Home Work

By Kathy Epperson
April 2006 Front Porch newspaper

Adaptation and reinvention are common themes in the business world and guiding forces in entrepreneurship. Stapleton resident Sarah Christian originally developed a successful career in human resources for GTE (now Verizon) in Florida. She and her husband Steve were married thirteen years ago and just six months later moved to Denver for simultaneous midlife career changes. Now a successful landscape architect for over ten years, Sarah runs Urban Gardens from her home office. “We moved to Stapleton in February 2003, just six months after the first residents moved in,” she recounts. “We joke that we live in ‘Old Stapleton’. Stapleton is a good fit for us because, like the former airport, we have reinvented ourselves.”

This process of reinvention started when several reorganization and downsizing efforts in the corporate world forced Sarah to think about alternative career paths. She started by exploring what she loved to do as a child, which was imagining and creating environments. “Next, I tested the waters by taking a course in Landscape Architecture History and found my passion,” she says. “My acceptance into the masters program coincided with an across-the-board early retirement incentive offering. At age 35, I retired from the corporate world and began the path to my second career.”

Sarah received her Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Colorado at Denver and initially began work with the City of Westminster Parks and Recreation. Shortly after her first child was born, she went to work for a small landscape architecture firm doing residential design. She slowly built her own clientele and now, with both children (Lauren, age 9 and Will, age 6) in school during the day, she runs her company full time.

Working on residential projects ranging from historic renovations to new homes with a clean slate, Sarah enjoys developing master plans for her clients that include hardscape and plant design. She loves that each project and client is unique and enjoys using her extensive training and experience to help them create an outdoor space that reflects their tastes and lifestyle. Asked for advice to Stapleton residents with a small yard, Sarah urges careful planning to make the most of that space. “Small gardens can be incredibly intimate; quality materials are more affordable in smaller quantities; and maintenance time is minimized. Every detail is seen closely in a small space and therefore has greater impact. A small space can be made to appear more spacious through the use of design principles and visual techniques that combine to give the illusion of more space.”

Watch for the building of Sarah’s garden design this spring for the Westerly Creek/Stapleton Community Garden, pending approval from DPS.

Kathy Epperson is a Stapleton resident who writes a monthly column about home businesses.

Making the Most of Your Small Outdoor Space


By Sarah Christian, ASLA, Landscape Architect
September 2004 Front Porch newspaper

A good small yard design has qualities of unity, simplicity, variety, balance and scale that combine to give the illusion of more outdoor space. Careful planning is essential in a small yard because every detail is seen closely. Small gardens can be incredibly intimate; quality materials are more affordable in smaller quantities; and maintenance time is minimized. Think of your yard as an extension of your home, an outdoor room, if you will, that can be decorated much like the interior.

A small space can be made to appear more spacious through the use of the following design principles and visual techniques:

  • Unity produces a single, harmonious effect. Unity can be achieved by choosing a style and repeating elements — including materials, plants and colors — that are consistent with the architecture and materials of your home. You should design your entire space at once, even if you phase the work.
  • To achieve simplicity, limit your hardscape palette (any non-plant material) to two materials and eliminate all unnecessary details, but don’t make it so simple that it is monotonous. Smaller paving materials like brick or cobbles will make the space feel more spacious than large flagstones.
  • Containers add seasonal variety, as do plants with multi-seasonal interest.
  • Achieve balance by distributing the visual weight equally around a focal point. There should be something interesting to look at from all viewpoints.
  • Finally, scale is achieved when plants, structures, and materials are in proper proportion to the house. The smaller the space, the greater should be the proportion of hardscape to planting areas. Scale down planting beds and instead use containers and raised beds that can double as seating. Use some dwarf or small plants to make the rest of the garden look more spacious by comparison but don’t make everything small or the house will dominate. Make sure you consider the mature size of plants. Colorado Blue Spruce, for example, can grow to 60’ tall and 30’ wide.

Adapted from Landscaping for Small Spaces: Making the Most of a Limited Area (Menlo Park, CA: Sunset Books, 1998).

Affordable Home Services


If the question is “How to turn an unattractive yard or an unfinished basement into an exciting new living space that adds to the value and enjoyment of a home,” Stapleton residents Gregg Schulman, Geoff Seale and Sarah Christian, ASLA, have the answers with their affordable home services.

Gregg started Affordable Home Services in July of 2003 to create living spaces outdoors and in basements that are natural, esthetic and functional extensions to the home. His company offers a full range of services that include the design, installation and maintenance of landscape, the design and construction of custom decks and patios and state-of-the art basement & garage finishing. He also offers custom carpentry.

But it is the landscape that has brought the Stapleton neighbors together. Affordable Home Services has teamed up with Geoff Seale’s Showcase Landscaping and Sarah Christian’s Landscape Architectural Design to deliver what the three professionals say is one of the best home improvement investments.

“We take each customer through a complete process to help identify their unique needs and vision for their yard or basement, including such considerations as personal preferences, functional requirements, aesthetics, privacy, maintenance, budget, kids and pets,“ Gregg said. “At the end of our process, we will have created a highly customized plan for our clients that reflect their personality and lifestyle and that does not look mass produced.”

Together, Gregg, Geoff and Sarah possess a strong focus on environmental issues and “Built Green” standards. They believe careful planning is essential in smaller, urban yards because every detail is seen closely and has greater impact. The three also maintain a commitment to their community. Affordable Home Services and Showcase Landscaping are donating a percentage of their profits to the Westerly Creek Elementary School/Community Garden project pioneered by Sarah Christian.

Fall Bulb Planting Tips


By Sarah Christian, ASLA, Landscape Architect
September 2004 Front Porch newspaper

When is the best time to plant? – Fall is the time to purchase and plant spring flowering bulbs such as crocuses, daffodils, and tulips. Bulbs should be planted from late September through October so they can root well before the ground freezes. Plant as soon as possible after purchasing.

Selecting Bulbs – The earlier bulbs are purchased in the fall, the better the selection. Select the largest bulbs of a variety, as there is a direct correlation between bulb and flower size. A bulb should be plump, firm and heavy, not moldy or damaged. Bulbs can be selected from bulb catalogs or open bins. Select a variety of bulbs with different flowering times to lengthen bloom period. Crocuses, snowdrops, species tulips, dwarf iris and scilla are very early reliable bloomers. Early to late-spring bloomers include grape hyacinths. Late spring to early summer bloomers include alliums and bearded and dutch iris. Careful planning can lead to an outstanding bloom display from early March through early June.

Where to plant? – Research required growing conditions. Your site should have appropriate sunlight and show the flowers off to their best advantage. A southern exposure, especially when close to the foundation, induces early emergence that may result in freezing injury. Plant bulbs in groups of the same color and variety. This looks more impressive than a mixture of colors and varieties.

How to plant? – Soil preparation is key. Bulbs prefer a sandy or clay loam soil. To improve the soil, spread 2-3 inches of compost on the bed and spade or till it in 6 inches deep. Plant bulbs with the growing tip up at the directed depth, generally four times the height of the bulb. After the ground freezes, cover the bed with 3-4 inches of mulch to prevent frost heaving and prepare for a spectacular spring display!