The Natural Path: How Ecoscape Combined Function and Flow in a Louisville Landscaping Project
For Boulder’s Ecoscape Environmental Design, great landscaping is almost as much about the natural benefits of what’s beneath the surface as the aesthetically stunning environments above it.
Bringing an ecological consciousness to landscape design, construction, and maintenance in the Boulder area since 2000, Ecoscape works to apply flow—their own artful practice based on the science of hydrology—to each of their unique designs.
Pull quote: “When designing our landscapes we need to find the flow of the space, the natural flow of the living spirit and energy of the land,” says Cheval Oldaker, BLA, landscape designer with Ecoscape. “Water flows can create wonderful design opportunities and, once we understand these natural paths, we can connect with how best to design these spaces.”
Combining this concept of flow with the scientific discipline of hydrology—the study of the planet’s waters and their occurrence, distribution, circulation, and interaction with living things—means that Ecoscape’s work is deeply rooted in a functional symbiosis between natural water pathways and design.
This relationship is starkly apparent in one of the firm’s recent projects, in which a Louisville family was seeking to create a comprehensive landscape design for their property that was both sustainable and offered incomparable curb appeal.
Each element of the project was designed to maximize the natural water pathways of the existing landscape aesthetically and functionally while addressing the three key goals for the project: beauty, hydrology, and reduction.
The welcoming entry area is made up of modern, clean lines. The team also took the opportunity to grade the existing front yard to introduce more outdoor living space and purposefully redirect the surface run-off.
Gabion baskets create a leveled terrace and grand entryway—a unique look that combines cobble rocks with wrapped raw steel—and also provide a functional purpose in holding back soil and absorbing surface run-off. This run-off, along with subsurface water and roof run-off collected via the French drain and directed through a dry creek, is led towards a rain garden at the front of the house.
“My favorite element of this design is the combination of the gabion wall and the rain garden,” says Oldaker. “They interact with each other and support each other—one formal with modern lines and one natural and organic. Especially when there is snow melting or rainfall, the action of the water trickling over the rocks down to the rain garden is very playful.”
The absorbent properties that these features and this layout provide are also ecologically significant—especially in Colorado’s high desert climate. A large part of hydrology includes the study of the chemical and physical properties of water.
As Oldaker notes, landscape designs that allow for the natural remediation of storm water run-off contaminants also mean that properties can effectively play the role of watersheds and capitalize on passively collected water—contributing to both a thriving landscape and a larger thriving ecosystem.
“In Colorado, run-off is often a lost opportunity,” says Oldaker. “Having swales, berms, and boulders in your landscape can turn it into a multidimensional sponge that not only allows for water retention and extra nutrients in your soil but also naturally filters run-off before it hits larger bodies of water.”
This watershed concept and mindset also allows for a low-maintenance landscape. With a reduced lawn and the inclusion of low-water native plants, such as yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and a black locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia), this project’s landscape is easy to care for, builds healthy soil, and essentially sustains itself and its natural beauty.
The result? A landscape design that artfully harmonizes existing water pathways and climate conditions with sensible ecological design.