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For The Garden

Purposeful Planting

Author: Sally J. Clasen
Issue: February, 2017, Page 94
Photos by Michael Woodall

A large ceramic ball inside a water and fire feature makes a dramatic statement on the front patio while contrasting the long lines and sharp angles of the hardscape and architecture. The serene sounds of trickling water bring a sense of calm to the welcoming space.
A Landscape Design Finds Balance and Harmony Against the Bold Lines of a North Scottsdale Ranch Home

Plants have always been used in home design as a connecting presence—a finishing touch added after construction that emphasizes architectural elements and adds visual appeal. But when it came to the creation of one refined, modern ranch-style home in North Scottsdale, landscape architect Donna Winters knew before construction even began that plants would be a critical design component that would enhance the dramatic and angular lines of the 6,000-square-foot residence. “The main goal was to mimic and reinforce the architectural style of the house with plants,” she explains. “It set the tone for everything we did.”

From the beginning, Winters worked with the home’s architect as well as interior designer Gail Archer to develop a landscape blueprint that would ensure that the plant narrative would coexist in harmony with the structure’s contemporary architecture and with its whimsical and ultramodern furnishings and decor.

She crafted a story of outdoor balance and simplicity by using strong, linear groupings of plants against the sharp contrasts of the house, which overlooks Estancia Club golf course and includes multiple patio spaces, a spa, a pool and fire features.

Graphic plant arrangements with strong patterns, rhythms and forms frame the home’s architecture and contrast with its main building materials: concrete and wood.

Structural specimen plants are used as sculptural points of reference. Here, a pair of potted Yucca gloriosa flank a doorway and visually enhance its basic shape. Star jasmine softens the pergola beams while adding fragrance. Black Mexican beach pebbles provide texture next to the smooth stucco walls.
“In the front, agaves are the focal point,” explains Winters. “Their forms are demanding and hold your attention. Plus, they give the eye relief and a place to rest. The soft foliage of the rich purple hearts on either side is a unifying element that provides continuity.”

Additional plant species were chosen to draw attention to the softer masses of exterior plantings as well as the bold, horizontal lines of the home. A sago palm near the entrance door rises above a ground-level plant bed, drawing attention to the arrangement’s simplicity. Dracaena planted next to the outdoor grill and a pair of potted Yucca
gloriosa that flank a door near an exterior dining space enhance each feature. Winters also used lighter-colored and white ceramic containers to reduce color chaos while drawing attention to the simplistic, Zen-like environment.

“Every planter was organized around the architectural forms, giving both equal billing in the overall look,” says Winters. “For example, the potted plants don’t try to be a feature but rather they serve as a dramatic form that accentuates the plants and the home’s details.”

In the front yard, landscape architect Donna Winters complemented the home’s contemporary architecture by adding long raised beds filled with linear arrangements of sculptural plant specimens, such as golden barrel cacti and artichoke agaves. Bush bougainvillea and rose vines soften the strong lines and add touches of vivid color to the neutral setting.
Another consideration for plant design was how best to use contrast and layers to smooth out the abode’s rough edges and add color to its neutral color palette. To soften the orderly, horizontal perspective of the property’s concrete entrance walls and liven the gray stucco exterior, Winters relied on the deep blues of artichoke agaves and then the vivid reds of bush bougainvilleas in raised platforms to engage the driveway. “The intent was to create a strong relationship between plants, architecture and furnishings,” she says.

The massing of lush green species also helps connect the unordered, natural plant response occurring outside of the walls to the organization of plants on the inside of the driveway and entrance, too, according to Winters. “The key is to make a seamless transition between the landscaped yard and its natural surroundings,” she notes.

In addition, rows of desert-tolerant plants, such as golden barrels that appear in front and back of the property, ensure permanent texture and color and a sense of year-round plant life.

A large wood dining table anchors the patio and provides a multipurpose place to entertain, dine, watch TV or simply enjoy the view. A long concrete wall stretches beyond the patio borders and overhangs the natural landscape, providing privacy and shade.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” says Winters of her use of nearly 80 diverse species. “The sheer amount of space made it necessary to use a large number of plants, but it wasn’t meant to be an eclectic expression of plantings.”

All elements of the residence pay homage to a minimalist mindset that conveys the aesthetic of the homeowners, whose goal was to achieve an uncluttered look on the exterior. “They wanted a contemporary feel with simple forms. It was an opportunity to use plant materials and species in key plantings to sustain the sculptural presence,” says Winters.

The owners have a strong connection to the outdoors, and their home’s exterior spaces reflect their laid-back lifestyle. According to the wife, the couple enjoys watching TV, dining and reading newspapers year-round on their back patio, which features a 180-degree unobstructed view. Deep overhangs offer protection from the desert’s hot summer sun, while heaters provide warmth on chilly winter evenings. In the cooler months, morning coffee is enjoyed on the front patio, which faces east and receives abundant warm morning sunlight.

At the home’s entrance, a large yet unobtrusive fireplace fronted by a pair of neutral-colored lounge chairs offers the perfect spot to greet guests. In the cooler months, the homeowners like to drink coffee here while basking in the warmth of the morning sun.
“The outdoor space is an extension of the indoor living room. It is where they live,” explains Archer, who designed the areas to exude both calmness and simplicity. “The homeowners wanted an abundance of white flowers and green succulents. These subdued tones and colors are reflected in many of the furnishings and fabric choices. The design style is minimalist—a less-is-more approach.”

The harmonious melding of architecture, decor and plants includes some unusual foliage choices as well. “Donna incorporated a lot of vines around the arbors. It’s a traditional touch, yet by using the sculptural cacti and succulents as well, it gives the overall exterior look a modern flair,” says Archer.

Plus, the purposeful arrangement and placement of plants respects the design expression, regardless of season or weather conditions. “We didn’t want overgrown gardens. The point was to be able to see the spring blooms and all the architectural points of interest at the same time,” says Archer.

Winters’ skill at highlighting the architectural features of the home with plants while still giving them significance is an effective use of landscaping juxtaposition and what steals the show, according to Archer. “In one spot, Donna used spiked yuccas with lower groundcover flowers. It all adds up to a yin-and-yang effect where two opposites reside at peace in the same place.”

The back patio, with its 180-degree unobstructed view, includes a variety of intimate seating areas that surround the rectangular pool. At the far end of the patio is a raised spa. Massings of horsetail reeds accentuate the graphic lines of the pergola, while jasmine vines soften the beams and add brilliant pops of green and white when in bloom.

A white wicker hanging chair adds a touch of whimsy to the simple and serene spa.
Horsetail reeds mimic the backyard’s linear fencing and create a sense of continuity along the edge of the patio. A row of pavers leads to a private entrance.
Interior designer Gail Archer used clean-lined yet comfortable furnishings in neutral shades in the covered outdoor living room for a light and airy feel that connects the space with the home’s interior decor. The pitched roof protects the patio from the elements while maintaining an open feel.

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