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For The Garden

The Zen Garden

Author: Nancy Erdmann
Issue: February, 2013, Page 112
Photos by Michael Woodall

A private Zen garden awaits the homeowners in their entry courtyard, where blooming perennials such as orange-flowering Mexican honeysuckle create a naturalistic setting.

A Busy Couple Infuses Their Garden With an Asian Sensibility

For 17 years, a Phoenix couple lived in a neighborhood they adored. When a house owned by friends two doors down unexpectedly went on the market in 2006, the couple offered to buy it the next day. “The sellers cautioned us, ‘You don’t want to buy this house; it needs so much work,’” the pair recalls. But it was the location and view that attracted them, and the two saw “tremendous potential” in their new home.

Both busy professionals, the husband and wife embrace Asian and Southwestern design for their use of natural materials. “We wanted something simple, but with beautifully designed details, a home that would blend our styles,” says the woman of the house. The couple hired Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest—architect Gordon Rogers, AIA, and landscape architect Donna Winters of Enchanted Garden Landscape—and got to work.

Rogers gutted the main residence and a small guest house, added some square footage and renovated the structures. Subtle architectural details, such as hand-cast roof tiles, Japanese shoji screens and Craftsman-style lamps and furnishings, combine to give the home the feel of Japanese minka houses, notes the husband. Minka, he explains, are small-scale dwellings designed to open to the outdoors by way of sliding panels, or shoji screens.

Drawn to nature and simple living, the couple desired a garden that would be an extension of their indoor space, and Winters used her magic to make their dreams come true. “Our priority was to create an outdoor living room that was organic and naturalistic and a respite from the hurried pace of the lives of the homeowners,” she explains. “They wanted beautiful, low-maintenance surroundings and year-round color to attract hummingbirds and butterflies.”

When the house was rebuilt, all rooms facing the garden were designed with full-height sliding glass doors and windows to provide unimpeded views of the garden, say the homeowners. “Since the main house is not that large to begin with, our garden is an extension of our living space,” adds the husband.
Since the home has a Zen quality, she chose plants that would reinforce the Asian sensibility. Such flora includes black bamboo, heavenly bamboo, liriope and rain lilies. For aesthetic appeal, Winters used stabilized granite to replace concrete pathways, and grouped boulders in traditional arrangements to reflect the “calmness and grounding of a Zen garden,” she relates.

The plant mix is eclectic, including both desert-adapted species and exotics. “Over the next growing season, we will add more desert wildflowers and milkweeds to provide additional food and cover for butterflies and hummingbirds,” says the husband.

As the garden has matured, it has been colonized by rock squirrels, lizards, geckos, Indra butterflies and a seasonal procession of birds, all of which are good indicators of a healthy environment, he notes. “The garden is our refuge from city life. We do most of our serious cooking on the barbecue grill and spend many hours reading, eating, talking and birdwatching in the garden, whether sitting in the outdoor dining area or inside at our kitchen table.”

“This garden,” comments Winters, “was created to remove the stresses of the day and celebrate the seasons. It is a sanctuary that allows the homeowners to step into the natural world and all of its wonders.”

Builder Joe Costello constructed the entry gate to the courtyard with a peek-a-boo window that offers a glimpse of the garden beyond. Soleri bells chime to announce visitors as they enter.

"This stone is like a mirror,” says the woman of the house. “It reflects the mood that our garden inspires in visitors. For some, the face appears happy; to others it is contemplative; and on hot summer days it is just sleepy.” ‘Lady in Red’ salvia grows beside it, notes Patricia Rossi, who worked closely with Donna Winters
on the project.
Striped gazania and paper-thin Icelandic poppies are tucked throughout the garden.

Photos - Clock-wise from top left: The existing tiered fountain was refurbished and its basin was retiled to create and set the mood for the garden, according to Winters. • Bougainvillea-draped walls provide the backdrop for the home’s entry, where a turquoise “benchalope”—designed and named by architect Gordon Rogers and made by Arlon Lewis, a Phoenix Home & Garden Master of the Southwest—provides a unique touch. A coordinating planter filled with river rock holds a spray of bamboo branches and spiky metal flowers in blue. • A daybed on the covered patio is illuminated by a floor lamp with paper shades that “evoke both Japanese lanterns and the moon,” the man of the house remarks. “It sways in the breeze like the branches of the shoestring acacia tree in the foreground.” • Shoji screens behind sliding glass doors open to this peaceful courtyard setting. “We did not want the garden to appear too formal or structured,” say the homeowners. To create positive and negative spaces, the landscape architect massed different plant forms and textures, such as the grasslike Agave geminiflora.
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