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For The Garden

Western Retreat

Author: Susan Regan
Issue: April, 2012, Page 70
Photos by Michael Woodall

To fulfill the homeowner’s desire for a lush backyard that incorporates the element of water, Larry and Peggy De La Garza devised an area with terraced planters and a stream that flows under a low-rising brick bridge (bottom right). Peggy explains that defining and creating subtle elevation changes accentuates the surroundings by leading the eye toward the horizon. She planted low-growing greenery to soften the hardscape without blocking views or encroaching on the walkways; an existing mesquite tree provides shade.


A Renovated Desert Property Offers Regional Elements and Panoramic Views

If a picture is worth a thousand words, John Samatas only needs one word to sum up the reason he decided to purchase this 9-acre north Scottsdale parcel: Views.

“The lot I bought will have unobstructed views forever,” he says of the land’s 360-degree vistas of the Phoenix area, Pinnacle Peak and the McDowell Mountains. Samatas built a house there in the late ’90s to reflect his Western leanings but left the landscape largely untouched. “The backyard was basically an extension of the desert, with stones and cactus,” he recalls.

Ten years later, with the addition of grandchildren and the hope of soon relocating from Chicago to Arizona full time, he decided to undertake a major remodel that was overseen by architect and project manager Steve Benitez. Struck by the landscaping done by Peggy and Larry De La Garza of Trademark Landscape at a nearby house, Samatas called the couple and brought them on board to overhaul the grounds.

Peggy says she was excited the first time she saw the lot and began to envision its full potential. To accommodate the homeowner’s wishes, the design team came up with a three-pronged approach: Create resortlike spaces near the house, add and update water features, and integrate desert plantings throughout. “This is lush landscape near the home that transitions into lush desert and Sonoran Desert beyond,” explains Peggy. She notes that in addition to salvaging existing vegetation, they brought in many more species; she speculates that the grounds now contain thousands of plants. Most are frost-hardy and drought-tolerant once established.

To incorporate more family-friendly areas and water features, Larry overhauled the property’s hardscape. This included expanding the entry courtyard, updating the pool and spa, and adding a streamlike water feature in the backyard that meanders under a bridge, around patios and over terraced boulders.

With views of the Phoenix area beyond, this raised circular fire pit with teepee-style faux logs and a crushed-glass band is surrounded by banco seating that offers a place to relax and enjoy the scenery. To unify the space, Larry De La Garza used a stucco finish for the fire pit and bancos similar to the one used on the house.
Boulders are the centerpiece of the design; more than 250 tons of hand-selected rocks were placed throughout the lot. Larry says he visualized a “drawing” in his head showing where each boulder would go and how it would blend into an area. “I look for boulders that will best fit into the natural setting. They need to be weathered and look like they’ve been sitting there for a while,” he comments.

“I didn’t want to disturb the integrity of the desert,” notes Samatas. The homeowner explains that he wanted the revamped landscape to reflect the lot’s natural appearance yet also offer pockets of lush Southwestern plantings and waterscapes. The finished project was exactly what he had hoped for—a peaceful retreat surrounded by the Sonoran Desert.



“I told Peggy I ordered a big horse,” homeowner John Samatas jokes of this rusted-metal stallion, which stands approximately 15 feet tall. To minimize its height, De La Garza nestled the sculpture among specimen-size cacti, including three large saguaros.
Plenty of greenery, including birds of paradise and sago palms, lends a lush feel to the renovated entry courtyard. A walkway that spans the water feature connects the motor court to the front door.


A palo brea tree adds sculptural interest to this side patio. Seating is crafted of fiberglass.
Enthusiastic about all things Western, John Samatas already owned several pieces of Wild West memorabilia when he decided to update his property. The landscape designers affixed this wooden gate, which is outfitted with wagon wheels and a sun-bleached skull, to a side wall. A mesquite tree in the rear is one of a pair that flanks the garage.


For pops of color, carved cantera planters such as this one were filled with mixes of succulents and placed throughout the property.
An existing mesquite tree was used to highlight the property’s mountain views. Larry De La Garza designed a terraced water feature, which is accented with hand-selected boulders and a ceramic urn. The design team also revamped the existing pool by adding an outcropping of boulders (background) over which water cascades before spilling into the pool.

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