The historic Richthofen Castle in Denver’s Montclair neighborhood went from spooky to stately thanks to a major landscape renovation by Lifescape Colorado. The Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado honored the prestigious and extensive project with two 2020 ELITE Awards: one for design and build and the other for maintenance.
The 2.5-acre renovation of the private residence was overseen by Dan DeGrush, on staff with Lifescape Colorado for about 12 years. The landscape architect’s first impression of the baronial estate was less than favorable. Four decades of neglect had taken a toll on the landmark landscape for the English Tudor mansion finished in 1887 by Baron Walter von Richthofen, an aristocrat of German extraction.
When DeGrush visited in February of 2017, “it was a gray, dark day, and the place looked haunted, almost,” DeGrush says. “There was a sense of mystery because you couldn’t see in that well, and what you could see was spooky. There were overgrown trees and vines and a lot of suckering trees around the property. The driveway was grown in and cracked. The overgrowth was not nice: volunteer, weedy plants uprooting through sidewalks all around.”
Now, the manicured property appears friendlier and finessed back to a state of grandeur befitting the architecture. The landscape affords privacy yet allows the castle to hold court visually with parapets and turrets as a backdrop to lawns, gardens and fountains.
“The amount of people who drive by and stop and take pictures — it’s like every five minutes,” DeGrush says. “Everyone’s like, ‘Holy smokes!’ ”The landscape project followed the renovation of the historic property’s interior by the most recent owners, who bought the castle in 2012.
“They had done a lot of work on the castle itself: all the painting and restoration and fixing interior leaks, making it a livable place,” DeGrush says.
“They hadn’t turned their attention yet to the landscape, but it was always their intent. They had lived in multiple historic houses in Denver — on Seventh Avenue [Parkway] and in Cherry Creek — but this is their biggest endeavor,” says DeGrush.
“They wanted to create a landscape that felt in keeping with the scale and proportion of the castle, a landscape robust, strong and powerful enough for the castle. And they wanted something that looked like it had always been there, but with modern conveniences like an irrigation system.”
To research old world castles, De- Grush traveled to Europe. He toured 13 countries in 50 days while backpacking, sleeping in train stations and studying palatial landscapes as precedents.
“Versailles is the pinnacle of landscape architecture,” DeGrush says of the palace built by Louis XIV. “The balance and formality were a big inspiration.”
The project’s budget, estimated at about $400,000, did not include the substantial concrete costs estimated at between $100,000 and $150,000. The homeowners, who are in the construction business, provided the concrete at cost, following DeGrush’s specifications on color and design.
“We wanted an aged look on the hardscape, but we decided not to pour stamped concrete to try to make it look like old cobblestone,” DeGrush says.
“We poured gray concrete, but when first poured it has a stark, whitish color. We purposefully left leaves and dirt on the concrete to have rain and snow stain the driveway and add the aged patina,” he says. “We had to play the waiting game on that, but by the second year, the concrete was darkened.”
Where the driveway meets the street, DeGrush added aprons of sandstone cobbles repurposed from downtown Denver’s old street curbs.
“It lets you know you’re entering someplace special,” DeGrush says. “It has a sense, a feeling to the visually aged, authentic look.”
For the back patio, DeGrush used natural bluestone with a gray tone that contrasts with the castle’s pinkish rhyolite stones.
“You see historic homes in Capitol Hill with this same stone quarried near Castle Rock,” says DeGrush. “You have to be careful with pink, because other stones can clash.”
The hardscape includes brick detailing on the large patio: “At the reclaimed brickyard we got cool, authentic bricks from the 1940s so they had a natural patina already.”
The landscape’s makeover included removing some trees and planting others.
“There were two trees on the property that were original,” DeGrush says. “Both were in bad shape, past their peak and dying, essentially. They were old silver maples leaning over the driveway, ticking time bombs. One we trimmed and left, and one we took out.”
The landscape design also replicated original plantings.
“The homeowners had historical photos dating back to the 1880s when the landscape went in originally. Someone had taken pictures that got saved with city archives. The homeowners uncovered those to determine how they landscaped back then,” DeGrush says. “The huge driveway we lined with trees on both sides to imitate what we saw in those pictures.”
The project finished in 2017, but Lifescape Colorado let the landscape mature for a couple of years before entering competitions. The castle’s landscape fit for royalty garnered one of the state’s highest gardening awards.
Melissa Emdin serves as programs and education director for Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado. “The judging process is anonymous, so I can’t share the judges’ names,” she says, but noted one of the judges called it a “wonderful re-creation of the past bringing history to the present.” Another said it was an “exceptional quality renovation that created more access to all parts of the garden while decreasing turf areas.”
DeGrush says, “Selfishly, a landscape architect only gets so many of these prestigious projects in an entire career. To get this project at a younger age and be part of this historical renovation on a major landmark of Denver and to have the homeowners’ familiarity with a high-level construction process that contributed to the success of the project — it was a perfect combination. To have the chance to research European gardens and art history and to apply that in Colorado brought it all together.”
Lifescape Colorado is a landscape architecture and design firm.
455 S. Platte River Drive
Denver, CO 80223
Colleen Smith is an avid gardener and a longtime contributor to the magazine as well as The Denver Post, The Denver Business Journal, Art+Object, Sunset magazine and many others. She’s the author of several books and a contest-winning screenplay.
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