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Steamboat Magazine

A Tale of Two Gardens

05/27/2021 01:18PM ● By Suzi Mitchell

Vines of Valiant grapes sourced from South Dakota State University grow up a custom-made trellis.

Story by Suzi Mitchell
Photography by Dustin Posiak-Trider 

Two gardens, which have been featured on the Strings Kitchen & Garden Tour, have caused a stir among the green-thumbed fanatics of Steamboat Springs. Each one has a very different tale to tell.

A Touch of Tranquility 

As the sun drops behind Emerald Mountain on a summer’s evening, a party gets underway in Steamboat Springs. The merrymakers are a band of birds and aquatic creatures that call a hidden pond on Anglers Drive their home. Unless they knew it was there, passersby would be unaware of this serene spot that houses a host of rare finds in a Rocky Mountain garden. 

“It’s a welcome surprise when you get to visit the property,” says Christine Pietras, co-owner of KP Landscaping, who has spent the last 10 years cultivating the garden with her husband, Kyle, and their team. 

The site was a former pastureland with a house, which was all but demolished and rebuilt over a decade ago. 

“We kept the original trees, including some very old apple trees, which still bear fruit annually,” Christine says. A newer addition to the harvest is Valiant grapes. “They are surprisingly hardy for our zone,” says Christine of the cold-weather variant they sourced from South Dakota State University. The vine creeps up a custom-made metal trellis created by local fabricator Nordic Steel. It is one of several sculptural pieces that embellish the many flowerbeds. 

The garden centers around a large pond, which is home to a host of aquatic creatures and birds.


“We wanted to create a very serene experience with the landscaping, which you sense naturally from being around the pond,” Christine says. The soil is nutrient-rich, and the natural water supply enables a constant feast for the foliage. 

Large swaths of ground cover such as sweet woodruff, strawberry plants and sedums create a continuous flow of greenery and color along the water’s edge. A border around the house is a mix of native grasses and perennials, interspersed by wall paintings of a horse and a heron. 

“It’s a very surreal space,” Christine says. “There is a lot of native vegetation and trees like the spruces and willows, which we married up with a constantly changing palette of perennials.” Through the summer, huge pops of color and textures fill large custom pots faux painted by local artist Julie Anderson. 

Occasionally things get moved around when Mother Nature intervenes. “Big winds last summer saw some former shady spots become exposed, so we’ve had to do a bit of rearranging,” Christine says. 

In a corner of the pond, an empty rowboat gently rocks. It affords a viewpoint of the garden that few ever see – that is except for the merrymakers who applaud their space every day. 

Building a Fairytale 

On the banks of Fish Creek in the Sanctuary neighborhood of Steamboat Springs sits a property that could be straight from a fairytale. In the depths of summer, the grounds exude the air of a cottage garden, a far cry from typical mountainscapes. “The owners wanted the landscape to look like it’s been there for years,” says retired landscape architect Mark Kopatz – the mastermind behind the design. 

Asters, coreopsis, hollyhocks and an abundance of foliage frame several sculptures, which can be seen along the winding pathway to an aspen grove and secret garden.


Hollyhocks tower above the clusters of coreopsis, asters, lamb’s ear and sedums that flank the edges of an elongated, naturally filtered water feature. Metal sculptures sit among the foliage, giving the sense of a story unfolding. A wooden bridge leads up to the front door, which is sheltered beneath an old-world inspired post-and-beam covered porch. 

The pathway continues on through an aspen grove, where a wooden rose arbor marks the entryway to a secret garden. “The entire landscaping was designed with the intent of creating an emotional experience,” Kopatz says. “Everything you see was a real collaboration between myself, the owners and the contractors, Mountain West Environments.” Kopatz sourced the arbor’s wooden archway in Evergreen which made its way to the mountains strapped to his car. 

The late Mike Roberts, who originally built the property, had the idea to stockpile boulders from the site. Kopatz selected those native rocks to serve as features and to double as occasional seating amid choreographed plantings. 


A pond and elongated water feature flank the ornate porch and entryway.


Three fire pits and a sunken stainless steel hot tub in the backyard benefit from the ambience of a creekside backdrop. Those favorite features are almost as popular as the large lawn that gives grandchildren space to run. “It really is a playground, not just for the family, but for the animals that come and go,” says Kopatz, who once had the pleasure of a front-row seat for a bathing bear cub. 

Strategically placed Corten steel pots bursting with annuals boost the hues from seasonal perennials. When the sun goes down, ground-level solar lighting illuminates the entryway, where a bronze elk takes center stage amid greenery in the circular driveway. Soft lighting casts a subtle glow throughout the grounds to maintain a sense of enchantment. 

“It’s important for a design to have a theme,” Kopatz says. For this garden, the concept is one of surprise, intrigue and a real-life fairytale.