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For The Garden

Flowers Gone Wild

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: October, 2013, Page 110
Photos by Michael Woodall

Arizona bluebell, brittlebush, gold Mexican poppies, red flax and multicolored toadflax drench the backyard of this garden with color. Agave americana serves as living sculpture.

Replacing Grass With Desert Plants Delivers a Blooming Landscape That Is Prime for Outdoor Living

During Hillary and Barry Goulding’s first visit to Arizona, they fell in love with the Sonoran Desert’s beauty. The couple purchased their Scottsdale home in 2005, and although the front yard was xeriscaped, plants were sparse and unremarkable. The backyard, on the other hand, included 2,000 square feet of grass, and its overall appearance seemed more East Coast than Southwest, according to the couple.

“We needed to renovate the landscape to blend with the natural surroundings,” explains Hillary. “Our goals were to create a unified desert landscape from front to back, as well as enhance the limited outdoor living area,” adds Barry. They sought assistance from landscape designer César Mazier, a Phoenix Home & Garden Master of the Southwest.

Dividing the project into three phases over five years, Mazier ultimately removed all of the grass and added a visual feast of colorful, waterwise plants. He expanded the patio for more spacious seating and dining arrangements, and installed a custom gas fire pit to complement the existing swimming pool, stone fireplace and barbecue.

Mazier also laid 3-foot-wide permeable pathways to meander throughout the landscape, lining them with colorful drifts of wildflowers and perennials. He constructed pathways using compacted quarter-inch minus Madison Gold gravel.

“I incorporated existing Mediterranean palms (background) into the design because they evoke the idea of water near the swimming pool and provide screening,” says César Mazier. The wok-style pot contains spineless blind prickly pear (Opuntia rufida). Desert marigold blooms off and on year-round.
The designer then strategically placed various cacti and succulent specimens to provide dramatic living sculpture along paths or to frame views. “It was a pleasure to discuss layout with Hillary, as she has an artistic eye and envisions design potential,” Mazier comments.

The Gouldings relish the outdoor living opportunities their revamped landscape offers. “The paths lead to seating cul-de-sacs that provide spots to think, read, or sip a glass of wine at sunset,” remarks Hillary. Barry serves as grill master when friends and family share a meal surrounded by desert flora and fauna. The backyard is now so inviting that one son proposed to his girlfriend on the fireplace hearth and another son’s wedding took place on the patio.

After installation was complete in 2011, the couple put the finishing touch on their landscape by scattering wildflower seeds in October, the best month for sowing. [For tips on growing wildflowers, see Page 118.] “The next spring, wildflowers greeted us with a symphony of colors,” Barry recalls. Although not on drip irrigation, desert marigold, lupine, Mexican poppies, penstemon and toadflax respond to winter rains, bursting forth with spring floral displays. “We didn’t realize they would reseed so prolifically, and the color they continue to provide has been a special bonus,” Hillary notes.

Despite adding numerous plant varieties to the renovated landscape, the Gouldings’ water use dropped dramatically after the grass was removed. “We appreciate César’s horticultural knowledge and artistry,” says Barry. “He surrounded us with colorful plantings that provide for desert creatures, while conserving water.”

The landscape designer built low walls of cultured stone veneer along the walkway and added stone to the home’s facade to tie the spaces together. He also transplanted palo brea trees, pink Parry’s penstemon and aloe for a relatively carefree but colorful yard.

Mexican poppies sown in fall put forth a slew of blooms come spring.
Grass was removed, 200 tons of fill dirt added, and a low retaining wall built to extend useable patio space. Cantera tile creates visual flow from one area to the next.

The original landscape held one ocotillo. The homeowners liked its foliage, even when not in bloom, so they asked the designer to incorporate more of them around the landscape. The evergreen hedge in the background is comprised of hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa), a desert shrub that can be shaped as a privacy screen.
Wildflowers, Agave americana, saguaro, orange jubilee and ocotillo create a lively desert vignette of texture, form and color. The garden draws so many hummingbirds that the homeowners say they don’t need to hang feeders to attract them. Plant trimming is performed with hand tools, never with hedge trimmers, to maintain a natural look, says Hillary Goulding.

Potted toothpick cacti flank a fireplace near a bistro table.

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