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 www.chefmaggiesfoodfest.com


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

Mid-Century Modern

This client wanted a mid-century modern feel for their new contemporary home, a style characterized by clean, simple lines, functional beauty and natural hues.  Their wish list included less grass and more planting areas, an expanded patio, a fireplace to provide privacy from the alley, a different style fence and a more level back yard.  They also wanted some play features for their children somewhere outside the main backyard space.


To make the yard more level, we built a board-formed concrete retaining wall around the perimeter of the back yard and brought in over sixty tons of soil.  A modern, semi-open fence was then added to the top of the retaining wall.

The existing concrete pad was extended and stone was laid over the top of it making a larger patio area.  A new fireplace, a mix of stone and brick, was designed to provide a private sitting area which tied together the materials in the patio and house.  Concrete slabs with joints for groundcovers were installed on two sides of the yard.  Brick trim separates the lawn from the new, larger planting beds.

To accommodate the children, an arbor was added to the long, narrow side yard from which swings and climbing bars were hung.  Climbing hydrangea will eventually cover the arbor and make for an attractive feature long after the swings are gone.

Hardscape Design

Park Hill Contemporary Remodel

This Park Hill client had just completed a remodel which included a new concrete patio and asked us to assist in finishing their backyard. They wanted a contemporary look with a fire pit, planters, a place for grilling, trees for privacy from the neighbors and lush foliage for this shady back yard.

A prefabricated fire pit and planters were selected for the patio and synthetic turf was added under the large shade tree where grass had not grown. To add to the contemporary look we added connecting concrete stepper paths to the front and back gates with an adjacent space for grilling. Lastly, Pear trees were added for privacy and plantings were selected with interesting foliage color and texture to complement the shady space.

Intimate Family HangOut

Our client had a narrow and underused back/side yard that consisted of a single tree with a small area of grass and mulch.  They wanted an extension of their existing concrete slab patio with privacy from the alley for a family hangout.  They also wanted a space to grow vegetables and compost.

Budget prohibited treatment of the existing concrete slab so we created an adjacent lower level patio to be used as a seating area which was perfect for a family hang out area.  An overhead pergola with a built in privacy screen and benches around a fire pit gave the space an intimate, enclosed feel.  All grass was removed and planted paths were added from the seating area to the front and back gates.  A raised vegetable bed was added on one side.  On the other side, the compost and air conditioner were screened from view.

Stapleton Scoop Article:

Client Testimonial:

“We had a long, narrow side yard that faced the alley and it was a totally unusable space with nothing but grass and mulch. My husband and I knew we wanted an extend patio space, privacy and shade but we had a hard time envisioning what we could do with it. Sarah did a great job taking our wish list and turning it into something that made the space totally amazing! She suggested things that I would not have thought of and picked out an amazing array of flowers and shrubs that bloom from Spring through Fall. The whole process was simple and having her oversee the project construction made it even easier! We spent more time out outside the summer it was finished than we had in the first three years we lived in the house!”
– Matt and Kristen Tenney

Modern Asian

Our clients had a large yard by Stapleton standards that did not include any builder landscaping other than a single tree.  They wanted a modern Asian feel with lawn, a sitting area around a fire pit, a shaded dining area, fruit trees, raised vegetable beds and a zen garden.


Concrete was chosen as a less expensive alternative to stone combined with natural wood for a minimalist look.   The patio, fire pit and wall behind the wooden bench were constructed of concrete.  This wall not only provided a back to the bench but a sense of enclosure in the large, open yard.  A wood pergola was added over the new concrete dining patio to further tie the two materials together.  The zen garden, complete with an Asian style water feature, was placed adjacent to the sitting area with vegetable beds, fruit trees, black granite boulders and other plantings around the periphery.


Hardscape Design

Plant Design

Portland Inspired


These clients wanted a design for their uninteresting, builder-grade backyard where the adults, children and pet dogs could coexist.  They wanted a Portland Inspired casual seating area and outdoor kitchen, some art and a way to better connect their underused covered concrete porch with the rest of the yard.

First, the children’s playhouse was moved to the side of the house with a path connecting it to the patio.  A casual sitting area with a coffee table large enough to place dinnerware on and high enough to pull chairs up to allowed the space to maximize its function, serving as both sitting and dining area.  A screen was added behind the furniture to provide a backdrop that frames the area.  Grape vine was planted at its base as the owner enjoys having fruiting plants.

To connect the existing covered porch to the rest of the yard, the same Pennsylvania Blue flagstone used for the patio was added to the top of the concrete pad.  The railing around the porch was removed and replaced with planter beds against the porch to avoid a sharp drop off and new steps lead to the lower area.  A built-in kitchen was added to the covered porch, located adjacent to the kitchen door and includes a storage place for their smoker.  A beautiful, artistic bronze architectural screen was added to break up the garage wall.  A water feature and outdoor lighting were included to enhance the ambience.  The plantings were designed to provide a lush, full look that focused more on interesting foliage than flowers.

Hardscape Design

Plant Design

Updated Prairie Style

This client wanted to redesign their small front yard and porch with an updated prairie style for their craftsman home. The round columns installed by the builder were the only round element on the front elevation and they disliked the traditional white porch railing and steep, uninteresting composite wood steps with a railing.

The round columns were replaced with new square columns with simple, clean lines more in keeping with the door, exposed rafters and multi-pane windows.  When the fiberglass columns were removed and the structural posts exposed, a sag in the posts was revealed and a structural engineer was brought in to replace them and reinforce the porch ceiling before new trim was added.  To add a more contemporary look, the vertical wood railing on the porch was replaced with stainless steel rods run horizontally with a matching sliding porch gate to contain the family dog.  The existing composite wood steps were redesigned to be more gradual and reflect the long, low horizontal lines typical of the prairie style.  Natural local stone laid in an ashlar pattern replaced the composite wood and stainless steel lights were installed in the risers. A stone wall was added across the front of the porch with the same feel as the steps and the ground level beds were outlined with stone edging.

Plantings included symmetrical massings of ornamental grasses and low perennials and groundcovers with interesting textural foliage that repeat the horizontal line of the prairie land and sky.

The backyard, redesigned several years prior to the front reflects a consistent style and use of  materials.

Note: This project won a first place 2013 C.A.R.E. Award for Landscape Remodeling. The CARE awards (Colorado Awards for Remodeling Excellence) are sponsored by the Homebuilder’s Association of Metro Denver.

Client Testimonial:
“Sarah worked with us in completely remodeling our front and back yards – plants and hardscape. She provided lots of great ideas and worked with us in modifying the design until we were all happy with it. We have had SO many compliments on the finished product. We would work with her again!” – Jen Tryggestad