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For The Garden

Gardening in Style

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: November, 2013, Page 68
Photos by Art Holeman

Homeowners Glen and Julie Rodolico are pictured at left with their grandson in one of numerous outdoor living areas on their property.

Julie and Glen Rodolico’s Italian-Style Backyard Entertains Children and Adults

When they purchased their new Glendale, Arizona, home in 2010, Julie and Glen Rodolico were undaunted by its barren lot. Julie is a creative Master Gardener, and the couple carefully considered how their family had used outdoor spaces—what worked or didn’t—at their previous home. “Although we had specific ideas about what we wanted in the backyard for plants and features, it helped to collaborate with a landscape designer,” Julie states. “Jim Lucas, with Creative Environments, listened to our comments and incorporated the elements we wanted.”

Safety for young grandchildren was paramount. “Jim understood our concerns and designed a raised lap pool, which we really love because it makes it more difficult for little ones to slip into the water,” notes Julie. One of the pool’s walls cleverly doubles as a sidewall for a sunken gazebo.

The gazebo was inspired in part by a massive wooden dining table that the couple had acquired. Its rustic appearance evoked meals served alfresco in an Italian family-style setting, and Julie felt it would be ideal for the ambience they wished to create. “Our home’s architectural style is Italian, and we asked Jim to complement that look in a gazebo for outdoor entertaining,” she recalls.

The designer incorporated open-air arches in the gazebo for cooling breezes to blow through. Trees planted on its exterior fill the arches with foliage, creating an atmosphere of dining in a leafy glade. Water from a nearby “Roman aqueduct” spills into the lap pool to add a soothing backdrop.

Casual patio dining in view of the splash pad—a fun play area for young grandchildren—is an ideal spot for alfresco meals.
The parterre garden features a custom cantera wall fountain topped with a garland of hand-carved roses. Bearded irises and rosebushes provide abundant color throughout spring, while cypress trees lend Italian ambience.
A rich palette of greenery surrounding the sunken gazebo creates the feeling of dining in nature.  Arched openings add to the Italian ambience.

This fabric screening wall allows for an ever-changing play of light and shadow and serves as a colorful backdrop for Lady Bank’s rose vines.

Many of Julie’s plant choices, such as grapevines and lavender, as well as cypress, lemon, magnolia, olive and orange trees, also evoke Italian landscapes. Containers with topiaries, twisted cypress, and annual flowers were added for extra pops of color. Unfortunately, when water drains from the bottom of pots and evaporates on hardscape, it leaves unsightly white salt stains. This occurrence at their previous home is one that Glen wished to avoid repeating, so he devised the following two options that direct water to drain underground.

“For patio containers, five-gallon plastic nursery pots filled with sand are embedded in the ground directly beneath the containers, allowing water to drain into the sand,” Glen explains. For containers set on the raised spa’s rim, 11/2-inch sprinkler pipe enters each pot through its drainage hole. “Water drains through the pipe into a sand pit beneath the spa,” he explains. “The top of the pipe is screened to keep out debris, and the drainage hole is sealed with silicon around the pipe to prevent leaks.” It was practical to incorporate these designs during construction because Julie had already planned on specific locations for containers. Glen also came up with the idea for an unusual fabric privacy wall between their patio and the neighbor’s yard. It meets HOA regulations requiring that all walls be transparent. Glen designed, and son, Blake, welded, metal frames that hold outdoor fabric panels. “This fabric is actually made for tennis courts, so it ‘breathes’ and allows the wind to blow through,” he says. “We receive considerable wind, and if the fabric can’t breathe, it will tear.” They doubled the fabric to increase its strength to support Lady Bank’s rose vines.

The parterre garden’s permeable pathway allows rain to soak into the soil, and makes it easy for homeowner Julie Rodolico to tend to her roses, irises and other blooming perennials. Her grandchildren often play on the nearby lawn where she can keep watch over them.
A long raised bed was positioned to help disguise an existing utility area. At the end of the growing season, Julie allows herbs and vegetables to go to flower to attract beneficial pollinators.
The Rodolicos asked landscape designer Jim Lucas to create a gazebo with sufficient space to accommodate a cantera stone fireplace and rustic dining table. The sunken gazebo and raised pool sides help promote a cleaner pool because dirt is not blown into the water from the edges during storms, according to the homeowners.

At the couple’s previous residence, Julie tended more than 200 rosebushes. She downsized considerably, bringing some favorites with her. “I used to spend two months pruning my rosebushes in winter,” she comments. “In this garden, it only takes one week and there are still plentiful blooms to enjoy.” Her roses, as well as bearded irises and yaupon hollies, comprise a formal parterre garden close to the patio’s seating area.

Throughout the landscape, Julie installed edible plants. Citrus and deciduous fruit trees line the property edges as privacy screening. Herbs and vegetables pack a 36-foot-long raised bed that runs along a permeable walkway. She filled the bed with an organically rich soil mix to promote good drainage. (See Julie’s Raised-Bed Soil Mix, Page 75.)

“It’s easy to produce tremendous variety for the kitchen year-round in limited space,” Julie states. She plants closely, allowing foliage to slightly overlap, which reduces moisture loss and hides bare soil where weeds might sprout. As cool-season vegetables—such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and lettuce—are finishing their life cycles, she tucks in warm-season choices, like Armenian cucumber, Hungarian pepper and zucchini, to establish before the summer heat. Intermingled herbs include basil, bay, chives, cilantro, lemon balm, oregano, parsley, and her favorite for cooking—lemon thyme.

The landscape design incorporates varied play areas for grandchildren Domonic, Dylan and Julianna, including a basketball court, splash pad and lawn. The lot had a slope, which the couple wanted to be able to manage for erosion control, especially during rain. “Ultimately, we incorporated the slope as a grassy play area,” comments Glen. “When kids miss the basketball hoop at the top of the slope, the ball rolls back to them,” he says. “We do somersaults down the hill, have sack races or sit on it like a bleacher for July Fourth fireworks,” Julie adds. “This simple slope has become one of our favorite landscape elements.”

The front yard is a work in progress, although Julie’s desert-adapted groupings of Argentine giant cacti, succulents and wildflowers already thrive in the dappled light of palo verde trees. “On a Phoenix Home & Garden magazine garden tour a few years ago, I really enjoyed a landscape featuring numerous Argentine giant cacti,” Julie remembers. “Their oversize blooms were magnificent, and I wanted some for my garden. For plant lovers, there’s always another species we must add, even if there’s barely room to fit it in,” she jokes.

Julie’s Raised-Bed Soil Mix
Julie Rodolico uses the following proportions when mixing soil to grow edibles:

3/4 Gro-Well Square Foot Gardening Soil
1/8 BioFlora Organic Compost
1/8 Miracle-Gro Garden Soil for Flowers and Vegetables

Add the following nutrients in amounts per package instructions, mixing deep into the soil near root zones: Blood meal (nitrogen), triple super phosphate, (phosphorus), and Muriate of potash (potassium).
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