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Master of the Southwest Landscape Designer Morgan Holt

Author: Nancy Erdmann
Issue: March, 2012, Page 124
Photos by Christiaan Blok

Morgan Holt

A Love of Plants and Nature Dictates the Creative Evolution Behind Morgan Holt’s Unique Landscape Designs


One of the first things most people notice about Morgan Holt is his shock of white hair. After that, it’s all about his upbeat attitude, sense of humor and intelligence.

A longtime Phoenix landscape designer, Holt is known not only for his laid-back nature, but also his dedication to his craft and uncompromising integrity, says pool and landscape designer Kirk Bianchi, a 2005 Phoenix Home & Garden Master of the Southwest. “Morgan knows how to work with intensity and focus, looking for the best ways to do things, and not quitting until the job is done right,” he remarks. “He’s earned every blazing white hair on his head!”

Holt grew up outside of Denver, and at the age of 12 took a job pulling weeds at a garden center for 85 cents an hour. In high school, he worked for a nursery that specialized in native plants. “We did all kinds of interesting propagation, plant cuttings and seed-gathering, and I really fell in love with native plant materials,” he says. “I worked with homeowners, educating them about plants, and discussing how to use and design them around their homes.”

After graduating with honors from Colorado State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in landscape design/nursery management, Holt had an opportunity to build plant nurseries in Saudi Arabia. “I also designed large commercial projects and a garden for a sheik and his English wife,” he relates. He spent four more years consulting in the region before settling in Phoenix with his wife, Cindi, in 1981. Eighteen years ago he started his own company, which today is called Earth Art Landscape & Designs Inc.

Since then, Holt’s residential landscape designs have come to life in projects all over the Greater Phoenix Area. His gardens have been featured in national publications, in Phoenix Home & Garden and on the publication’s annual home and garden tours. He also appeared on HGTV’s “Landscapers’ Challenge.”

Clients such as Ann and Tom Van Slyck of Phoenix say they are in awe of Holt’s respect for the earth and his ability to educate homeowners with regard to what will and will not work. “Morgan integrates the landscape with the surrounding environment so that it not only looks beautiful, but it feels beautiful, too,” Ann says.

For Phoenix client Linda Langer, “Morgan’s approach to each project is as individual as each project is different,” she states. “There is nothing cookie-cutter about his landscape designs. The only similarity in all of his projects is in the jaw-dropping beauty of each.”

Morgan Holt designed a pool mosaic that incorporated ammonite fossils. “I love using fossils in my work,” he says. “The natural spiral nature of ammonites just fits with a water element.” Holt printed his design full-size, then cut templates on hardboard for his crew to use during installation. “Each piece is hand-set and carefully cut to fit,” he explains.
Tall and athletic, Holt finds other ways to enjoy nature, mainly on his bicycle. Most weekends find him taking long bike rides. Last year, Holt rode more than 4,000 miles. “Morgan works hard, yet he knows how to play hard,” Bianchi observes. “Before I even get out of bed, he’s ridden his bike 30 or 40 miles, then manages to quit work in time to whip up an amazing dinner on the grill.” Holt also likes to design and build furniture in his wood shop using downed mesquite, acacia or ironwood trees.

Despite the breadth of his experience and years spent perfecting his craft, this Master of the Southwest says he still has much to learn. “There are always new materials coming into the market that you need to understand. I learn about new plants all the time . . . so many agaves to choose from these days, so many aloes,” he says enthusiastically. “Good design is an amazing process, and when it genuinely happens it is so rewarding.”

A trio of agaves in decorative sandstone pots sits atop a concrete bench. At night, lighting projects silhouettes of the plants against the stone wall.

Morgan Holt, a member of the Arizona Chapter of American Professional Landscape Designers, came up with the concept for this scallop-shell wall fountain. Set on a travertine backdrop, it was designed to add interest to a backyard privacy wall.
Located adjacent to the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, this back patio once seemed closed in. Holt opened up the space by removing existing walls and overhead structures, so that the preserve felt as though it were part of the property. He then constructed an Anasazi-inspired fireplace with rustic moss rock and laid a patio floor of quartzite

Working on this project with Kirk Bianchi, who designed the pool and spa, Holt created drama by placing Talavera pots on a wall to cast reflections in the spa’s water.
A mature ironwood tree, lanky cacti and yellow damianita bring this driveway “island” to life. An existing water feature was reworked and accented with boulders.
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