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For The Garden

Backyard Remodel

Author: Nancy Erdmann
Issue: August, 2012, Page 92
Photos by Art Holeman

Landscape designer Bennett McGregor designed a rusted-steel art panel as a focal point at one end of the yard.

A Long, Narrow Backyard That Was Rarely Used Gets a Dramatic Update

It’s hard to believe Daniel Meline when he says that up until 2009, he used to go into his backyard maybe five times a year. But one look at the “before” pictures he produces, and it’s pretty clear why. The grass-laden, generic landscape was dated, uninviting and unimaginative, he recalls.

“It was the original builder-installed landscape that came with the house, and we hadn’t done anything with it,” says Meline, who has lived at the Scottsdale residence with his wife, Lisa, for 14 years. “When the builder happened by, he told us he was surprised that all the old plantings were still there. That’s when it struck me that this yard could be so much more.”

In 2008, the couple added a guest house. A year later, they decided to update the grounds and sought out landscape designer Bennett McGregor—a 2009 Phoenix Home & Garden Young Gun—to do the work. While modifications were made to the front yard, including the removal of grass and the addition of a colorful desert plant palette, the biggest change took place in the backyard.

“We have a long, skinny backyard with a pool on one end that used to be fenced in for our kids. The plants were so dense that it felt claustrophobic, and there was no depth to the yard,” Meline remarks. “We wanted to create an outdoor living room with different elements and make it more functional and interesting.”

The main seating area is situated in the middle of the backyard and contains an alfresco kitchen. Nearby is a stainless steel wall fountain designed by McGregor. Dichondra grows between flagstone pavers.
For McGregor, the project posed a number of difficulties. “The biggest challenge was how to establish the feeling of a large, open garden in a long, narrow space without it feeling crowded, overstuffed or cluttered,” he recalls. “We wanted to have several intimate areas, but still be able to see from one end to the other.”

Careful attention to how the spaces were sited allowed the yard to flow and feel expansive, McGregor explains. “Low- and mid-level plants were grouped together to define and complement the garden, but not grow too big to stop the eye from finding and enjoying the other spaces.”
A rusted-steel sculpture at the far end of the pool draws the eye from the guest house across the landscape. In between are raised beds, sitting areas, an outdoor kitchen and a water feature.

Still a work in progress, the backyard soon will be outfitted with “zero-horizon” umbrellas that provide shade but don’t block views. The homeowners also are planning to add lighting, misting and music systems.

“This is not a cookie-cutter yard,” says Meline, a gardening enthusiast who recently started growing exotic tropical fruits in his yard.  “The front yard looks normal, but the back is so unusual and different. What I like most is to see people’s reactions. When friends see it, the first word that comes out of their mouths is ‘Nice.’”

Top Row - Pink verbena and desert marigold are tucked into small planting pockets in the paving. A boulder water feature redesigned with a cantilevered glass-tile ledge produces a sheer-descent waterfall.

Bottom Row - A boring wall was brought to life with rusted-steel box planters designed by Bennett McGregor and filled with ocotillos and Mexican evening primrose. Squares and circles are repeating themes in the garden, he notes. •  “The entry to a backyard is very important,” remarks the landscape designer. “It is the opening scene of the garden you’re about to experience.” Here, flagstone pavers guide visitors past exotic tropical edibles that include everything from goji berries and strawberry guava to dragon fruit and lychee trees. Planting creeping fig vine on the perimeter walls resulted in a living wall of greenery that surrounds and softens the entire backyard. A tree aloe (Aloe dichotoma) looks like a work of art.

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