him hone his technical skills, but his artistic talents yearned to emerge. Although these projects were upscale and technically demanding, he says, the similarity in the landscape designs “wasn’t that visionary. They were mainly refined English gardens and large lawns.”
So Deemer was delighted to accept a job at Marpa, a “contemplative landscape design” firm in Boulder, where he was free to delve into thoughtfully creative landscape design. “Colorado has a different climate and different aesthetics, so I could use a much more natural palette here,” Deemer says. “It’s an aesthetic that I had more appreciation for.”
When he struck out on his own, Deemer put artistry and sustainability at the top of his company’s priorities. When a developer called on him to give a much-needed facelift to a sagging Niwot landscape, Deemer was intrigued. It turned out the property was for sale, and was in a cul-de-sac with vacant lots on each side and open space in the back. Deemer knew the developer couldn’t afford the extensive landscaping that the property called for, so he and his wife decided to buy it instead. That’s when the creative wheels started churning in his head. “Oh boy, this could be a blank slate for me to work with,” Deemer recalls thinking. “So we just tore out everything.”
That was three-and-a-half years ago. Today, the landscape he created is natural and sustainable, with organically shaped outdoor spaces for various activities. It’s also a permaculture. A biofiltration pond that could support koi (but is used as a pool) boasts natural moss-rock boulders. The pond is artfully carved into the landscape and bordered by sedges, native grasses, irises, canna lilies and other water-loving flowers.
Raised vegetable beds created from repurposed wood on the property support onions, tomatoes, pole beans, peppers, pumpkins, squash, melons and more. Marigolds and onions help keep bugs at bay, and the fruit trees growing nearby attract pollinators, including the honeybees in Deemer’s hives.
Strawberries and drought-hardy plantings line natural stone paths, and Deemer’s varied sculptures appear in unexpected places. The property employs smart-irrigation technology, microclimates, superior drainage systems, soil amendments and extensive mulching to reduce water use. “I handpick every plant for every project,” Deemer says, pointing to his front bed that contains 75-plus perennials alone, which he chose for hardiness and interest in all seasons.
In fact, the landscape snagged the 2016 Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado’s top ELITE Elevating Excellence award for Installation/Construction. “It exemplifies quality workmanship consistent with the industry’s best management practices,” the ALCC notes.
“It’s been a long process,” Deemer says, surveying his showpiece. “But we’re finally getting close.”
TAKE A TOUR
Before Scott Deemer of Outdoor Craftsmen transformed his Niwot landscape.
Scott Deemer of Outdoor Craftsmen transformed his Niwot landscape into an award-winning showpiece. The front garden beds contain more than 75 perennials, along with structural plants like native grasses, a dwarf ‘Candy Mint’ crab apple by the front door, and a ‘Wates Golden’ Virginia pine below the tall windows on the right side of the house. The sculpturesque pine turns bright gold in late fall.
3A Blooming Landscape
The landscape blooms from February through Thanksgiving, says Deemer, who chose hardy plants for year-round color and interest.
The interplay between native boulders, slab steps and the plant architecture “really catches me,” Deemer says. The only turf on the half-acre property is the small bluegrass patch pictured here. “It’s the most water thirsty, but it’s the softest and lushest, so it has its place.”
5Transitional Living Spaces
Originally flat and cheerless, the backyard was sculpted to allow for transitional living spaces on different levels. The gravel path leads to a steel-vessel, wood-burning fire pit on the right.
The backyard started out flat.
The previously flat backyard is home to fruit trees, vegetable beds and beehives. “We plant extra food for the deer,” Deemer says. He uses wood mulch in the vegetable beds because it adds nutrients to the soil as it decomposes.
8Natural Peat Bogs
Natural peat bogs in the fore- and background of the pond allow plants to literally grow in water. Golden moneywort, cardinal flowers, canna lilies, irises, sedges, native ribbon grasses and hybridized Japanese blood grass happily make their home in the bogs.
Deemer married stone and steel plates to create the backdrop for the fire pit.
10Pockets of Plants
Deemer integrated pockets of plants around the boulders and steppingstones. “It allowed us to break up all the hardness and rigidity in the structure that are needed for the grade transition.”
The pool softens the transition between the formal garden spaces and the native open space that adjoins it. Deemer used native grasses and boulders for the pool edge that faces the open space on the top right side of the photo.