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For The Garden

The Christmas Garden

Author: Nancy Erdmann
Issue: December, 2012, Page 96
Photos by Art Holeman

A vigorous bloomer, Bougainvillea ‘La Jolla’ fills the front yard of Marlene and Kevin Grimsley’s Paradise Valley, Arizona, home.



An Elegant Palette of Greens and Reds Brings Holiday Cheer to a European-Style Xeriscape Garden

It may not have been planned this way, but in December, when the festive season is upon us, Marlene and Kevin Grimsley’s garden explodes with holiday color. With its tapestry of brilliant-red bougainvilleas, rows of clipped green holly bushes, and Christmas tree-shaped junipers, the stage is set for entertaining.

“Every year we kick off the holiday season and get everyone in the Christmas spirit by hosting a Thanksgiving Day celebration,” says Marlene Grimsley. “When it’s time to eat, everyone fights over the sitting areas in the courtyard because that’s where the fireplace and water feature are.”

Two years ago, the couple hired landscape designer Thomas Park of Xerophytic Design Inc. to update the grounds. “We had a vision of what we wanted, but no landscape artist understood,” Grimsley recalls. “When I met with Thomas, it was clear he knew exactly what we were trying to accomplish. Someone finally got it.”

That vision was to create a landscape with a formal vibe to go with the home’s Old World look. “I decided to go with a combination of formal and wild to give the garden that old hillside villa feeling,” Park explains. “The goal was to take Tuscan-style plants and give them a xeriscape twist, and then mix in flowering shrubs that also have color in the leaves. We chose plants that are drought-tolerant by nature and Mediterranean in appearance.”

 Greenery and berries add festive appeal to courtyard lanterns.
In the front yard, Park planted olive trees, red fountain grass, purple plum trees, twisted myrtle, several varieties of sage and masses of La Jolla and Torch Glow bougainvilleas. “It is so intense driving up to the residence when it is in full bloom,” he says. At Christmastime, lights are strung on the olive trees, giving the garden “a very special holiday look,” according to the homeowners.

Park also updated a west-facing courtyard by making changes to the existing water feature and continuing the look of the front yard into the enclosed setting. “This is one of our favorite spots,” Grimsley remarks. “We use it as our breakfast area and also in the evenings for a cocktail before dinner. It is a true focal point viewed from our kitchen, den and master bedroom, so as we walk through our home, we see the courtyard from all angles.”

Dressed up each year for the holidays, the courtyard had its first professional makeover last year by holiday stylist Anna Leonard, who has been decking the halls of area homes for more than two decades. “We enjoyed it so much that it will now be a yearly tradition,” says Grimsley.

“Every day we walk through our garden and can’t believe how beautifully it turned out,” she remarks. “It is truly a very special place for us.”

Landscape designer Thomas Park used pavers set in a diamond pattern for the front walk. On either side are plantings of yaupon holly, petunia and blue point juniper. La Jolla bougainvillea is pruned low to grow as a groundcover.

Geraniums and alyssum fill pots accenting a stacked-stone water feature. Nearby is a statue of St. Francis of Assisi.
All dolled up for the holidays, the courtyard exudes warmth with its roaring fire, glowing candles and sparkling twinkle lights. The bougainvillea to the right of the fireplace is more than 30 years old and was trained to grow as a tree. Evergreen garlands accented with red ribbons and berries highlight the cantera fireplace and lion-faced wall fountain, both designed by Beth McGehee of Studio B. Homeowner Marlene Grimsley had the once-white dining table faux-painted. The wicker ottoman and love seat were painted black “and beat up a bit to look worn,” she notes. Flooring is concrete tumbled pavers.


A Christmas tree inside the house can be enjoyed from the courtyard, where pots are filled with seasonal color, including spiky cordyline. An evergreen topiary grows in the middle container.
In winter, pyracantha growing up a backyard wall produces clusters of scarlet-red berries. In spring, the shrubs flower in white.
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