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For The Garden

Anything But Ordinary

Author: Nancy Erdmann
Issue: October, 2017, Page 76
Photos by Art Holeman

Located in a quiet neighborhood in south Scottsdale, this renovated house and garden were redesigned with a midcentury Modern vibe. The homeowners were also looking for a landscape that was low-maintenance and provided space for art, such as the vibrant contemporary totem by Pard Morrison.
A 1950s Landscape Undergoes an Urban Update With Unconventional Design Elements

Small spaces can offer up some of the most intriguing opportunities for transforming the ordinary into something that stands out from the rest. For part-time Scottsdale residents Linda and Bill Herrmann, the 1953 home they purchased in an older but up-and-coming area of town was full of possibility—especially the yard. Because the footprint of the house was a modest 1,100 square feet, expanding the living areas to the outside was essential.

In the light of day, the garden’s rich textures, green plant palette and vibrant sculpture offer subtle contrast to the neutral hue of the brick home, which was recently sandblasted.
“Linda and Bill wanted outdoor rooms and shade so that they could enjoy their yard year-round,” recalls landscape architect Mary Estes, who met the two through remodel contractor, Larry Gonzales. Estes notes that the Hermanns were also looking for an interesting and engaging urban design that matched their midcentury Modern aesthetic; incorporated unconventional materials; offered room for art; and had an inviting, peaceful feel. Topping Linda’s list was keeping a portion of lawn to help soften the space and provide a place for their dog to play.

The designer immediately saw the property’s potential, and she set about to come up with a plan that would suit the setting while ensuring that the homeowners’ needs were met. From the very start, she wanted to remove the layers of paint that had accumulated on the house over the years. Using walnut shells, which are gentle enough to prevent damaging abrasion and also environmentally friendly, landscape contractor Todd Wills sandblasted the exterior, revealing a textured, gray concrete block. “I just love the way this looks, and it suits the urban feel they were going for in their landscape,” Estes says.

Photos - From left: A knobby totem pole cactus emerges from red-blooming coral fountain plant. “I like highlighting a bold, sculptural plant in a mass of soft, colorful textures,” notes landscape architect Mary Estes of the design.

These graphic carport screens along the west side of the house are made from lightweight, powder-coated aluminum. Constructed by contractor Todd Wills, the panels are designed to swing open for easy access.
When the homeowners purchased the property, the plain front yard consisted of a tired Bermuda grass lawn and some lanky palms. Estes and her team removed the trees and some of the grass, then added a walkway, steel planters, a variety of surface materials and layers of plants, all set in a nonlinear layout. “The idea was to create a memorable experience from the street to the front door,” Estes explains. The driveway was upgraded from slab concrete to permeable pavers, which allow water to drain easily below the surface and reduce reflective heat.

The graphic look of the new permeable-paver driveway serves as an additional design element in the landscape.
When it came to the garden, Linda’s love of succulents and a gray/green color palette drove the plant choices, making it easy for Estes to accommodate the couple’s wish for a low-maintenance yard. She kept the plant selection uncomplicated—yet by no means boring. “I prefer plants that offer texture, structure or interesting foliage more than flowers,” the designer says. “These kinds of plants provide year-round interest whether they’re blooming or not.”

One favorite that Estes likes to use is an evergreen groundcover called Outback Sunrise Emu (Eremophila glabra ‘Mingenew Gold’). Native to Australia, it thrives in the heat, is a fast grower and requires little water once established. Other preferred choices include Mulga acacia, a small evergreen tree that is heat- and cold-tolerant, as well as elephant’s food, deer grass and St. Elmo’s Fire (in the coral fountain plant family), because they’re “tough” and “they can take a beating,” she notes.

The addition of a covered ramada in the backyard creates instant shade, while steppingstone pavers provide a cooler environment than concrete. The beams of the steel structure are set in granite so that any rust produced by the metal does not result in visible staining.
To block a west-facing carport from the intense sun without completely enclosing the space and blocking airflow, Estes decided to incorporate perforated steel panels. “Linda, Todd and I spent hours looking at paint swatches to come up with a color scheme for the panels and utility room exterior,” she recalls. “Linda gravitates toward things that are funky, fun and colorful. She especially likes the color red, but she didn’t want it to dominate the yard.” After realizing that the crimson hue wouldn’t suit the landscape palette, they settled on bright blue. “It just feels happy,” notes Linda. The decorative element became a recurring theme throughout the property and was also used in more neutral shades on the roof to screen the air conditioner and to hide mechanical equipment.

The backyard, too, received a revamp with the addition of a rusted steel shade structure, floating benches supported by a low retaining wall, an open patio space, a whole new plant palette and probably one of the most original works of outdoor art the couple had seen. Estes came up with the idea of covering a portion of the gray block property wall with pieces of wood after seeing a table Wills had made for his house. “It’s this really cool design with disks cut from trees,” she describes. The pair talked about putting wood pieces on a panel and then attaching it to the wall, something neither of them had ever done before. “Linda and Bill took a leap of faith on this. Once we got the go-ahead, it was up to Todd to make it happen.”

Made from recycled lumber, a cantilevered bench doubles as a retaining wall. Lit from below, it produces a soft glow on a bed of Mexican beach pebbles. “We’re pretty sure the entire offensive line of the Arizona Cardinals could sit on it and it wouldn’t budge,” says Wills of the strong structure.
Cut from local trees, including ironwood, mesquite, rosewood and olive, the piece began to take shape. Wills first built a steel frame with mesh wire, then, laying the panel on the ground, attached the disks with straps and screws. “At this point, I had to figure out how to hoist the panel up and attach it to the wall,” he remembers. This was not an easy feat, as it weighs close to 800 pounds. Realizing the wall would not be able to support the heavy structure, he had to engineer an underground system made from steel that could bear the weight without compromising the concrete wall. When the Herrmanns saw the finished piece, they immediately requested three more panels. “The way the wood panels look with lights washing across them is really dramatic,” Linda enthuses.

From inception to completion, the project took about a year, with installation taking four months. But the long wait was worth it. “I like the visual energy created,” Linda says about her artistic midcentury-inspired yard. “I just feel good when I step outside.”

A large metal panel clad in wood disks was designed to break up a stretch of concrete wall and also serve as outdoor art. Steel, seen throughout the landscape, was utilized for edging, an alley door and a pair of planters. Estes added a row of deer grass on one side of the walk and lady’s-slipper on the other for their graphic appeal.

Revealing the unique shape of the trunk it was cut from, the centerpiece of this wood panel comes from a native olive tree.
The sheer size of a rusted-steel planter filled with lady’s-slipper makes a strong statement along the back side of the house.

An open patio area in the backyard is set with modern furnishings, allowing the homeowners to enjoy the sunshine while their dog, Daisy, can play in the nearby grass. Estes planted Agave desmettiana en masse for its bold appeal.

An overview of the backyard showcases the many elements incorporated into the space. From a red-painted laundry room and a corrugated ramada roof, to decorative air conditioning panels and grass that is irrigated from below, everything has been carefully planned out.

Subtle color from white flowering bower vine, golden lantana and red coral fountain plants bring lushness to the landscape without using a lot of water. Although the yard is relatively small, it offers plenty of space for dining, sunning, playing and relaxing.

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