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For The Garden

Revamped Patio

Author: Nancy Erdmann
Issue: May, 2013, Page 100
Photos by Michael Woodall

Landscape designer Morgan Holt came up with the idea for an overhead structure with adjustable Sunbrella shade panels that can be easily opened or closed, as well as removed for washing.



A Tired-Looking Patio Gets a New Look and Ambience to Boot

Great things often come in small packages, and Joan and Brian Hughson’s revamped patio is no exception. In 2010, the Canadian couple bought an 1,800-square-foot home in Scottsdale as a refuge from the cold. But first, work needed to be done on the backyard in keeping with the couple’s newly renovated interiors.

“The patio was a concrete jungle, with a hodgepodge of different materials, a few plants, and an old spa and fountain,” the homeowners recall. The not-so-pretty raised spa sat in the middle of the yard and a fountain did not suit the space. The couple envisioned an interesting, low-maintenance environment where they could relax with friends, cook and enjoy alfresco meals. After meeting with landscape designer Morgan Holt, a Phoenix Home & Garden Master of the Southwest, a plan materialized.

“We told Morgan we wanted lots of color, something that would remind us in no uncertain terms that we were not in Canada,” Brian muses. On their wish list were dining and cooking areas, a fireplace and a water feature. It also was important that the yard tie in with the Spanish Colonial-style interiors and the home’s architecture. Holt’s challenge was to make all this happen seamlessly in the tight quarters that defined their L-shaped space.

Since HOA rules do not permit paint on shared walls, Morgan Holt constructed a second wall with a cutout to frame climbing fig vines, and added a layer of lime-based paint in a bold shade of orange. Talavera tiles were used for the calla lilly mural on the curved wall of the fountain. Cantera tops the water feature’s seat wall.
After the yard was gutted, a cooking area was constructed next to the kitchen window, which now serves as a handy pass-through. Decorative Mexican tiles frame the window and extend to a newly added barbecue. Holt came up with the idea for an overhead framework that helps define the dining area and serves as a support for movable fabric panels that can be opened or closed, depending on the weather. To bring in color and further define the space, he constructed a stand-alone wall with an opening and painted the structure bright orange.

Originally, the homeowners looked out from their family room to a table and chairs. Now, a Spanish-style fountain designed by Holt provides a powerful focal point. Its Talavera tiles add Southwest flavor and the trickling water adds to the Zenlike feel of the yard. With the spa removed, space became available for a third setting; so a fireplace was constructed just high enough to make a statement but still be within the homeowners’ association rules. Low-water-use plants provide the finishing touch.

The Hughsons say the new patio is like an extension of their interiors and that it has almost doubled their total living space. “This is our own private oasis,” says Joan. “Our little Heaven on Earth. It’s like Shangri-La.”

Sun-loving slipper plant (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) shows off its shape in a patterned Talavera pot.

A hanging trellis breaks up a long wall and serves as a support for a fragrant star jasmine. Wispy, aromatic lavender grows nearby. A green lime-based paint was used on the wall and will patina over time to look rustic and weathered.
The main entertaining area is located in a corner of the patio, which is anchored by a Spanish Colonial-style fireplace set at an angle. This allows the fire to be seen from two sides of the yard and creates space behind it for a tree to screen views of the neighboring yard, explains Morgan Holt. Flooring is cantera, which Holt says weathers better than Saltillo.


Plants such as orange jubilee, citrus, pygmy date palms and a pink-flowering Hong Kong orchid tree create a tropical atmosphere and help soften the hardscape.

Creative Ideas For Your Patio
To gain extra seating in a small space, consider incorporating a seat wall around the perimeter of a fountain.

Using black plaster for the basin of a water feature creates negative space and adds mystery, as the bottom can’t be seen. It also acts as a mirror, reflecting back such elements as tile work, trees or sunlight.

To break up the expanse of a wall, hang decorative trellises and pair them with lacy, low-growing vines that will climb around but not over them.
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