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From Pit to Pinnacle

When floodwaters ravaged many houses here in September, Neil and Cathy Borman weren’t home. Their neighborhood was particularly hard hit, and the Bormans’ home by Wonderland Lake could have been yet another casualty.

By Lisa Truesdale

The problematic front yard had a badly leaning, 7-foot-tall retaining wall made of old railroad ties. The wall ran perpendicular to the house, and a small drain was right up against the entrance to the home’s walkout basement.

“We started referring to the front yard as ‘the pit,’” Cathy says, “which made it a little difficult to envision what to change.” Indeed, the sunken “pit” would have filled with floodwater that would have destroyed the home if not for the new landscape and drainage system the homeowners installed shortly after moving in.

pitpinnacle    “Luckily, everything was fine,” Neil says. “But if we had left things as they were, that (retaining) wall would have caved for sure, and all that water would have headed directly toward the house, and our lower level would have been completely flooded.”

“That’s why you get people to help who know what they’re doing, and just let them do their thing,” Cathy says.

After meeting with the Bormans, landscape architect Elizabeth Ochsner of Native Edge Associates in Boulder drew up two plans that met the couple’s must-haves and would-likes. Both plans proposed a three-terrace landscape with a water feature, a flagstone patio and steps, and planting beds.

“We wanted to keep it rustic, not neat and clean,” Neil says, “and I definitely wanted the water feature, though nothing like the black plastic pond that was there before.”

Instead, the plans called for a small shallow pond for the couple’s grandchildren. “It had to be shallow,” Neil says, “because they’re just toddlers, and I didn’t want to have a wall around it. They do love to splash in there, and they help me pull the leaves out.”

In fact, family is why the retired Bormans moved to Boulder from Anacortes, Wash., two years ago. “We have one daughter in Alaska, one in Santa Fe and one in Boulder,” Cathy explains. “We’d love to be close to all of them and their families, but that’s impossible, so it simply came down to which location suited us best. In the end, we chose Boulder.”

The Wonderland Lake location suited them, too, because the home was close to their daughter’s place. “But it had some problems,” Cathy says, “like a somewhat dated interior, a cracked jetted tub and lots of issues with the front yard.”

Ugly Duckling

When Native Edge tackled the problematic yard, the “ugly” retaining wall was the first thing to go, Cathy says.

Then the landscapers addressed the drainage issues by sloping the patio away from the house. The slope drains water away from the house to an ingenious system of channels, pipes, pumps and tanks.

“Before we got involved, water drained toward the house to a small drain, which certainly couldn’t handle a large rainfall event,” says Native Edge owner Tom Sunderland, who notes that reversing the patio slope resulted in a 6-inch grade change. “I have little doubt that when the flood happened, the new drainage saved the home from major damage.”

Planting Ahead

After installing drainage and a hardscape of sandstone, flagstone and granite boulders, the team set about planting. Cathy wanted easy-care, drought-tolerant plants. “Preferably with no weeds,” she laughs.

Ochsner kept an existing apricot tree near the street, but pulled out almost everything else. She chose a variety of easy-care bushes and flowers just as Cathy desired, including evening primrose, ‘Rozanne’ geranium, creeping Jenny, Korean spice viburnum and Ligularia with its rocket-like spires of yellow flowers.

Dozens of other plants are scattered among the walkways, stairs and perfectly placed granite boulders, including coral bells, Champlain shrub roses and Burkwood viburnum, and lots of Cathy’s favorite—a grape leaf anemone that’s laden with tiny pink flowers in the fall.


The Bormans are obviously relieved their home escaped flood damage, but their neighbors seem just as pleased that the former eyesore yard is now a lovely landscape. Even the littlest neighbors approve; one young girl walking by with her family couldn’t resist peeking over the fence. “Wow!” she exclaimed, after seeing the water feature.

“I’ve also noticed our mail carrier peering over the fence every so often,” Cathy says. “I think she’s just as amazed as we are at how beautiful it turned out.”

For their part, the grandchildren love to watch the birds and squirrels, play in the water, and watch water flow under the stone bridge. Says Neil, “Their enjoyment makes it all worth it.”

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