A Garden for Gathering
A lush, layered landscape sets the perfect stage for a welcoming family retreat.
By Lori A. Johnson | Photography by Michael Woodall
If it weren’t for the majestic views of Camelback Mountain providing a dramatic backdrop to the Mediterranean-inspired garden, complete with a colorful mosaic of flowering trees, vines and shrubs, you might imagine you had stepped out of an authentic Italian villa in the heart of Tuscany. Contrast the sumptuously flourishing foliage with the inherently structural properties of more familiar Sonoran Desert natives, such as agaves, cacti and various succulents, and reality grounds you squarely back in Paradise Valley.
Rustic Mediterranean meets desert Southwest was exactly what Sharon and Tom Zollo were aiming for when they decided to build their retirement home in Arizona. For almost two decades, the couple, both lawyers in Chicago, had been spending the winters near Anthem, but they longed for a place where they could live closer to their favorite cultural activities, enjoy the magnificent mountain views and create a welcoming, informal space for entertaining.
“I’m a bit of a home magazine junkie, so I had a pretty good idea of what we wanted,” Sharon says. “We travel to Italy at least once a year and also visit other spots in southern France and Spain, so we were looking for something more rustic but not as dark as what has been referred to as Tuscan. The interior and exterior palettes of the house are pretty light.”
“Pottery adds another layer and dimension to any garden.”
—Jeremy McVicars, landscape designer
In order to accommodate a large number of guests and activities, maintaining a comfortable flow from indoor to outdoor spaces was key to the overall design. It’s a feeling you notice as soon as you approach the dwelling. “As you enter the front courtyard, a water feature leads you to the entry door and a ‘see-through’ foyer. Your attention is then drawn to a second water feature in the backyard before moving on to the pool,” explains architect Gary Wyant. “The entry courtyard also provides an outdoor extension to the formal dining room as well as a private seating area for the guest suites.” A large patio connects the great room to the pool through pathways and landscaped vignettes and the game room to a nearby sport court. A covered deck on the second level is perfectly situated for gazing at sunsets and Camelback Mountain.
“It was important that our house offers a selection of little patios and ramadas,” says Sharon. “We wanted our guests to have private areas where they could hang out in the garden. The main area between the back of house and the pool are in use constantly. Except for the hottest days of the year, someone is almost always sitting on the covered patio.”
Mediterranean-style gardens, developed by landscape designer Jeremy McVicars and project manager Ryan Sawdey, complement the architecture and create a cohesive vibe indoors and out. The pair were careful to maintain the views of Camelback Mountain by limiting the height of the plantings along the rear fence; keeping taller trees along the side of the property also maintains privacy from the neighbors. A profusion of pink and white oleanders add large swathes of color along the fence line.
Throughout the yard, drought-tolerant foliage, such as Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), blue hibiscus (Alyogyne huegelii), tall slipper plant (Pedilanthus bracteatus) and hopseed bush (Dodonea viscosa) contribute to the landscape’s luxuriant feel, while an assortment of vines and groundcover, including climbing roses and lantana, burst with cool white and gloriously hued blossoms.
“There are also two raised beds, and the flowers are changed out every six months, which allows us to update the vibe frequently,” McVicars notes. A number of plant-filled containers in hardscaped areas add finishing touches with their bright blooms. “Pottery adds another layer and dimension to any garden,” he adds.
“The aged concrete vessels that flank the corners of the pool for balance contain olive trees and flowers that embrace the European architecture. The pots near the entry gate feature twisted juniper, which again follow the style of the home.”
In the front yard, a variety of specimen-sized natives, including palo verde trees (Cercidium hybrid ‘Desert Museum’), several types of agave, and a number of cactus species, such as golden barrel, bunny ears prickly pear (Opuntia microdasys) and Mexican fence post (Stenocereus marginatus) harmonize with the surrounding Sonoran setting. More native flora is found in the backyard, as is a special desire of the homeowners. “We did have one other request, which was citrus, so the landscaper gave us a bit of an orchard,” says Sharon. “We have eight citrus trees—two each of lime, lemon, orange and grapefruit. We added a fig tree last year at Tom’s insistence.”
“We wanted our guests to have private areas where they could hang out in the garden. ”
—Sharon Zollo, homeowner
Walkways of pea gravel and reclaimed Chicago brick, a nod to the couple’s hometown, meander throughout the property. For Sharon, the paths are one of the most satisfying aspects of the landscape. “We’ve lived here for two winters, and each year we’ve had someone staying with us who was recovering from an illness. It’s been wonderful to have the garden as a spot where folks can just wander and de-stress a bit,” she explains. “I love taking a cup of coffee and just strolling around the garden with the dog in the morning. There is so much variety in the plants and trees, so it’s always interesting to see what’s in bloom and how the landscape is maturing.”
Architect: Gary Wyant, Calvis Wyant Luxury Homes.
Landscape Designer: Jeremy McVicars, Refined Gardens.
Project Manager: Ryan Sawdey, Refined Gardens.
For more information, see Sources.