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For The Garden

African-Style Desert Garden

Author: Roberta Landman
Issue: October, 2013, Page 104
Photos by Michael Woodall

This remodeled patio afforded Ann and Rjay Lloyd many amenities, including an outdoor living room decorated with exotic art and accessories they obtained in Africa. Fitted with a tongue-and-groove rough-sawn cedar ceiling, the roof overhang keeps interior rooms shaded from the western sun, notes landscape designer Morgan Holt. The tall cabinet against the wall conceals a TV. Ann made the chairs’ orange-print toss-pillow covers from a colorful table runner.

Treasured Memories of the Dark Continent Inspire an Arizona Backyard Redo

A glittering colored-glass wallhanging on Ann and Rjay Lloyd’s expansive patio features the word Vuyatela. It is the name of a resort they stayed at in South Africa. “In the Afrikaans language, vuyatela means ‘come visit again,’” says Ann.

The art piece is a reminder of a special family trip, full of outdoor adventures and safaris. It was so much fun that the Lloyds decided to bring a sense of the African sojourn to their own backyard. Executing their plan became a family affair, with Ann’s sister, interior designer Lynn Stoner, coming down from Utah to help add magical touches.

Overseeing it all was landscape designer Morgan Holt, a Phoenix Home & Garden Master of the Southwest. He was engaged to provide outdoor niceties for adults and children alike, and, importantly, to refurbish a tired landscape suffering from drainage woes. Noticing African art inside the home, and charmed by it, Holt was delighted to carry the theme outdoors. In fact, he was so inspired that, with help from a Canadian artisan, he crafted an outdoor dining room table made of African bubinga tree wood. Impala horns cling to the table’s base.

But before that would come to pass, there needed to be a dining area. The former patio, located off the kitchen and great room, lacked the depth to make it a comfortable venue for alfresco meals, relaxing and entertaining. “The patio was too narrow for a dining table,” notes Ann. At 12 feet wide and 65 feet long, “It was a bowling alley,” Holt says, a space without any definable seating places.

A trio of pots lends color and texture to a patio corner. The bowl in the foreground contains blue salvia, poppies and gerber daisies; the center pot holds slipper plant and rosemary; and the tall pot features a Yucca pendula preparing to bloom.
To remedy the situation, the old patio and its shallow overhang were demolished. Designed by Holt, today’s version—with its deep, new shade-giving roof—retains its 65 feet of length but was extended outward to 20 feet wide. “With this, we could make several rooms,” explains the landscape designer. Included in this well-defined space are both dining and seating areas.

“The biggest surprise was the vast expanse of our new patio addition,” Ann relates. “It brought our yard and pool closer to the home, resulting in a more livable, cozy environment.”

Other changes included removing badly performing trees. In the backyard, for example, rows of ficus trees planted to provide privacy, were subject to freezes, and often lost their leaves. The queen palms, too, were affected by frost and looked burned and brown in spring and bleached out in summer. He replaced these varieties with Texas ebony and desert ironwood. “These trees don’t lose much leaf, and they don’t freeze here; so they provide year-round screening.”

Fun for all in this outdoor wonderland are a putting green, bocce ball court, resort-like swimming pool, a new fire pit, and an existing ramada redecorated in the spirit of Africa. 

Desert ironwood trees and various desert vegetation form the backdrop for this inviting area. “The pool was existing, but we redid the deck behind it and added space for the new fire pit, which is automated,” explains Morgan Holt. “At night, the fire pit is reflected in the pool.” Glass and ceramic tiles clad the fire feature's side; its top is water-polished black slate.

The existing ramada was gutted and given an African safari theme. A new TV enclosure that was built over the fireplace is a fun focal point. The homeowners brought its doors back from South Africa. New counter-high cabinets are accented with an African-inspired backsplash of glass and ceramic tiles. And space was left open for a pool table, a favorite for the grandchildren, says Ann Lloyd.
Backing up to a refurbished section of a once-unattractive wash, the new fire pit is enhanced by Mexican fencepost cacti and a mound of yellow-blooming damianita.

The grilling area’s backsplash is a colorful mix of glass and ceramic tiles. Perched atop it are miniature carved wood animals from Africa.
Landscaping at the home's existing entry water feature was revitalized with colorful desert plants, including yellow damianita.

Before the creation of this outdoor grilling area, the former barbecue was situated where it disturbed a view of the pool, recalls Morgan Holt, and it lacked seating. Now, barbecuing is done in style, with chairs around a long bubinga dining table as well as an umbrella-shaded area beyond. The blue pot contains a mature slipper plant.

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