Alissa Shanley-Silkwood, a Colorado native, set her first gardener’s roots at her great-grandparents’ farm near Welby.
“I remember picking veggies out of my great-grandpa’s garden. I don’t know if that started my love of gardening, but it got me exposed to working with the earth and seeing plants grow and how rewarding and magical that could be,” says Shanley-Silkwood.
She went on to study horticulture and landscape design in Colorado. She and her husband, Chris Silkwood, a civil engineer, launched B. Gardening Landscape Design 20 years ago. They began as a small, fine-gardening company. They cultivated their horticulture, design and landscape architecture skills with a commitment to executing projects not only beautifully, but also correctly.
“I see so, so much landscape work that has not been done thoughtfully, and it breaks my heart, Shanley-Silkwood says. “I see trees die because they were not planted correctly or put in the right place. I see patios falling apart because they were not built correctly, and I see so much of the same uninspired design.”
She blames our culture that tends to crave immediate gratification. “We are not a ‘quick’ company,” she says, “but we are the company to call if you value doing things the right way.”
B. Gardening intentionally remains a small business. “We don’t have a fleet of trucks. We only take on what we can manage. If you are on our list, you are someone who values a high standard of design, beauty and workmanship,” says Shanley-Silkwood, who wears a necklace that reads “boss lady.”
The boss lady cites Gertrude Jekel as a major influence. “The famous garden designer was an artist, a botanist and a colorist. She was a pioneer. But, honestly, I learned about her after I started this career,” Shanley-Silkwood says.
“I was more influenced by women in fashion design: Coco Chanel and Elsa Peretti. I knew I wanted to be a designer, but I didn’t know my medium. I came about landscaping organically. I love flowers, plants, playing in the dirt and creating beautiful spaces.”
B. Gardening designs often incorporate impressive mass plantings that reflect one of Shanley-Silkwood’s mottos: “Too much is never too much. Why plant one flat of flowers when you can plant 20?”
She favors garden walls to define space and fire features to spark warm intimacy. “I love the use of walls to give dimension: retaining walls, sitting walls, planter walls,” she says. “No one ever said they didn’t love their fire pit or fireplace.”
She also digs trees: “The answer is always trees! If there is a place to plant a tree, plant a tree. There are so many beautiful varieties, and they are so great for our environment.”
The husband and wife balance one another, a yin-yang of skill sets and temperaments. Shanley-Silkwood’s designs riff on pop culture and artistic trends while her husband is more pragmatic.
She says, “I look at industries like architecture, fashion and graphic design for inspiration, whereas Chris reminds me of how I imagine Leonardo da Vinci designed—more math-based with a nod to invention and innovation. Chris reins my crazy ideas in sometimes.”
Chris Silkwood masterminds significant landscaping challenges inherent to Colorado, including clay-based soil and extreme temperature swings. As a project manager, he oversees critical details such as grading, drainage, pluming, carpentry and masonry, gas lines and infrastructure.
“Denver sits atop a large layer of expansive clay soil that tends to expand with moisture and can negatively affect any hardscape, including patios, walks, driveways,” he says. “To properly build something like a patio, you need the ground to be completely thawed, dry, and compactable. Often, landscapers get into a rush and build atop frozen and saturated soil. This will lead to a sunken patio. Patience is a virtue.”
B. Gardening’s staff includes designer Andrea Cowles: “She is the glue that holds it all together. She and I have been working together since the beginning when it was just the two of us and a little white Jetta VW and as many flats of pansies as we could cram into that car. Andrea is the young, hip energy of B. Gardening, and we have an amazing staff working hard for us and our clients,” Shanley-Silkwood says. “We have a very high standard which means that we cater to the most discerning of clients.”
B. Gardening’s lodestar steers them sharply away from mundane designs found ubiquitously throughout Colorado. Shanley-Silkwood will travel to another state to find the perfect pots for container gardens or order custom-made containers from France. To expand horticultural options, she frequently special-orders plant material from nurseries.
“I don’t believe in just using what’s available if it’s not right for the project,” she says. “I believe in waiting, looking and getting it right.”
The couple redesigns their own landscape regularly. “We have redone our back yard more than five times in 19 years. I don’t recommend it, but I get bored and I like to change things,” Shanley-Silkwood says.
“Right now I am into the Old World courtyard feel: Mexico City with lanterns hanging from trees. My husband bought me the lanterns and hung them up and now we are building the patio to match.”
The couple and their team respect the environment. “All our fertilizers are organic,” she says. “The only chemical we use is elbow grease.”
What to look for in a landscaping company
Chris Silkwood, a civil engineer and co-founder of B. Gardening Landscape Design, offered the following tips for homeowners hiring a landscaping company.
Colleen Smith is an avid gardener, a widely published journalist and an award-winning author. The past two years, the Stephen King-founded Haven Foundation awarded her a grant for freelance writers. She also won the 2018 Screenplay Contest co-sponsored by Women in Film and Media Colorado and the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media.
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