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For The Garden

Mountainside Garden

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: June, 2014, Page 108
photography by Art Holeman

The front patio at this Carefree, Arizona, home provides a wonderful opportunity to visually connect with desert and mountain surroundings, notes landscape architect Donna Winters. Plants were installed to “enframe” the visual corridors and blend contiguously with distant views.



With Smart Planning, a Dramatic Setting Retains Its Unique Character

“Patience is a virtue,” counsels an old adage. The owner of this Carefree, Arizona, property evidently found that advice easy to follow. “I’ve owned this property since 1978 and I knew that someday I would live here,” she says.

Located on a mountainside studded with distinctive granite outcroppings and boulders, the steep lot fortunately contained a natural flat pad that was suitable for a home site. Over the years, the owner had enjoyed exploring the property, walking around the boulders and appreciating its native flora. In 2010, she and her husband started building their dream home on it.

“We wanted the architecture to have an Old World appearance, with surface textures and colors agreeing with the site’s boulders,” the wife comments. “Our goal was to have the house disappear into the side of the mountain, as if it had been there forever.”

The entry stairs, whether ascended or descended, lead to dramatic focal points. Oversized pots help designate spots to stop and enjoy the view. The blue palo verde tree at right provides a billowy umbrella of yellow flowers each spring.
It was equally important that landscaped areas meld with the mountain. The couple had admired the work of landscape architect Donna Winters of Enchanted Garden Landscape, and sought her expertise. Winters, a Phoenix Home & Garden Master of the Southwest, integrated the landscape with the site, in part, by judiciously incorporating additional boulders and stone.

The 14-foot rise in elevation between the driveway and front door offered an unusual challenge. The homeowners did not want an architectural entrance and instead requested a flowing and natural walkway. Winters designed a plant-rich route that encourages people to slow down and partake of the visual feast. “Boulders and stone entrance steps help retain the dramatic changes in elevation while blending in a natural and intimate way with the existing mountainside in color and texture,” explains the designer.

“Donna laid out the walk and landings with directional changes that guide you to see what she wants you to see, such as magnificent old ironwood trees or the colors of a distant mountain,” says the man of the house. “The extra boulders she embedded along this walk create a continuous visual flow when approaching the home, drawing the eye toward the existing boulders that rise beyond the roofline.”

“The homeowners had amazing mature plant specimens at their previous residence that we were able to salvage and relocate to this property,” Winters notes. About 160 plants made the move, including fencepost, saguaro and totem pole cacti, ocotillo and soaptree yucca. She also transplanted native specimens to shield the home from the street. “Donna and I went plant shopping and selected ironwood trees with gnarly trunks to match those that were growing here,” recalls the lady of the house.

Pleased that the landscape retained its natural appearance, the homeowner points to the upright skeleton of a long-dead tree. “I refuse to cut it down because it’s part of the site,” she says. “I’ve been observing the property for more than 30 years, and I don’t want to change its character.”

Additional boulders were incorporated into the landscape to connect with the mountainscape beyond. Plants such as Agave americana and golden mounds of damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana) nestle around them in patterns and densities characteristic of the native site.

Tucked among the boulders, this intimate seating area offers a peaceful spot to enjoy pollinators attracted to the herbs growing in the foreground. Star jasmine climbs the stone columns before reaching the ramada’s rough-cut wood beams.
A multi-level water feature that stretches the length of the swimming pool, is clad in Rustic Ranch stone and designed to mimic the mountain’s character. “The pots create a layered effect, providing color and interest as well as visual rest,” notes Donna Winters. Upper-level seating areas offer diverse views of the mountainscape, as well as the pool below.


An oversized pot anchors the fireside seating area where family and friends often gather. The brick paving adds a rich hue to the setting and complements the home’s architecture. The door at right leads to the pool equipment room.
Metal javelinas placed near senita cacti and a Blue Glow agave form a life-like tableau.


Such breathtaking vistas can be distracting, so landscape architect Donna Winters placed pots to define edges and create a sense of boundary and guidance while traversing the entry stairs.

Photos - Clock-wise from top left: • The homeowners’ cantera stone chair and sphere integrate into a naturalistic seating area. • A rustic metal tub planted with San Pedro cacti makes a sculptural statement. • The latilla-topped patio near the herb garden offers filtered shade during the day and stargazing at night. Star jasmine vines and herbs perfume the air. • Lady Bank’s roses climb a storage building designed to complement the style of the house. Boulders and specimen plants anchor the site, while low-growing shrubs adorned with color soften transitional edges.

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