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For The Garden

Al Fresco Allure

Author: Nancy Erdmann
Issue: December, 2017, Page 101
Photos by David B. Moore

Encompassing all the comforts and amenities one would need for entertaining, this resortlike backyard went through an extensive renovation that landscape architect Greg Trutza says is timeless in style and suits the essence of the homeowner’s estate.
A Phoenix Landscape Offers the Elegance of the Mediterranean and a First-Class Entertaining Experience

For years, guests arriving at Carole Ellison’s Biltmore-area home in east Phoenix knew they were in for something special. Carole, who is known for hosting themed parties, birthday celebrations and charity events, loves to make the most of her grand home and gardens for these festive events.

The existing pool was updated with glass tile, new coping, LED lighting that can be set to change colors and a retaining wall of travertine embellished with hand-carved scuppers. The pool pavilion is visible in the background.
“I once filled the tennis court with sand, brought in rented palm trees and created a lovely beach scene,” she recalls. “I hired fire-knife performers and hula dancers, and celebrated a landmark birthday, Hawaiian-style, in my own backyard.” Carole and her late husband have also held fundraisers at their home, including some for the Phoenix
Symphony where live music could be enjoyed throughout the property.

The house, which the Ellisons purchased in 1996, is large and luxurious, with impressive architectural details that exemplify its Mediterranean style. The outdoor areas, defined by expanses of lawn, towering date palms, spectacular golf course views and a swimming pool with massive boulder waterfalls, were just what the couple wanted. But as the years passed, it became clear that the garden needed some serious updating.

“Greg Trutza’s name came up everywhere I turned as one of the best landscape architects in the Valley,” says Carole. “I loved his ideas, and he was able to communicate them to me in ways that enabled me to visualize what he was talking about.”

An expansive patio off the back of the house offers the ideal venue for outdoor entertaining, with plenty of space for mingling or to set up multiple dining tables for large groups or lounge chairs for an afternoon pool party.
For Trutza, a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner, the yard felt “stuck in the ’80s,” he recalls. The faux boulder waterfalls stretching from one end of the lap pool to the other were in disrepair and had faded to pink. A “Flintstones”-style spa was difficult for guests to access, and a 10-foot-high hedge of oleanders was blocking much of the golf course view. Also, the existing patios were too small for entertaining.

Trutza came up with the design for an extensive renovation that would allow for the addition of pool and spa pavilions that match the elegant style of the house, a dance floor made up of a checkerboard of travertine pavers and faux grass, a pool bathroom, and a cold-hardy plant palette that he says looks good year-round due to its structure, form and shape. He also wanted to level out the transition from the house to the pool. “The vision was to have lawn areas surrounding the pavilions for numerous tables of eight for large events while having more intimate dining for 10 under the pool pavilion,” he explains.

A spiraled juniper, purple lobelia and colorful annuals in a large urn echo the Mediterranean style of the front and back yards, adding a playfully artistic touch to the landscape.
Adds architect David Dick, who worked on the new backyard structures, “Greg designed these vignettes that draw you through the property, whether visually by selecting what you see or physically by directing how you move from space to space. The idea was to have great areas for entertaining, for sitting and reading books or for just relaxing by yourself.”

To make way for the spa pavilion behind the existing pool and create a new water feature, the old waterfall was replaced with a retaining wall that is embellished with hand-carved travertine scuppers. The new pavilion is a stunning structure with graceful archways, a coffered ceiling, travertine flooring and a glass-tiled spa. From a distance, “it literally looks like the water is flowing right out of the pavilion,” Trutza observes. And by removing the oleanders edging the golf course, the views are wide open.

The pool pavilion’s luxurious al fresco living room features coffered ceilings, a hand-carved travertine fireplace and an elaborate sound system. Trutza chose the custom furnishings to reflect the look of Old Spain.
Nearby is a pool pavilion with a Santa Barbara style that resonates as a variation of the look of the house, explains the landscape architect. Outfitted with a full bar and kitchen that is easy for caterers to access, the space was designed by Trutza to allow guests plenty of room to circulate. It features a custom dining table for 10, comfortable seating around a fireplace and TV, numerous recessed ceiling heaters, an elaborate sound system and a posh pool bathroom.

“I wanted the two pavilions to be nestled close to each other, thus invoking a semiprivate sanctuary to the vastness of the nearby golf course,” explains Trutza, who credits Dick with playing a key role in the design and engineering of the complicated exterior architecture.

“Mrs. Ellison wanted to live outside as much as possible, and the buildings and shade structures create the opportunity to do so in a very comfortable way,” notes the architect.

At the far end of the pool patio is a dining table that seats 10. Radiant heaters and drapery panels that block sun and wind allow the homeowner to use the space practically year-round. The iron chairs and chandelier are custom.
As with most older properties, this one also needed foundation fixes. All of the existing travertine had to be replaced due to cracking. Walls were added to create privacy, a new driveway was installed with old reclaimed brick, and planters and tile work were renewed. In addition, grass in several areas was swapped out with faux turf. One of the reasons for this, says Trutza, was to avoid any staining of patio surfaces and stairs that may occur when the lawn is cut.

The landscape architect says he kept a disciplined approach to the plantscape. “Carole had beautiful paintings in her home of classic and romantic gardens with balustrades bordering garden terraces,” he notes. “She wanted her new landscape to be as if she had entered one of her paintings of Elysian fields.” To keep a look of formality, he designed the gardens in a French parterre style. From spiraled junipers and several varieties of holly to hybrid tea roses and trellised jasmine, the look is clean and elegant. Raised vegetable gardens offer organic produce that the homeowner relishes. “Having fresh, non-GMO veggies on the dinner table makes my heart sing,” she enthuses. “I am learning to be a better gardener.”

Light Durango and Chocolate travertine paving tiles laid in a pattern add graphic appeal to the main patio. The arched spa pavilion in the background overlooks the pool on one side and sunken tennis courts on the other.
Carole, who is a published poet, is quick to appreciate the beauty of her new landscape. “The eye is given a real treat no matter the direction it is aimed,” she says. “Whether I’m cooking for a few or catering for many, the design lends itself to any demand that is presented.”

And when the next party rolls around, she likes to keep things simple: “Everything looks great without adding too many more embellishments. I add a few table decorations and call it a day.”

Added during the landscape renovation, the elegant pool pavilion embodies the look of the home through
roof tiles, columns and balustrades. Flanked by date palms, the structure includes a full kitchen with Brazilian wood cabinetry, a living room with an elegant marble table, and a dining area with custom iron chairs and chandeliers.


Trutza designed a wedding cake-style stairway that leads from the pool pavilion to a lawn and the owner’s raised vegetable gardens beyond.

Designed in a classic Mediterranean style, the spa pavilion features dentil mouldings on the parapet. “This is typical of garden rooms one would find in the grand estates of Italy or Spain,” notes Trutza. The spacious setting is lit by three custom iron chandeliers.
A wall accented with a fountain made of travertine and handmade ceramic tile was constructed outside the homeowner’s master bath for some much-needed privacy. Trutza added an iron trellis to encourage a climbing vine, and he completed the space with travertine pavers and artificial grass.
Homeowner Carole Ellison grows herbs and vegetables in three raised beds adjacent to the golf course, the view of which was once obstructed by a hedge of overgrown oleanders. Iron trellises on the planting beds serve as supports for shade cloth when needed.

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