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For The Garden

A Yard for Entertaining

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: December, 2013, Page 100
Photos by  Art Holeman

A copper fire bowl that doubles as a water feature was incorporated into the design of this new pool and elevated spa. Nearby, pine, citrus and elm trees form a privacy barrier, while Arabian jasmine and coral fountain offer color and fragrance.

A Home Makeover Sparks a Dramatic Backyard Renovation for a Couple Who Loves to Entertain

When Candy and Jim Unruh purchased their Paradise Valley, Arizona, home in 1998, its landscape included more grass than their previous residence in Philadelphia. “That much lawn made no sense to us living in the desert, so we replaced some of it with xeriscape during two minor landscape renovations,” she says.

Unfortunately, the backyard also suffered from poorly placed hardscape elements, dated materials and blocked views. It lacked functional covered patio space, and roots from a mature ficus tree near a cabana continued to undermine the swimming pool, spa and water feature, necessitating multiple repairs over the years. The only solution was to eliminate all of them, including the tree.

In 2011, the couple began discussing a major home renovation with general contractor Cal Christiansen, which in turn led to a complete backyard makeover. Christiansen; landscape architect Greg Trutza, ASLA; architectural designer Alan Linhart; and Kim E. Gwozdz, ASID, an interior/exterior designer who had worked with the Unruhs on other projects, collaborated on the transformation. The couple was excited by a plan to give the exterior of the slump-block house a Santa Barbara look and carry the concept to the landscape, Unruh recalls.

Matching travertine tile was laid inside and out for a seamless flow between home and yard. Landscape architect Greg Trutza changed the finish on the outdoor tile for safety. “I require stone fabricators to apply an acid etch or a sandblasted finish to certain types of stone to avoid the feeling of stepping on a banana peel with wet feet,” he remarks.
The homeowners asked Trutza, a Phoenix Home & Garden Master of the Southwest, for varied outdoor living spaces to accommodate intimate gatherings as well as groups of up to 100 people. “The overall goal was to create a new pool and spa with usable deck spaces,” describes Trutza. “Other than perimeter trees, we removed everything in order to start with a clean slate. I designed each area with a function to match the homeowners’ specific needs and added multiple terraces and new stairways to utilize all portions of the yard.”

“Large parties can be difficult to manage if spaces are not connected, but Greg’s plan allows it all to flow comfortably,” Unruh says. “His layout created inviting spaces where people naturally gather, such as a pub table and chairs near the bar and quiet spots for tea and conversation.”

The landscape architect also removed the remaining lawn, which achieved a significant reduction in water use. He repurposed the area with an artificial-grass putting green for hosting friendly competitions. “The putting green has helped my husband’s golf game, but not mine,” admits the avid golfer somewhat ruefully.

For new plantings, the homeowners requested low-maintenance, low-water-use options that tolerate desert heat. “I also asked Greg for bright color and flowers to attract butterflies and hummingbirds,” she notes.

“The plant palette leans toward a Mediterranean style, with low-water-use choices that tolerate the rocky soil,” Trutza acknowledges. Bold accent plants such as Agave weberii contrast with the softer appearance of groundcovers like Dalea greggii. Flowering hibiscus and coral fountain (Russelia equisetiformis) provide bright splashes of color in the pool area.

Unruh says she is delighted that Trutza found a suitable spot to tuck in a small rose garden that is visible from the kitchen window. “Greg’s choices transformed our vision into reality,” she acknowledges. “It’s now a joy to sit outside and enjoy the desert environment.”

Deck areas are balanced with planting beds for color and visual interest. Festive red pillows invite visitors to gather around the sunken fire pit on chilly nights. Date palms are strategically placed so as not to block views.
Gracing a covered patio used for outdoor dining is an ochre trophy pot abundantly planted with white bacopa, red snapdragons and red ivy geraniums. The blue pot pairs spiraled topiary privet with Wave petunias in red.
Imported blue and green glazed vessels overflow with colorful plants, including red tree roses, Peruvian verbena, Mexican heather and scaveola that needn’t be replaced as frequently as seasonal annuals, according to Greg Trutza. Espaliered pyracantha on a diamond-shape trellis that he designed provides winter color and enhances the view of the upper terrace’s retaining walls.

During their original home-hunting trip, Candy Unruh recalls that she was enamored with the property’s mature ficus trees. Because of the site’s protected mountainside location, these enormous ficus suffer minimal frost damage in cold winters and were retained for their sculptural interest, as well as the shade they provide.

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