Urban Farming

Chef Maggie O’Toole is a culinary teacher and the owner of Foodfest, a cooking school that teaches children, teens and adults to cook from scratch.  She strives to empower cooks, especially young ones, to become educated consumers who shape the food landscape and demand fresh over packaged food and sustainable over mass produced.

We are thrilled to have twice had the opportunity to help support Maggie’s cause by designing and building spaces for edible gardens that could be used in her cooking classes.  In 2015, we built raised vegetable beds and a custom outdoor kitchen in the backyard.

Two years later in 2017, we expanded the urban gardens to the front/side yard, designing even more raised vegetable beds and a fun square foot garden along the house.  Covered benches around the perimeter of the garden provide space to rest a bit and escape from the heat.

Before Planting

After Planting

For more information about Foodfest, please visit


Client Testimonial:

The garden design has allowed me to realize my dream for a truly urban farm with a tremendous crop output.  I have always hoped that I could have a landscape that would yield enough produce for me to be able to fully sustain my household for the entire summer.  This has happened with Sarah’s design. The small Stapleton side and back yard was transformed into a rich modern oasis of bounty!  I have also been able to utilize my garden as a learning interactive classroom for my cooking classes with the variety of plants that I grow.   Small doesn’t need to be limiting with Sarah’s efficient and unique design!

Spanish-Southwestern Beauty

This client contracted with us to redesign the front yard of their home, located on a large corner lot overlooking open space with breathtaking views of the Colorado Front Range.  Their goal was to eliminate the grassy slope and replace it with a terraced retaining wall and new stairs since the original ones had experienced some settlement and cracking.  They also wanted to replace the large, overgrown shrubs with lower maintenance plantings. To accomplish their goal, we explored different shapes, layouts, levels and material options that were in keeping with the Spanish-Southwestern landscape style.


Geometry and Materials:
Spanish-Southwestern style landscapes are a combination of formal and informal.  They can be formal with straight lines that provide a more human scale against the large, open landscape.  Plant design can make the space less formal, softening the formal hardscape lines.  We chose to use a geometric combination of straight lines and bold curves that echoed the arched entryways.  For hardscaping materials, we matched the brick in the house with a complementary local, red flagstone that tied in with the clay roof tiles and was reminiscent of southwestern landscapes.  A cracked, settled section of the stairs was re-poured while the remainder of the original stairs was reused.  The harshness of the concrete was softened with a tinted sealant that complemented the house color and brick was added to the stair risers.  More formal plants were used adjacent to the entry stairs with less formal, more natural plants used elsewhere such as dwarf pines, yucca, ornamental grasses and succulents to blend with the surrounding natural landscape.


Hardscape Design

Plant Design

Northfield Modern

When this client moved from one Stapleton home to another, we were happy to have the opportunity to work with them again to create a new outdoor space.  As before, they wanted a simple, modern look.  They desired areas for sitting around a fire pit, dining, outdoor cooking and a water feature.

We chose the existing covered porch adjacent to the kitchen for the dining location and the remaining areas and features were located on the new patio.  The patio was poured with large joints that were filled with crushed black granite to define the separate functional areas and to contrast with the concrete.  Furniture for the sitting area was centered on a stainless steel fire pit.  The outdoor kitchen made of cabinetry suitable for outdoors was located adjacent to the dining area while the water feature was centered on both the dining and sitting areas allowing the sound to be enjoyed from either area.

A year later, the client contacted us again wanting to take the project a step further by designing something to further define the open patio space and make it feel less exposed.  We designed a metal pergola with architectural screens for a modern look and to provide partial shade and architectural interest.  The wood support beams provide a warm, natural element to contrast the modern elements and tie in with the dining chairs and cedar fence.  The cut-outs in the metal panels provide interesting shadows that move with the sun.

Traditional – Modern Mix

This client started out needing to repair parts of their collapsing fence that had been built around large, mature trees.  One thing led to another and they ended up pursuing a total redesign of their back yard.  They wanted an inviting, modern design that would blend with their Park Hill traditional English Tudor home.  In addition to a new fence, their wish list included areas for sitting and entertaining around a fire pit, an outdoor kitchen and covered dining space, a hot tub, lighting and a water feature.  Several large trees and overgrown plants as well as an outgrown play structure were removed, leaving a blank slate.


The original concrete patio was replaced with a larger one with straight rather than curved lines for a more modern look.  The dining and cooking areas were located against the house for easy access from the indoor kitchen.  The dining area was covered with a pergola for shade which was strung with bistro lights for evening ambiance. The outdoor kitchen, housing a grill, smoker and refrigerator was clad with brick that matched the existing and capped with black granite.

A concrete sitting area was located in the rear corner, centered around a stone fire pit with a black granite cap large enough for resting wine glasses and small plates.  Outdoor furniture resembling what you might find in a living room was selected for seating and is accompanied by sanded wooden stools made from the original tree stumps.

A hot tub was added on the opposite side of the yard with a composite wood sitting ledge for sunning and drying off.  Lighted wood steps and cladding were used to conceal the hot tub.

Water features are one of the most calming and inviting elements of the garden.  A modern style water feature was added to the area between the dining and sitting areas so that the sound of the water could be enjoyed from either area.

Lastly, concrete pavers were used to connect the large dining and outdoor kitchen area to the adjacent sitting and hot tub areas as shown on the landscape design plan and plants were added to soften the hard edges.

Hardscape Design                                                                     Plant Design

LANDSCAPE STYLES to Inform and Inspire your Dream Landscape

Regardless of your home’s architectural style or your personal tastes, you want your home to appear connected to the surrounding space.  By taking cues from the architecture of your home, its materials and the surroundings, your house can blend seamlessly with the landscape.  That is not to say that it must be a literal interpretation of a historic landscaping style but you can add aspects of those styles that are adapted for you.  Landscaping trends tend to overlap and merge more than architectural styles and, while garden styles may have originated in a specific location, they’ve migrated and can be readily adapted to any area.  This blog on different landscape styles will explore the following:

  • are they formal, informal or a combination of both
  • what is the overall sense and geometry
  • what are the design elements and material types for both hardscape and plants
  • what is the role of lawn
  • what furniture and décor is typical
  • what are the uses of form, line, color, and texture
  • what is the role of complementing versus contrasting elements to create harmony and/or tension and interest

Mediterranean Landscaping

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Photos 1 & 2 from, Photo 3 from The Christian Science Monitor

Formal and Informal: This Mediterranean landscaping style combines formal design and accents with informal hardscape materials and plants.

Overall sense: Inspired by the coastal areas of Spain, Italy and France, this garden style has its roots in Greek and Roman architecture. Mediterranean gardens were adapted to the climate and terrain in which they were located and sought solutions that would produce coolness, shade and seclusion. They are best known for their casual elegance with a weathered look.

Geometry: The layout of the garden was geometric and had order often defined by masonry walls or hedges. The role of nature was secondary although the gardens were clearly adapted to the climate and terrain in which they were located.

Hardscape: Local materials such as stone, gravel, brick, terra cotta, and tile are used for hardscape. Any stone that is beige, buff, rusty-orange, brown or other warm earth tones will fit the theme. Warm tones of decomposed granite and pea gravel are also good choices. Other architectural features include the arch, one of the most recognizable elements, as well as patios, courtyards, low walls, overheads, and enclosures.

Plants:   Plants of the Mediterranean landscape are informal, low-maintenance and drought-tolerant. They provide structure, such as columnar evergreens and hedges, color and texture. Pale or pastel colors tones look washed-out under the hot midday sun. Brighter, bold flower colors like purple and yellow create a stronger contrast with the gray/green or deep green foliage of traditional Tuscan plants. Some of the iconic Mediterranean plantings include Italian Cypress or Juniper, ornamental grasses, succulents, lamb’s ear, bougainvillea, star jasmine, and edibles such as fragrant herbs (lavender, rosemary, sage, thyme, santolina) as well as olives, grape vines, pomegranate, aloe or yucca.

Lawn:    There is minimal to no lawn with an emphasis on hardscape

Furniture & Décor: Water features are generally in the middle of a courtyard or on a wall and may be tiered. Good furniture choices are contemporary or rustic furniture with a weathered look. Earth tones are dominant but are punctuated by bright accent colors like blue, a natural choice with proximity to the sea, red, orange and purple. For pattern and decoration, use statues and pots in warm-colored, rustic limestone or terra-cotta.


Southwest or Spanish Landscaping

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Southwest or Spanish Landscaping

A combination of Formal and Informal

Overall sense: Southwest or Spanish Landscaping details contribute to this overall simple, functional and low maintenance landscape style. The southwest design includes native plants and incorporates bright, colorful building materials.

Geometry: The Southwest or Spanish landscaping geometry can be formal with straight lines such as in an enclosed courtyard with a fountain, reminiscent of the California Spanish-style missions, which provides a more human sense of scale against large, open landscapes. Plant design can make the space less formal and provide almost a cottage garden or naturalistic feel by softening the formal hardscape lines.

Hardscape: When it comes to hardscaping materials, use colors that are often seen in the sunset or natural landscapes of the southwest. Decomposed granite is available in many desert color options and is a great material choice for walkways in the Southwest or Spanish landscape. Materials commonly used include earth-colored stucco or stone walls, flagstone, terra cotta tile, red clay pavers, ironwork and metals like steel or tin, and rustic wood. Patios are an important element and a shaded area is crucial. A center courtyard with fountain is reminiscent of the California Spanish-style missions. Terracing is recommended in areas where topography is sloped using building materials like stone, boulders, or railroad ties.

Plants: With Southwest or Spanish landscaping a natural or native garden is the obvious choice. Not only will the plants survive and thrive, but the garden will blend with the surrounding landscape. This style also works well with the predominant architectural styles, from adobe pueblos and Mission-inspired homes to Spanish-Mediterranean style to strictly contemporary. Plantings are sparse with rocky hardscapes and adapted to extreme temperatures. This style can be either informal with bold and intense colors or formal and minimalist with a more refined color palette. Native or well adapted grasses, perennials and succulents are commonly used along with flowering shrubs that attract birds and other wildlife. Mediterranean plants like rosemary and thyme also thrive under the hot sun with little water.

Lawn: Southwest or Spanish landscaping requires minimal to no lawn due to the scarcity of water and regional inappropriateness. 

Furniture & Décor: Southwest or Spanish landscaping decor is simple, sparing water features are most appropriate and make a big impact. The Kiva fireplace with a distinctive arched firebox door is typical of southwestern design and most often placed in a corner. The bold landscape calls for equally bold colors for both accessories and walls. This is the place for bright turquoises, chili-pepper reds and deep azure, whether on pots or on doors. Use unique, brightly colored décor like wall decorations, colorful accessories and plantings to make the landscape pop in areas and add character to your yard. Native American, Spanish, and natural details are also appropriate.

Natural Landscaping

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Natural Landscaping


Overall sense: Natural landscaping is a style inspired by nature and the surroundings. It has a strong regional identity and can be adapted to any region or ecosystem – prairies and meadows, mountain areas, and arid deserts.

Geometry: Both the hardscape and the plantings are generally natural and modeled after the natural features of the natural landscaping so that they appear undesigned. Another variation, however, could be a prairie garden of grasses with a more formal geometry. 

Hardscape: Hardscape elements of natural landscaping do not generally include walls, terraces, only a path and perhaps a bench. Gravel or wood mulch is commonly used for pathways. Hardscape materials, if any, are locally or regionally available and are in harmony with the surroundings. 

Plants: Plantings are free-form with soft edges. Plant more formal and non-native plants near the house and use the natives on the garden edges as a transition to the natural landscape beyond. Natural plantings often attract wildlife. If planting wildflowers, plant them in drifts the way they occur in nature. A prairie style planting would be denser than a mountainous planting which would occur between rocks and trees as in nature. 

Lawn: Minimal to no lawn care is required for Natural Landscaping.

Furniture & Décor: Furniture and décor should be representative of the region wherever possible.


Craftsman Landscaping

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Informal: A natural landscape style that is in harmony with nature and the simple, unpretentious architectural style of craftsman homes. The craftsman landscaping style is informal but not random.

Overall sense: The craftsman landscaping style originated in the late 19th century, experienced a revival in the 1930s, and has become popular again in the 21st century. It is characterized by an elegant simplicity of natural elements, artisan craftsmanship, and repetition of materials, colors, and motifs to strengthen the relationship between the house and its surroundings.

Geometry:  The craftsman landscaping structures are sturdy and well-defined with clean, prominent lines and exterior details. Natural materials are emphasized with horizontal proportions and a connection with the natural surroundings.

Hardscape:   Because the craftsman landscaping design prized architectural detail and a strong link between house and site, it makes sense that its hardscaping elements like handcrafted stone, wood or copper would define a Craftsman garden more than its plants. Craftsman-style homes often have low-pitched roofs with deep overhanging eaves and exposed decorative rafters and deep porches framed by tapered square columns. One recurring detail for these homes is the pergola.

Plants: Plants should complement the home as the home complements the craftsman landscape. Plantings were indigenous to the region just as the house was to be built using local materials. Many homeowners choose old-fashioned plants. Choose shrubs and flowers that complement each other, instead of contrasting. A vine trained to grow up the pergola makes something man-made more natural.   Natural shapes are more in keeping with the style than clipped hedges.

Lawn: Lawn or gravel paths can be used most with craftsman landscaping.

Furniture & Décor:   Within the craftsman landscaping the house exteriors were usually painted in earthy tones such as browns, red-browns, greens, soft blues and grays like the color of stone. These simple colors played up the architectural details such as columns. Paint for the wood should be some contrast between the brick so if the brick is light choose a darker hue for the wood. Trim should add a third color that complements both the brick and the wood. Bolder colors can be used on the front door. Other details can be brought in such as a lantern near the front door, door mats, bronze hardware and porch furniture like Craftsman or Arts and Crafts-style rocking chairs or planters.

Cottage Garden Landscape

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Overall sense:   The English landscape style shifted cottage garden landscape style from formal and symmetrical to looser and less formal. One variation of the English style is the Cottage Garden which is less classic than other English garden styles and quainter with lots of country charm. Plants, color and character abound in the English cottage garden. The informal combination of materials provides a cozy, romantic atmosphere that draws visitors in, making them feel at home.

Geometry: The English style of cottage garden landscape uses geometric shapes like ovals, circles, rectangles or squares to organize the landscape. A free-flowing, curving border can make the tumbling English cottage garden plantings feel messy rather than exuberant. Instead, use formal materials with lively flowerbeds for a pleasing contrast of natural with man-made, flowing but also geometric.

Hardscape: Common hardscape elements of the cottage garden landscape include meandering paths with classic materials like limestone, bluestone, brick or cobblestone and gravel or stepping stones that are used to connect different garden areas. One or two of the materials in your home should be repeated in the garden for continuity. Other elements include picket fences, trellises and wooden arbors.

Plants: English cottage garden landscape are gardens of exuberance and abundance. To achieve this feel, plant romantic, old-fashioned blooming plants such as magnolia, roses, peonies, delphiniums, foxglove and hollyhock and use climbers such as clematis, honeysuckle or roses. For drier climates, grasses, perennials and native plants can be used to create a similar feel. Although these gardens seem informal and unplanned, there are a few rules to consider. First, plant large quantities of plants in the space to utilize every bit of growing space and spill over into walkways and climb up arbors. Second, you should plant in layers with taller plants at the back, medium plants in the middle, and shorter plants in the front. Lastly, since you typically see less mass plantings of one particular plant and the use of a lot of varieties of plants, you should pick a color palette such as warm (yellow, orange, red) or cool colors (white, purple, blue, pink and sometimes yellows) to help provide unity to the garden. If you choose the cottage garden style, you should be aware that it is high maintenance requiring staking, dividing and dead heading to avoid a messy look.

Lawn: If lawn is used, it is the plants not the grass that are the focal point. Lawn can sometimes be the path in the cottage garden landscape.

Furniture & Décor: Adirondack chairs and benches are common, constructed of materials such as wrought iron, wicker or bent willow and teak. Also common with the cottage garden landscape are vintage accessories like quaint birdhouses, weathered stone bird baths, old metal watering cans. Adding a potting station or shed to store gardening tools can also serve as a decorative element.