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For The Garden

Discovering the View

Author: John Roark
Issue: April, 2017, Page 102
Photos by Garrett Cook and Art Holeman

To create the backyard oasis the homeowners envisioned, landscape architect Donna Winters added a corner fire feature, outdoor kitchen and bar—and a specimen saguaro that was placed using a crane. Separate patios were joined with travertine flooring, which also covers the pool’s original decking.
A Reinvented Landscape Gives Paradise Valley Homeowners a New Perspectiv

A Modernist-inspired home set
against the backdrop of Mummy Mountain captured the attention of a couple born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. They were instantly drawn to its clean lines, industrial accents and desert setting—in spite of the fact that its current landscape was in desperate need of attention.

“Every time it rained, the wash became a river,” says the wife. Winters solved the issue by spanning the space with an steel bridge and creating a walkway to the front door accented by desert plants and pedestaled pots filled with colorful low-maintenance flowering annuals.
“It was pretty neglected,” recalls the husband. “Even the neighbors had made comments that they didn’t know what the house really looked like.” The yard’s overgrown trees also blocked views from inside the house, virtually eliminating the stunning mountain panorama just waiting to be enjoyed.

After completing some major renovations on the house, it became evident that it was time to address the landscaping. A wash running through the property was a particular source of problems, causing erosion and catching whatever debris the water carried in its wake. “The wash was probably our biggest concern,” says the wife, “but we were also ready to do something to make the property aesthetically beautiful.”

The couple decided to contact landscape architect Donna Winters, whose work they had admired on the pages of Phoenix Home & Garden. She was excited to tackle the job. “I’ve always loved this house. I would drive by and notice the distinctiveness of the architecture and wonder who lived there,” she says. “I felt like the yard had potential that wasn’t being fully taken advantage of.”

Winters began by clearing the areas closest to the house of overgrowth and vegetation that wasn’t performing well. “The first step always is to get rid of the busy noise so that you can read the architecture of the house,” she says. “You see things in a totally different way. You begin to get some clarity and vision, and then you start sculpting.”

In the original landscape, a garden sculpture created by a friend of the homeowners was lost amid unruly vegetation. Once the front yard was cleared of overgrowth, the artwork was relocated to a more prominent setting near the home’s entryway.
What she discovered inspired her. The structure’s lines were classic, and an industrial aesthetic defined by metals and a natural color palette called out for a landscape that would complement it rather than work against it. “What we started with was chaotic, cluttered and disjointed,” says Winters. “The only thing that had any rhythm was the architecture, which is where we took our cues. A landscape needs to speak to the building it frames, and that was not happening.”

With a clean slate, the landscape architect began manipulating positive and negative space, creating visual vignettes to guide the eye and provide continuity. “We wanted to create the sense of the desert flowing through with naturalistic, organic shapes and textures,” she says. In the front yard, she incorporated low-lying plants and smaller succulents, gradually increasing in size moving out toward the road. To provide vertical juxtaposition to the house’s sleek horizontal lines, an arborist shaped existing trees. Specimen plants including saguaro and cardón spears (Pachycereus pringlei) were added, and more than 60 tons of boulders were hand-selected to create a natural desert landscape that looks like it has always been there.

The outdoor kitchen and bar are complemented by a wraparound fire feature. An adjacent garden bed is a favorite spot of the couple’s and includes ice plant (Delosperma), Mexican fire barrels (Ferocactus Pilosus) and brilliant blue pots with flowers that add seasonal color.
To solve the front yard’s biggest issue, Winters embraced the wash rather than trying to reinvent it. “We decided the best course of action was to let it be exactly what it was, but to define it in a way that looked natural and functioned properly,” she says. The area was graded out, anchored and stabilized with large boulders. A steel bridge—which echoes the metal accents found in the house’s exterior—provides an inviting walkway to the front entrance while also allowing water to pass underneath. Approaching the entry, Desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri), Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoriae-reginae), golden barrels and a specimen Madagascar palm (Pachypodium lamerei) flank large pavers on a geometric grid, and planters with seasonal blooms provide inviting pops of color.

Overlooking the wash, a small patio on the home’s south side has become one of the couple’s favorite spots to relax and take in the once-invisible view. A water feature masks nearby traffic sounds, and the gently sloping terrain results in a truly private space. The wash is populated with plants reminiscent of those found alongside natural washes and streams, including bougainvillea, penstemon, candollea, claret cup cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) and desert spoon. “Now they’ve got a wonderful spot that opens to this beautiful vignette,” says Winters. “When we started, you weren’t even aware that there was a mountain there.”

The landscape architect utilized the backyard’s aluminum fence panels as a negative space canvas for Pedro cacti (Echinopsis pachanoi), Mexican cardón (Pachycereus pringlei) and Parry’s agave (agave parryi).
In the backyard, the couple sought an environment that contrasted with the front yard’s natural desertscape. “We wanted a coiffed look, very Palm Springs during the Frank Sinatra era,” says the husband. When they purchased the home, the backyard included little more than the rectangular pool and a scraggly, kidney-shaped patch of artificial turf. Because the couple loves to entertain friends and family, Winters wanted the backyard’s disjointed sections to become a cohesive, inviting area that encouraged being outdoors. She used travertine flooring to connect the separate patios and extended that surface around the pool, covering the existing dated cool decking.

“One of the things we wanted to do was make the interior of the house flow seamlessly into the outside,” says Winters. She achieved this by creating a corner fire pit with the same materials and details seen on the home’s interior fireplace, and carried the surface through to an outdoor kitchen and bar area that includes a barbecue and pizza oven.

In a world where everybody’s going a million miles an hour, it’s nice to be in a garden where you can exhale, slow down and spend time. - Donna Winters, landscape architect
A second fire feature clad with the same gray stone was placed diagonally in the opposite corner of the pool deck, providing additional interest from every vantage point in the yard. Arcing water jets—which illuminate at night—add even more visual punch. Winters replaced the existing faux turf and extended it throughout the backyard. She also incorporated some of the same succulents used in the front areas along the backyard’s aluminum fencing.

Topping the wife’s wish list was an abundance of color, which was brought to the landscape with cobalt pots overflowing with flowers for every season. Furnishings and glass in the fire features pick up the blue theme, creating additional unity and continuity. The wife also was adamant that the backyard’s few citrus trees stay and requested new trees be added. “I love the scent of the citrus blossoms in the spring, especially at night,” she says. Now a small cluster of orange trees is steps away from the outdoor kitchen in a garden that includes strawberries, tarragon, mint and oregano.

The husband’s No. 1 request was to incorporate dramatic structural forms that truly define the Southwest. Using a crane from the street, Winters placed a 15-foot specimen saguaro near the large fire pit, and populated the landscape with San Pedro cacti (Echinopsis pachanoi), Mexican cardóns (Pachycereus pringlei) and Parry’s agave (agave parryi).

A second fire feature was placed diagonally at the pool’s corner, providing dramatic views from virtually anywhere in the backyard.
Beautiful and inviting by daylight, the landscape also dazzles after sundown. “Our story in the day must also be our story at night,” notes Winters. “With lighting you can articulate that to the next level. The shapes and textures throw dramatic shadows against the house, creating an entirely different experience.” After an extensive landscape revision, the homeowners have a renewed love for the property. “It was such a wonderful feeling of completion,” says the wife. “We came back and it just finally felt like home.”

And Winters still loves driving by the house when she’s in the neighborhood. “Now I see beautiful architecture coexisting with an organic desert oasis setting,” she says. “You’re nestled against the backdrop of that amazing mountain. It’s like a warm hug.”

A flower-filled planter in front of the guest casita provides a welcoming view for the homeowners as well as their visitors.

Winters brought in more than 60 tons of boulders to create a landscape that blends seamlessly with the desert. “We wanted the composition to be natural and organic, as though it had always been there,” she says.
Existing water features were inoperable when the homeowners purchased the property. Winters’ team replumbed where necessary and accented with desert landscaping. This frog-themed fountain adds to a charming vignette.

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