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For The Garden

Pet Paradise

Author: Lori A. Johnson
Issue: November, 2017, Page 58
Photos by Tom Spitz

Homeowner Mary Primeau installed a bubbling water feature on her back patio to enjoy the soothing sounds from indoors.
With her beloved dogs in mind, a gardener creates a safe and serene place for play

A charming blend of Southwest design elements, bold color and unusual plants makes Mary Primeau’s Oro Valley garden the envy of neighbors and succulent enthusiasts alike. Its pet-friendly design, though, makes it just as appealing to four-legged visitors.

Custom tile-topped tables decorate the outdoor space.
Mary’s two dogs—Teddybear, a wheaten terrier, and Bernie, a whoodle (wheaten terrier/poodle mix)—safely navigate the grounds, from the natural desert landscaping in the front yard to the colorful courtyard container garden on the side patio, to the “riverfront” pathway that leads to the dog run in the back. “They each weigh in at more than 40 pounds and have great terrier energy,” Mary says. “When they romp, they are capable of leveling anything. Every pot, table and plant must be steady, sturdy and placed out of their way.”

Style and Safety
The garden today bears little resemblance to its humble beginnings 13 years ago when Mary bought the traditional Santa Fe-style home. She had the walls and house painted a rich terra cotta color, which she accented with cobalt blue pots and accessories, a collection of rusty metal yard art, and rustic, custom hand-tiled furnishings. The homebuilder had originally planned on including a pool, but Mary opted to use the installed water and electric infrastructure to create a water feature, instead, using pool-construction methods but on a much smaller scale. “I wanted it to be very close to the patio so it could be heard and enjoyed in the house,” she says. “Hummingbirds hover and drink from it, and bees and butterflies gather on the wet top surfaces to drink.” The dogs’ needs are not without influence, as well. “I don’t use chemicals in the fountain because it’s Bernie’s main source of drinking water,” Mary adds.

The homeowner collects and pots a variety of succulents and cacti, including Rebutia spp

ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense)
crested golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

The main courtyard is also home to the bulk of a potted succulent collection, as well as a nursery area for plant propagation. The two dogs can be rough on plants, but Mary makes the best of it. “My way of not getting angry with them is to pot up the cuttings they create and multiply the plants,” she says. Seedlings require a more controlled environment, so they’re started in the kitchen. Once plants are ready for staging in decorative pots, the real fun begins. “Pairing pots and plants is my favorite hobby. I could write a book on the topic,” she says. “From the classic ‘a thrill, a spill and a fill,’ to just wonderful pairings of colors and textures, the creative opportunities are endless. The really cool thing with succulents is that you can pot cuttings. Without roots to take up space, you can make very dramatic arrangements that last for years.”

Mary and one of her two dogs, Teddybear.
Mary’s succulent collection includes a variety of species, such as aloe, haworthia, lithops, and a miniature prickly pear with half-inch-long pads. “I think what I really collect are spines. Tephrocactus has a variety of paper-soft spines. One fat-spined version is nicknamed Chinese fingernail (Tephrocactus articulatus var. oligacanthus),” Mary says. “There is the red-headed Irishman (Mammillaria spinosissima), with magenta flowers and spines the color of red hair. Prickly pears come with curly spines, long black spines, soft ‘petable’ spines and even no spines at all. I once bought a cholla because it had pencil-thin stems with yellow spines more than an inch long.”

Teddybear relaxes by the beehive fireplace hand-painted by Mary with a lavender Graptopetalum succulent design. Cobalt pots contrast with the wall color inspired by terra cotta pottery. One of many potted succulents is the variegated prickly pear (Opuntia monacantha var. variegata) in the foreground.
Detailed Living
While cacti aren’t typically known for their pet-friendly qualities, Mary’s dogs have learned to live harmoniously with her collection. “I especially need to keep cactus pads off their paths so we don’t get spines in paws,” she notes. “The dogs don’t go into my raised beds or pots, except to chase lizards. If a pot is too low, Teddybear will eat the flowers. Every decision in the yard has to include them.” Luckily, the narrow back walkway leads to their own pet-friendly dog run, with low-maintenance plants along the way, including an agave collection that began with a gift from a friend. “Agaves have great leaf colors. I like using contrasting greens, yellows and whites to make an interesting tapestry,” Mary says. “At first, the dogs kept ripping up the area, so I brought in more plants and larger rocks to make it less fun for the dogs to run through. Now, they stay on the path.”

A narrow walkway behind the house overlooks a wash through rusty rebar fencing.
The walkway overlooks a wash that runs through the property, bringing wildlife that includes coyotes, javelina, and rabbits—plus the occasional monsoon flow—along with it. “I tell my Midwest friends that I have riverfront land,” Mary jokes. “It’s nice to have a natural view and more space between houses, though the water can be a little scary. During a good rain we get whitecaps, and large rocks get moved around.” Rusty rebar fencing runs alongside the flagstone pathway, an early design choice that began with the need for a trellis to support Lady Banks (Rosa banksiae) roses.

On most mornings, Mary can be found outdoors with her four-legged friends, watering and tending to her yard or potting her many collectibles. It’s clear that her passion for garden design—and dogs—has formed a perfect partnership with her growing love for fascinating flora.

Photos - From left: Unique succulents, such as a white-striped century plant (Agave americana var. medio-picta ‘Alba’) and a fuzzy prickly pear (Opuntia ‘Wooly Jacket’) are highlights of the garden.

One of Mary’s favorite hobbies is pairing pots with plants to create eye-catching arrangements.

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