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For The Garden


Author: Suzanne Pickett Martinson
Issue: February, 2005, Page 181
Photography by Norm Plate

Transplanted native vegetation, including bur-sage, brittlebush and turpentine bush, was woven among contemporary ironwork.

A passion for gardening inspires a Midwesterner to embrace the desert

When the opportunity to retire lured George and Kathy Cawman back to Arizona from Green Bay, Wis., the couple chose a golf community in north Scottsdale for their second home. Once residents of north-central Phoenix, they wanted to experience a different part of the Valley. “When we found Desert Mountain and this piece of property in particular, it seemed like everything just clicked,” George recalls.
For someone who is passionate about gardening, the change of environment offered a fresh challenge. “I plant hundreds of flats of seasonal flowers each year in Green Bay,” he notes. “So learning about desert plants is something new and exciting.”

Ocotillo branches form a living fence between the back yard and desert at this north Scottsdale home. Mesquite, palo verde and desert willow trees were added for shade.
While he enjoys growing his own annuals and perennials in large pots and flower beds, George also is a firm believer in working with landscaping professionals. He especially wanted guidance from someone in the Valley, since he hoped to “avoid bringing Green Bay to Scottsdale” when it came to his garden.
“We had the best,” he says of landscape designer Nancy E. Wagner, who recently moved her business from Scottsdale to Chino Valley, just north of Prescott. “She is creative and did an excellent job of harmoniously weaving the plants throughout the yard to make it look natural and interesting.”
Wagner is equally impressed with the Cawmans’ enthusiasm. “They are ideal clients and great to work with,” she says. “George is a gardener and knows his plants. He was very involved.”
Landscape designer Nancy Wagner dealt with grade changes by creating a multilevel terrace in the back yard. She plant-ed desert grasses, euphorbias, octopus agaves and such cacti as blue cardon, Mexican fencepost and golden barrel.
Working with the slope of the property and the various levels of the home and hardscape was a thrill for Wagner. “Sometimes, grade challenges present the most advantages,” she offers. “And working with architect Shelby Wilson from the beginning of the build allowed me to study the land and how the interior rooms and windows interact with the exterior.”
Wilson believes that the siting of a house dictates how the design will respond to the sun and take advantage of its views. As a result, every window in Cawmans’ home commands a view. The landscaping, he notes, becomes a central piece of the overall project.
The couple’s property incorporates several water features, fireplaces, an outdoor kitchen, and hidden nooks and crannies that provide visual appeal. In front, a built-in fireplace, seating wall and specimen plantings of euphorbia, succulents, sago palms and lantana greet visitors. From this vantage point one can see through the home’s expansive butt-glazed windows, through the living room, and out to the back patio, where breathtaking vistas catch the eye.
Throughout the property, Wagner planted desert grasses, agaves and various cacti to mingle with transplanted vegetation. “Because the native environment is such an integral part of this home, it is important to pull some of those indigenous plants closer to the living spaces,” Wagner explains.

Mounds of African daisies, penstemon and verbena provide splashes of color near a fire pit.

Almost as impressive as the landscape itself is the extensive use of ironwork, designed by Wilson and created by Cave Creek artist Richard Mocco. Resembling free-form agave leaves, the rusted pieces are used for fencing, railings and as columns to support the roof. Several larger-than-life designs serve as garden art.
From a patio just outside George’s upper-level office, or from the main patio below, the Cawmans can enjoy spectacular sunsets and city lights. The two like to barbecue and often dine alfresco. “We feel like we have the best of all worlds,” Kathy says. “The tranquility of the site refreshes the soul.”

Artwork by Richard Mocco appears to support an overhang.
Mass plantings of totem pole cactus and carefully placed boulders suit this hillside setting.

A water feature is nestled between a set of steps at left and a retaining wall at right.

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