back to top
Homepage / Landscape + Garden  / A Verdant Oasis

A Verdant Oasis

This grand estate in North Scottsdale was designed to be easy on the eye and restful on the soul. With its clean lines, evergreen plant palette and large open spaces, it offers the homeowners a place to recharge from the busyness of life.

Elegant yet effortless, a Scottsdale landscape offers a relaxing retreat from a high-stress lifestyle.

By Nancy Erdmann | Photography by David Moore

He likes grass, and she loves trees. It doesn’t get much more straightforward than that, and simplicity ended up playing a primary role in the evolution of a North Scottsdale landscape.

“When my husband was young, he used to mow grass and always prided himself on his immaculate lawns, so grass was a must-have for him,” says the wife. For her, it was a love of oak trees resonating from her upbringing in the Midwest that guided her wish list. “I have the most beautiful ironwood tree outside of my home office and two live oaks in our courtyard.”

The couple, both from Wisconsin, have resided in Arizona for many years and place great value on their environment. “They were very involved from the beginning and had high expectations for creating a beautiful garden and functional welcoming living areas for their family and grandkids to enjoy,” says Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning landscape architect Donna Winters, who designed the outdoor spaces.

1. An abundance of cacti and succulents in a rooftop garden help conceal pool equipment below. Once designated as a podium for model trains, a hobby of the husband, it now serves as a focal point planting bed. 2. Seasonal color in containers as well as patio furnishings with accents in blue brighten up a poolside setting. “I wanted blues and greens for color, but chose a neutral tan for the basic cushions,” notes the wife. 3. Arched openings dominate the architecture and soften the views. Landscape architect Donna Winters contrasted the desert beyond with green lawns, which were a priority for the homeowners. Initially planted with real grass, the couple eventually traded it out for an easier-to-maintain synthetic variety. 4. This patio terrace is grounded by foundation plantings of Stokes dwarf yaupon holly, while the upper layer is planted with red-blooming Little John bottlebrush. Twisted myrtle frames the mountain view.

Keeping the look and feel of the landscape simple, clean and balanced was of utmost importance and on par with the formal Mediterranean-style of the house, which is all about symmetry, Winters notes. All elements are straight-lined and structured, with a minimalist low-litter plant palette that repeats itself throughout. The yard is open and spacious with green lawns, and pots brimming with seasonal color to soften things up.

“The homeowners wanted private patios on every side of the residence so that they could enjoy a different setting at different times of the day and year,” explains builder Keith Bolock, who worked closely with architect Bing Hu on the realization of the residence. Both husband and wife have their own auto courts, courtyards and private garden entrances, while a T-shaped swimming pool bordered by grass can be viewed through a two-story arched window in the home. “Every outdoor space has a different feel, yet it all flows together,” he adds.

 They had high expectations for a beautiful garden and welcoming living areas.”

—DONNA WINTERS, landscape architect

The home’s driveway is bordered by majestic 200-year-old ironwoods, as the scale of the house demanded huge mature trees, says Winters. “The idea was to emulate the aesthetic of olive trees but using a native plant.” As guests walk beyond a pair of elegant wrought-iron gates set under a bell tower, they find themselves in a serene entry courtyard. “It was designed to feel like a tropical sanctuary with rich, deep greens and soft textures,” says the landscape architect. Two oak trees, representing stability and longevity, flank each side of the verdant space.

The focal point of the courtyard is a pyramid-shaped water fountain made of limestone that was intended to be a centerpiece of reflection. “We wanted something symmetrical with a very soft sound,” says the wife, whose husband helped with its design. Adds Winters, “We developed multiple fountain ideas with the owners and builder, and the couple chose this concept because they didn’t want anything to obstruct the front door, and they liked its scale and sound quality.” The soft fronds of palms and low-growing evergreen shrubs provide a peaceful backdrop to a space defined by the arched openings of loggia-style corridors.

A more structured approach was taken in the backyard due to the linear nature of the planting beds, explains Winters. Travertine paving was chosen for its clean, cool and contemporary feel, while such plants as dwarf myrtle and Stokes yaupon holly provide a neutral green and are formal in style. Potted plants, too, play a big role and were incorporated throughout the grounds, including on stairway walls, patios, at the base of columns and around the pool. While the wife was more concerned about the flowers, it was the shapes of the vessels that were of most importance to the husband, who is one of the Valley’s leading oncologists. “He wanted the garden to be full of life and didn’t want any pots that were urn-shaped because that represents death to him,” Winters remarks. After long days spent researching cancer treatments, he wanted to come home to a comfortable and soothing environment.

Although the house takes up most of the lot, room was made for a swimming pool that includes a 50-foot-long lap lane for daily exercise and a smaller area for family play. “The homeowners wanted to keep the pool away from the house,” says pool builder Mike Ferraro. “Placing it along the property line allowed us to incorporate a contemporary water feature and a spa.” The shallow portion was added for the couple’s grandkids who love to visit from out of town.

To help hide the pool equipment, which is situated nearby but at a lower elevation, Winters came up with an idea of creating a platform over it. “The concrete roof insulates and sound mitigates the equipment below,” she points out. While the structure’s top surface was originally envisioned as a place for the husband’s miniature train track, it was turned into a “rooftop” cactus garden that he can enjoy from the deck above.

1. Large-scale pots highlight the landscape and add year-round interest. Here, a Ficus altissima, under-planted with spring bloomers, frames an archway. 2. To bring softness to the hardscape, Winters paired Mystery gardenia with trailing wire vine in a bronze container. “Pots help bring human scale to this spacious setting,” says the designer. 3. Offering the perfect view of the backyard and mountains beyond, the patio is an ideal spot for a bite to eat or coffee in the morning. 4. Replicating symmetry inside the courtyard, Winters framed the archway with two oak trees, a favorite of the wife. Sweet-smelling gardenias grow in the blue pots. 5. Inside the entry courtyard, an exotic scenario prevails with a rich palette of greenery that includes Phoenix roebellini palms, dwarf pittosporum and Agave attenuatta. Serving as its centerpiece, the pyramid-shaped water fountain, which is made from split-face block stone, is the culmination of many design ideas. A Juliet-style balcony overlooks the protected setting.

Calming and easy on the eye, the couple’s quiet landscape blends their love of nature with a serene design. With its simple plant palette and a treescape that nestles you in, the garden offers the relaxing solitude and beauty they envisioned for their private slice of paradise.

For more information, see Sources.

1. A private patio off the guest casita embraces the calm the homeowners were seeking. With its deep-green vegetation and rays of sunlight softly filtering through the desert trees, it is both serene and comforting. A hint of fragrance comes from white-flowering Mystery gardenia. Stokes dwarf yaupon holly grows in the foreground. 2. The formality of the home’s architecture and its symmetry and balance are reinforced in the landscape with a tree-lined entrance and matching pots on columns. The courtyard can be seen beyond the iron gates.


Sign up for the Phoenix Home & Garden Newsletter

Stay up to date with everything Phoenix Home & Garden!

Our newsletter subscribers will have early access to things like:

  • Upcoming Events & Pre-Sales
  • Special Promotions
  • Exclusive Giveaways!