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For The Garden

Botanical Beauty

Author: Nancy Erdmann
Issue: July, 2012, Page 84
Photos by Art Holeman

A sprawling bougainvillea drapes over an adobe guest house and outdoor stairway in the north-facing yard. Below blue-painted shutters are variegated Agave desmetiana and pink-flowering cranesbill geranium.



A Phoenix Homeowner Creates the Garden of Her Dreams

To say this garden is a work in progress doesn’t really tell the whole story. Although recently updated, the grounds themselves have taken on different personalities over time, beginning in the 1920s, when an adobe house was built on the acre-plus lot.

Originally raw desert, the land was transformed over the years by various gardeners and landscape designers, including landscape architect Christy Ten Eyck, whose client wanted the property to feel like “a little farm lady’s garden,” she remembers. Later, another homeowner bladed much of the property, added a lawn and created a formal garden. Today, the grounds speak to the current homeowner’s appreciation for the Sonoran Desert, its native flora and her love of gardening.

“I was born in England and spent summers on Long Island, and our family had a wonderful perennial garden,” she relates. “My first garden was a small plot of sandy soil where I tried to grow carrots. Of course, nothing grew. But being a competitive person, I don’t like to lose, and I wanted to know what happened.” Through trial and error and reading up on the subject, she began to understand what it took to make a garden grow.

About seven years ago, she moved to Arizona and discovered how different gardening is in the Southwest than in other parts of the country. “With our heat, soil and lack of rain, you have to be more selective about plants. People often buy something, then don’t have the right place to grow it properly,” she observes. “It is so important to place plants in their correct environment. And since our gardening calendar is backward from the rest of the nation, timing is crucial.”

Angelita daisies, African red flax, gaillardia and trailing purple verbena come to life beneath a pair of treelike Yucca rostratas. “When I first moved to Arizona, I was not particularly fond of yuccas,” recalls the homeowner. “Now they are one of my favorite plants.” The granite path leads to a courtyard.
To help turn her lot into something extraordinary, the homeowner brought in landscape designer César Mazier, a Phoenix Home & Garden Master of the Southwest. Having previously worked on the property, he knew the grounds well. “Although the garden’s original concept was still in place, it definitely was a challenge,” he recalls. “It was like starting from scratch again.”

Mazier came up with a plan that included revegetating the areas away from the house by incorporating native and adaptable vegetation. The entry was revamped with mesquites and palo verdes, agaves and yuccas, flowering shrubs and wildflowers. In addition, a vegetable garden was constructed with raised beds, a large potting area  and a ramada made from saguaro ribs. And, most importantly, Mazier installed a new irrigation system to individually water each plant according to its needs.

With its winding granite paths and flora carefully pruned to appear as it does in the wild, the landscape is reminiscent of a lush desert botanical garden. And it continues to flourish under the deft hands and skilled eye of the homeowner, who has taken the time to study the land, the flora and the fauna of the Sonoran Desert.

The woman of the house says she loves the color green and all its many shades, which is evident in this dynamic front-yard setting. Plants include Weber’s agave (foreground), cholla, saguaro, green desert spoon and eve’s needle (Yucca faxoniana).

A profusion of scented roses, orange-flowering nasturtiums and white-blooming freesia line a walkway in this south-facing garden. Dichondra grows between steppingstones. Beyond the blue gate is the driveway.
The pool, with its blue-green bottom, was designed years ago by landscape architect Christy Ten Eyck to “feel like you were swimming in a canal,” she says. Sweet acacia and ironwood trees provide a canopy of shade in the west-facing yard.


Surrounded by mature vegetation, the entry courtyard is a serene spot for watching the comings and goings of birds—including wild parakeets—which flock to the many feeders hanging from tree branches. A round limestone table is situated next to a wall featuring a relief carving and decorative tiles.

Clockwise from top left: In the late 1980s, when builder Jon Kitchell and architect John Douglas were restoring the home, windows made with clear glass and cellophane were discovered under the wall board. They were then replicated in other places throughout the property, using wine, water, beer and sake bottles to get a variety of colors, says the homeowner. • A 300-gallon raised pond is a healthy habitat for goldfish. To help maintain its ecosystem and provide a food source for her fish, the homeowner added water lilies and pickerel rush. The saguaro-rib ramada offers just enough sunlight for the goldfish to survive winter without any type of heat source; cold water is added in summer to keep them cool. Landscape designer Cesar Mazier found the old pump in Bisbee, Arizona. • Lady Banks’ roses trail over a wall that separates the pool area from the vegetable garden. The property has something blooming almost year-round. • Branches from a mature velvet mesquite tree create a natural canopy over the potting area. A cantera basin, once used as a planter, has been retrofitted for use as a farm-style sink. Below the stucco countertop, tea towels attached with Velcro conceal the homeowner’s garden supplies. On the wall are both vintage and modern Mexican Tonalá-style plates.

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