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For The Garden

Southwest Garden

Author: Judy Harper
Issue: July, 2012, Page 78
Photos by Michael Woodall

Flagstone pavers lead the way to the inviting entry of this Sonoran Desert garden. Granite boulders hug the landscape, while an ironwood tree provides a canopy of shade over cacti, succulents and flowering lantana.

A Rocky Desert Landscape is Augmented With Masses of Boulders and Super-Sized Plants

Pushing the limits has become standard practice for Mark Wdowiak of Desert Foothills Landscape. He thrives on the challenge of getting plants to grow in difficult areas. So when a Scottsdale couple with Midwestern roots hired him to renovate their boulder-strewn yard, he was eager for the challenge.

“The lot was primarily solid rock and boulders—a logistical nightmare,” Wdowiak recalls. “It was beautiful, but they wanted to take it up a couple of notches and see its true potential.”

The property borders a golf course and is surrounded by piles of boulders scattered haphazardly over time. To blend the yard with its surroundings, Wdowiak added more boulders, and sited plants to replicate the way they grow in nature.

“There was an unbelievable amount of natural rock here, so we built up or carved out everywhere,” the landscape designer explains. “We brought in another 100 tons of boulders and then jackhammered into the rocks to get cactus to grow out of the cracks and look like they grew there naturally.”

A massive organ pipe cactus, Queen Victoria agaves and mounds of golden barrel cacti create a stately presence. “I like the golden barrels because when nothing is in bloom, their spherical shapes and golden spikes ignite the landscape with visual interest,” states landscape designer Mark Wdowiak.
Nurtured by dappled light provided by mature ironwood and sweet acacia trees, the garden flourishes. Wdowiak created vertical drama with the addition of mature vegetation such as saguaro, organ pipe and Argentine giant cacti and a variety of agaves and yuccas. He then layered the grounds with repeated plantings of purple lantana, spiky golden barrel cactus and white-haired old man cactus for continuity.

A peaceful sanctuary away from the bustle of the world beyond, the garden offers numerous places to relax. Wdowiak created intimate spaces by dividing the patio with a raised planter. Seating areas with comfortable furnishings surround the pool and raised spa, providing the perfect perch for watching hummingbirds that come to pollinate the cactus blossoms, and chuckwallas as they scamper among the boulders.

Awash in fiery golds, cool lavenders and shapely blue-green agaves, the garden is as stimulating as it is serene. Its design is also bold, clean-lined and geometric, to match the look of the home. “It’s pretty spectacular but not dizzy desert—very calming and peaceful,” concludes Wdowiak.

The homeowners like to enjoy alfresco meals at this dining area, where a stacked adobe-brick fireplace provides ambience.

A carved stone snail provides a gentle reminder to slow down and enjoy life at this peaceful poolside paradise. Boulders add visual impact and create distinct levels in the garden, which is peppered with clusters of saguaros, organ pipes and agaves. The plants are specimen size to “ground” the space, notes Mark Wdowiak. The landscape designer says it was important to understand the scale of the yard. “It’s a big space, but it feels cozy because we have repeated clusters of the same plants,” he explains. Potted geraniums offer months of color.
Placed close to the house, Martins prickly pear (Opuntia martiniana), rocks and other desert plants lend an “Old Arizona” feel to the garden.

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