Subscribe Today
Give a Gift
Customer Service

For the HomeFor the GardenFood & EntertainingResourcesArticle Archive
For The Garden

Natural Wonder

Author: Judy Wade
Issue: November, 2009, Page 142
Photos by Richard Maack

A flagstone walkway leads visitors to this desert home. Plants that appear to be placed randomly actually were sited to replicate the way they grow in their natural setting.


Filled with unexpected delights, a Scottsdale garden reflects the splendor of the Sonoran Desert

ary and Richard Hormaechea wanted a garden that was “full of surprises” for their grandchildren. Landscape designer Mark Wdowiak knew exactly how to create one.

“We’ve always been very aware of—and sensitive to—the environment,” says Mary. “The property around us will always be natural. We wanted to bring that in. We created pathways with little mounds and walkways and turns and corners . . . a feeling of walking through a mini-park.”

The couple’s 14-year-old Southwest-style home sits on an acre of natural desert in north Scottsdale. The backyard looks out to what the Hormaecheas call “the big boulder pile,” a reference to The Boulders Resort that is tucked into the other side of the rock formation. That, as well as Black Mountain and a nearby golf course, adds to the stunning desert vistas.

Wdowiak, owner of Desert Foothills Landscape, along with design team member Greg Lowe, started with bare-bones landscaping and developed a long-term plan. “We started reshaping and prioritizing areas. Every year when the Hormaecheas came back for the winter, we would keep adding and upgrading,” says Wdowiak.

To meld the surrounding desertscape with the couple’s property, the design team used native flora and kept views open to The Boulders and the golf course. For added sizzle, Wdowiak expanded the plant palette, introducing exotic cacti and desert succulents from arid regions around the world. The setting remains natural, but on closer inspection there is more than meets the eye.

Planted in a shallow bowl, a night-blooming cereus cactus provides a sculptural backdrop for low-growing golden barrel cacti.
Cacti are tucked among dissimilar species to create little surprises. An Argentine giant cactus with huge night-blooming flowers, Moroccan mound, a variety of euphorbias, hybrid spineless totem pole, and columnar cacti from Mexico are among the treasures to be discovered. A favorite of the grandchildren is a cactus with “hair” on it, commonly called an old man cactus.

As with any desert setting, water is an important element. Wdowiak revamped water features that had been installed years before. At the front of the home, an in-ground boulder water feature disappears underground, then comes out on the other side of a walkway as a pond, appearing to be spring-fed.

The Hormaecheas, says Wdowiak, were willing to let their garden grow and evolve, rather than demanding a garden “right now.” Mary concurs. “We wanted to expose and enhance the natural beauty of the desert, truly letting the desert speak.”

This panoramic view (right and below) of the backyard reveals the organic nature of the grounds, with its flagstone walkways, earth-toned hues and specimen-size desert flora. Plantings include Argentine toothpick cacti, Martillo cacti, a Parry’s agave, and a variety of native prickly pears, as well as a totem pole cactus and a banana yucca.


At dusk, the sky’s soft light imparts a warm glow on the back patio. The boulder water feature, which originates under the home’s overhang, meanders down to the back of the garden and draws the eye to mountain views beyond. Pots filled with annuals, strategically placed landscape lighting and a Contemporary beehive fireplace add to the ambience.


A variety of cacti, succulents and euphorbias interspersed with boulders add interest and a natural feel to the front of the home.
The water feature becomes a focal point when observed from the back of the house. In the distance, a rock formation conceals The Boulders Resort.


A claret cup cactus is one of the many surprises the Hormaecheas appreciate in their garden.

Subscribe Today!