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For The Garden

Perfect Union

Author: Nancy Erdmann
Issue: June, 2009, Page 88
Photography by Richard Maack

Shaded by the canopy of an ironwood tree, this spacious front courtyard was remodeled several years ago when flagstone paving, desert flora and a travertine and copper fountain were added. To the left of the water feature is a spire-like sculpture by Otto Rigan that mimics the columnar plantings of Mexican fencepost cacti. A rusted-iron bench holds a pot of golden barrel cacti.
Art and plants from around the world inspire the revitalization of a Phoenix garden

There's something remotely exotic about this Arizona garden. Plants with origins in Africa, northern Mexico and South America grow beside sculpture by renowned artists hailing from England and Japan. It’s a melting pot of sorts, where East meets West and nature’s works of “art” meld with man-made elements.

The owners of this Paradise Valley, Arizona, home are avid art and plant collectors. So when they decided to renovate their backyard a few years ago, it was imperative that the outdoor spaces reflect these two passions.

“Our garden wasn’t user-friendly, and we really didn’t like the vegetation,” recalls the woman of the house. The couple’s goals were twofold: They wanted to introduce unique cacti and succulents into the yard, and open up views to nearby Camelback Mountain while blocking out neighboring houses.

Landscape designer Kenny Zelov of Landscaping by André Inc. first created a framework with the hardscape. “We opened up areas of the perimeter walls with rebar fencing to ‘borrow’ the landscape beyond, which makes the yard feel larger,” he explains. Pool equipment was moved and hidden behind a rusted-metal fence to make room for a dining ramada. Accent walls were constructed, water and fire features were added, and seating areas were designed for optimal viewing of the mountain and backyard. Then the plantscape was installed.

Rows of barrel cacti fill a semicircular planter.
Close to 600 plants were added, including Cardon cactus groupings, flowering Trichocereus, palo blanco trees and queen of the night cacti. According to the designer, 21 trees were placed to “nestle in the yard” and to obscure views of nearby homes and rooftops. And because of the abundance of rabbits, the plant palette needed to be rabbit-resistant. Zelov chose varieties of penstemon and salvia, gopher plant, damianita and desert marigold for this purpose.

Lastly, the couple’s works of art were integrated into the landscape. “The combination of the plants and sculpture were intended to play off of each other to try and blur the lines between them,” Zelov explains.

The garden has matured over time and has taken on a natural density. “We’ve helped the homeowners maintain their property with natural pruning and allowed perennials to seed themselves wherever they chose,” he remarks, noting that the garden continues to evolve throughout the seasons.

Now when the couple looks outside their windows, they find just what they were looking for: a desert paradise blossoming with art.

At the south end of the pool, light filters through the branches of a palo verde tree. A portion of the east-facing wall was painted to echo the color of nearby Camelback Mountain. The black-and-white sculpture is a ceramic piece called Dingo by Jun Kaneko.

During the remodel, a water feature was added at the pool’s edge. Here, Euphorbia resinifera grows in pots by Phoenix designer Larry Kornegay; behind them a fire bowl filled with volcanic lava rock emits a soft glow.
The homeowners chose outdoor furnishings with teal cushions to match the pool’s blue finish as well as the color of a ceramic piece on the north side of the pool called Three Columns, crafted by Elizabeth MacDonald. To its right is a bronze by Sophie Ryder titled Lady Hare With Dog. A rebar fence replaced a portion of the wall, opening the space to the landscape beyond. Chicken wire covers the bottom half to keep rabbits at bay.


Above left: This rusted-metal fence once was used as a conveyor belt at a local factory. The refurbished piece by Phoenix artist Kevin Caron hides the pool equipment and provides a unique background for lady’s slipper plants (Pedilanthus macrocarpus). Above right:  Impressive by night with its fire bowl aglow, the east side of the yard is just as striking during the day, with its elevation changes, flagstone planter, splash of terra-cotta wall color, and bright-red wok pots set in niches. Mexican fencepost cacti and Angelita daisies add to the drama.

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