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Going Native: A Tucson Garden at Its Best

Author: Nancy Erdmann
Issue: January, 2011, Page 110
Photos by Richard Maack

Landscape designer Elizabeth Przygoda wove live ocotillo branches through the “stalks” of a metal ocotillo fence to resonate with the surrounding desert terrain.

A nondescript Tucson landscape BECOMES A desert Garden of Eden

Belgium-born Dominique Lunt has lived in the desert Southwest for 20 years—many of them on a remote ranch in southern Arizona—yet she has never lost her fascination for the Sonoran Desert and its raw beauty.

Nine years ago, she and her husband moved to Tucson and bought a spec home on 3.3 acres. With a property that offers views of the Rincon Mountains and vistas stretching the breadth of the property, the couple easily could have been satisfied with their surroundings. But a desire to add a pool and guest house, along with the subsequent loss of existing vegetation during construction, spurred them on. With help from landscape designer Elizabeth Przygoda, plans for a low-water-use landscape soon developed.

Przygoda, who owns Boxhill Landscape Design, was featured as a Phoenix Home & Garden “Young Gun” in 2008. “I was aware of Elizabeth’s knowledge and propensity for native plants, and she understood my intention to create a xeriscape, ” Lunt says. Przygoda  was referred by interior designer CJ Volk, who “contributed a wonderful sense of color and style to the fabrics in our ramada,” adds Lunt.

The landscape designer was energized by the challenge and the fact that a few good plant specimens remained on the lot. “We still had two huge beautiful mesquites, several saguaros of substantial height and native barrel cacti,” she recalls. “My goal was to re-create and replace the natural landscape and make it better. We wanted this outdoor space to be a desert Garden of Eden.”

The entry to this Santa Fe-style house hints at the natural ambience the homeowners desired for their Tucson garden.
After spending time with the Lunts, Przygoda came up with a mood board and conceptual drawing. “The mood board has fabric, color choices, furniture selections, pots and accessories, and the style and theme of the overall design are generated from these choices,” she says. “Dominique has great taste, and we did almost everything together.”

The landscape designer filled the grounds with golden barrel cactus, blue glow agave, desert milkweed, native mesquite and blue palo verde. “I love when I have clients that really love the look of natural desert. This garden is so colorful with its native plants,” she remarks. “Desert colors can imitate those in a Monet painting, subtle and gorgeous. This is natural lush desert at its best.”

Other changes include the addition of meandering flagstone pathways, cozy sitting areas, a living ocotillo fence, desert-themed mosaic art, and a rustic-style barbecue with a crank that lowers the grill to the flame.

One of Lunt’s favorite places is the backyard ramada. Affectionately called the “Ramadama” or “The Pleasure Palace,” it includes Mediterranean and Indian influences. Its cushioned banco features a glass-mosaic kick plate by artist Robin Riley that was inspired by Moroccan-style fabrics covering accent pillows.

“It’s very romantic out here,” says Lunt. “And at dusk, when the garden lights come on, and with the expansive views, it is absolutely magical.”

A wide expanse of flagstone bordered by desert flora leads from the back patio to the lower pool area. Golden barrel cacti packed neatly in a glazed pot are a focal point in the well-planted yard.

A Moroccan-themed ramada with banco seating and a brick floor is accented with potted plants designed by container gardener Marylee Pangman. Tin stars hang from above.
Artist Robin Riley created several mosaics that grace the garden’s walls.

The green agave mosaic appears on the front courtyard fountain.
Clockwise from top left: A view looking toward the guest house includes an extra-wide swimming pool that allows the homeowners to practice rolling their kayak. • Elizabeth Przygoda designed this rustic-looking fire pit to rotate, so that the flames can be protected from strong mountain winds.  The low wall doubles as a display area for potted plants and a ledge for sitting. • Globe mallow, golden barrel and lantana planted around a boulder present a striking vignette. • To keep a sense of place, the homeowners wanted native plants. The landscape designer incorporated flowering native trees, shrubs, ground covers and ornamental grasses. Pathways with hidden destinations also were integrated.

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