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For The Garden

Tucson Patio Garden

Author: Nancy Erdmann
Issue: July, 2013, Page 110
Photos by Michael Woodall

The dated pool at this Tucson-area home took up most of the backyard, so landscape designer Elizabeth Montgomery reduced its size, refinished the interior with black Pebble Tec® and added glass tile to the spa’s spillway.



Playful Colors, Clean Lines and Rustic Materials Reinvigorate a Desert Landscape

Nine years ago, when Carolyn Corwin and Dick Brammel bought their winter home in Oro Valley, just north of Tucson, the North Dakota residents were captivated by the spectacular desert flora, beautiful views of the Catalina Mountains and the area’s “casual, creative environment.” But when it came to their own “very beige” landscape in the planned community where they live, the two weren’t nearly as excited.

“We had no front patio, and the small backyard had a large lagoon-style pool with a spa and waterfall, and old shrubbery and dated lighting,” Corwin recalls. “We wanted a colorful, contemporary desert landscape that was low-water-use, low-maintenance and low-litter. We also wanted a warm and welcoming front entry, with a seating area to encourage outdoor living so that when the back is too sunny in the morning, we can enjoy our shaded front yard.”

The couple attended a gardening seminar sponsored by their homeowners’ association and featuring landscape designer Elizabeth Montgomery. “We liked her enthusiasm and fun personality, and we decided to hire her,” says Corwin. “The three of us brainstormed, and then Elizabeth presented us with a hardscape design we loved.” Montgomery’s goal was to create more outdoor living space with multiple areas in which to relax and entertain.

Beginning in the front yard, she added a low wall with built-in banco seating to define the patio, yet still allow existing vegetation to act as a verdant backdrop. A palette of easy-care cacti and succulents fills beds and pots, and a glass mosaic wall piece adds shimmer and shine.

A new seating area adjacent to the now-smaller pool includes cushioned seat walls, equipal chairs and a teak bench. The linear gas fire pit is filled with glass chips and fireballs—some made of terra cotta. A metal shield was added to protect the flames from the wind.
Visitors can relax outside or head inside the house, which is filled with color and personality, thanks to Corwin, who has a knack for design. But what really stands out are the views. “Almost all of the rooms face the backyard, so the mountains, plantings and other exterior elements are dominant in our home,” she says.

One of the first changes Montgomery made was to the pool. “It was too big and disproportional to the house and space,” she remembers. The homeowners wanted a smaller pool that would require less water, be easier to heat for occasional winter use, and allow more room in the yard for other activities.

“We removed the waterfall, updated the spa, and took 20 feet off the pool,” Montgomery explains. “Then we created a smaller swimming pool, which opened up the entire space.” Glass tile set around the spa’s edge reflects the color of the sky and adds an updated feel to the yard. Low walls that are painted a soft blue provide seating on either side of a fire feature. Benches, chairs, a dining table and a moveable bar were arranged to create mini outdoor rooms.

“Now they have another eating area, another living room, and another reading room,” Montgomery reflects. “If feels like we added 1,500 square feet to the home.”

Views of the Catalina Mountain range can be enjoyed from the covered outdoor dining area. The metal fencing keeps the critters out but the views in.

“Our homeowners’ association requires a 3-foot-high wall if there is to be furniture in the front yard,” Corwin notes. This wall doubles as a backdrop for banco seating.
A wooden bar and Carta Blanca beverage cooler bring south-of-the-border flavor to the backyard.


What appears to be a fountain is actually a gradient glass mosaic tile panel that was installed in a frame and hung on a wall of the entry courtyard. “The inspiration for this came from Elizabeth, and I did the footwork,” says Carolyn Corwin, who found the tile online. Lady’s slipper plants (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) and black beach pebbles add a finishing touch.
Inviting decor that reflects the couple’s love of the Southwest gussies up an exterior “hallway” just off the front courtyard. The security doors were designed by Corwin and feature blooming ocotillo stalks; they were fabricated by Tucson artist James Meador. A rusted-metal saguaro provides a sculptural element. The sand-color pavers contain little flecks of shells.
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