The Green Team

Landscape architect Wendy Booth’s ‘third kid,’ Ivy Street Design, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year

Wendy Booth and Kaylin Kittle of Ivy Street Design created this multi-use urban plaza in RiNo. The contemporary pocket park anchors a retail, office and restaurant complex and features a roof garden and lounge, a concert stage and water fountains. Photo by Ainslie O’Neil

In the quarter-century since Wendy Booth started her landscape architecture firm out of her home on Ivy Street, a lot of things have changed in her business—not the least of which is the weather here in Colorado—but some things remain the same. “The core of landscape architecture is spatial planning—figuring out how to put together space for an outdoor kitchen, space to dine, space to hang out by the fireplace, some turf, some pretty plants, maybe a vegetable garden. The style is just frosting on the cake.”

The team of landscape architects who work at Ivy Street Design do a range of work, but everyone gets to stretch his or her wings. “We’re very committed to the growth and creativity of our staff,” Booth says. “I believe that everybody in the company deserves creative opportunity and a work-life balance.”

What was once a rubbish-strewn, weedy lot was transformed by Booth into an urban oasis featuring multiple rooms, a two-sided fireplace and a lush perennial border. The Olive Street Garden feels intimate but can accommodate more than 100 people. Photo by Matt Quist

Were you always into design or plants?
“As a child, I played with blocks and LEGOs all the time. I’d make these elaborate constructions. And I always liked plants; to this day, I can still remember which plants were where on my walk to elementary school. And then one summer, when I was in college, I had a gardening business with a friend, the guy I later married. My mom gave me a book on landscape architecture, and that’s when I decided to transfer to Cornell to study it. Before that, I had been studying architectural history, and suddenly I realized that what I really liked to do was cut and paste—to make things, not just comment on other people’s work. Fortunately, my dad taught at Cornell, so I was able to get a huge tuition discount and earn an Ivy League education for, like, $400 a semester.”

Why did you start Ivy Street Design?
“I moved to Denver in 1985 and worked for a company planning bicycle trails nationwide. I was married and had just had a second baby. The opportunities for landscape architecture were very limited, so I thought I’d start my own company as sort of a ‘mommy-in-the- basement’ operation. I still have the business plan, which is pretty corny. My husband named it Ivy Street Design, after the street we lived on. In a lot of ways, Ivy Street Design is my third kid.”

cherry-creek-front-yard

Booth created a Tuscan-inspired garden in a Cherry Creek front yard using Colorado native materials. Photo by Ainslie O’Neil

How have things changed in the landscape architecture field since then?
“The consumer’s expectations have changed dramatically. Back in the day, a client might want to put in a patio, but that was it. Now, if you don’t also have a water feature, a fire feature, a pergola and a built-in outdoor kitchen, it’s kind of a nothing project.”

Is there a wider variety of plants now, too?
“It’s definitely gotten warmer in Denver. In the 25 years I’ve been in practice, the plants that we are able to grow here have changed. For example, when I started, growing boxwoods was very challenging, and they were not readily available. But now they’re a dime a dozen.”

For a backyard space in Thornton, Kaylin Kittle added a multilevel patio, an outdoor dining room and grill, a lounge and a custom in-ground spa with water spouts. Photo by Ainslie O’Neil

What about other materials?
“The variety of hard materials has changed, too: You used to be able to have a concrete patio, or a stone patio, or a brick patio, but now there are 100 choices of porcelain tiles, too, which the manufacturer swears will be successful in Colorado’s freeze-thaw climate. The difference between here and other cold places like Chicago, St. Louis or New York is that in those places it gets cold in the winter and it stays cold. But here it can be 60 degrees during the day in January and 20 at night. That’s hard on both plants and hard surfaces. We use a lot of powder-coated steel for pergolas, walls, raised planters ….”

stapleton-garden

Ainslie O’Neil used upcycled materials, a hot tub, colorful, edible gardens, custom metal screens and meandering paths in this Stapleton garden. Photo by Ainslie O’Neil

What are the most common mistakes you see clients make?
“Not understanding how much landscaping can cost. I always tell clients, ‘You should consider this project the same way you would a major kitchen remodel. That’s the kind of price points you’ll be looking at if you want to create an outdoor living space.’ ”

And what are the most important steps in a good landscape design?
“The first thing is accurate mapping, either through a surveyor or through your own hand measuring. If you don’t have an accurate map, and that includes both horizontal and vertical planes, you can’t create a good design. Successful work in the vertical plane separates the women from the girls and the men from the boys. The next thing is a good idea—the overarching spatial idea. Think about the Guggenheim Museum in New York; Frank Lloyd Wright’s spatial concept (for a vertical spiral) really hadn’t existed before. It was unbelievable. Then you have to have good design development— the devil is in the details. And finally, you need a really good construction team that will execute everything precisely.”