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Beyond the Ordinary

This dramatic setting behind the pool and spa at this Scottsdale home features white-blooming Yucca rostratas and an organ pipe cactus flush with red fruits that appear right before the summer rains. The raised planting bed is a key focal point of the backyard.

North Scottsdale homeowners find pulchritude and pleasure in their revamped landscape designed for year-round enjoyment.

By Nancy Erdmann | Photography by Garrett Cook

An impressive home with fine architecture, great style and the perfect locale has much to be admired. But when the landscape doesn’t live up to the house and the homeowners aren’t happy with it, sometimes it takes a much-needed overhaul to bring the two elements into sync.

For Arizona natives Shannon and Bob Goldwater, this was the scenario at their North Scottsdale home, a peaceful retreat in the Sonoran Desert where outdoor living plays a big role.  Their grand Spanish Mediterranean-style residence sits on a spacious lot that is often visited by wildlife, which the couple adores. But the property’s builder-grade landscape held little appeal with its sparse, unkempt, overgrown vegetation and narrow backyard with a basketball court as its focal point.

“It was a hodgepodge of desert plants and perennials with no rhyme or reason to their location,” recalls landscape designer Chad Norris. “There wasn’t any design philosophy to the layout.”

For a family with 16-year-old triplets, Megan, Will and Lee, and three dogs, it was important that the yard be both beautiful and functional. “We wanted a charming space with water and fire, as well as lush, colorful and manicured vegetation,” says Shannon. “It should be warm and inviting—a place to spend and enjoy time with family.”

As so often happens with renovations of this magnitude, what began as a modest project snowballed. “The initial scope started out small, but as it evolved, and as things were added and changed, it grew into something so much bigger,” Norris remembers. “Shannon and Bob wanted a yard that was appreciative of the climate and desert setting, but they also desired a standout design and a truly unique environment that was rich and colorful but not overbearing.”

The Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner’s lush, high-desert style of planting combines cacti and succulents softened by desert perennials. His philosophy is simple: “My designs start at the driveway, work their way to the front door and spill over to the rest of the property. Creating a dramatic sense of arrival always sets the tone for the rest of the landscape,” he explains.

1. Landscape designer Chad Norris envisioned a putting green that serves as an additional entertainment zone in the backyard. 2. A brightly cushioned wicker double chaise is conveniently located next to the spa and newly built fire pit, which is clad in Mediterranean-blue tiles. Behind it is the organ pipe centerpiece planter.

As the Goldwaters saw Norris’ vision come to life, and as layers of the landscape began taking shape, they found themselves more and more engaged in what he was doing. They began accompanying the designer to his company’s on-site plant nursery where they could pick from hundreds of desert-friendly plants of stunning size, shape and texture. “Once they saw the scale and variety available to them, they were hooked on creating a very special landscape with these beautiful specimens,” he says.

Arching jets shoot water into the center of the pool. Come nighttime, the jets are lit up.

At the entry to the property’s drive, Norris planted an enormous organ pipe cactus, which he calls a staple of the landscape. “It’s a sustainable statement plant, and it just screams Arizona.”

Boulders of various sizes were placed throughout the yard, often stacked in ways that seem impossible but always appear natural. Carefully placed accent plants set around the cactus have the same feel, looking as though they’ve always been there. The more the Goldwaters saw how a well-conceived landscape could enhance their lifestyle, even when they’re inside their home, they couldn’t wait to find new ways to create more vignettes.

As his work continued, the designer created destination places around the grounds, many visible from various rooms of the home. For instance, a view from the front entry looking through the house to the backyard reveals an impressive organ pipe centerpiece planter that captures the eye. “Although this organ pipe is the largest and most dominant piece, every planter and focal area throughout the landscape has a multitextural combination of greenery,” says Norris. “They create a vignette of texture, color and visual interest, and when coupled together, produce stunning living art forms.”

“The yard should be warm and inviting—a place to spend and enjoy time with family.”

—SHANNON GOLDWATER, homeowner

One of the biggest obstacles Norris faced was the small, narrow backyard. Although there was an existing pool, the area lacked the necessary space to fulfill the homeowners’ dreams for a multifunctional landscape. Working with the City of Scottsdale, Norris was able to expand and almost double the size of the yard by trading the property’s natural boundaries for an area that was unused buildable space. “This allowed me to integrate play and social spaces, including an in-ground trampoline, tennis practice court, putting green and seating areas,” he explains.

Norris also added a 10-foot-long fire pit behind a raised spa that was constructed when the couple had their pool remodeled during the landscape renovation, and a dog run with a shade tree, 1/4-minus granite that is easier on paws than other rocks, and a grooming and bathing pad with water set up. “Our dogs are free to roam the entire yard,” says Bob. “But when we entertain, we can contain them in their own specially built side yard, which is connected to our master bedroom via a doggy door.”

Other fun features include a pool table and TV near the outdoor kitchen where the Goldwaters spend time eating and hanging out with family, as well as entertaining. “We have a great outdoor sound system that can be heard throughout the yard,” Bob notes. And with the addition of exterior lighting, the whole landscape is awash in a soft glow come nighttime. “It was important to us that the lighting was just right, we came back several times to make sure it was exactly the way we wanted it,” Norris remarks.

To liven up a plain wall and serve as a backdrop for the water feature, he planted Mexican fence post cacti and espaliered bougainvillea vines on trellises that put on a show of color on and off throughout the year.

“The homeowners desired a standout design and a truly unique environment that was rich and colorful but not overbearing.”

—Chad Norris, landscape designer

This ever-changing atmosphere makes the garden especially enjoyable. “During the day, it’s the vibrant flowers and the sights and sounds of the water features,” Shannon points out. “And at night, it’s looking across the lighted pool and spa to see the brilliant organ pipe and saguaro illuminated, as well as the fire bowls and fire wall slowly burning.”

For the homeowners and their lucky guests who get to experience this desert paradise, the yard now features something for everyone to enjoy—no matter what time of day and throughout any season.

For more information, see Sources.

1. This covered grand patio off the master bedroom, with its showpiece stone fireplace, provides protection from the elements. For additional circulation and sunlight, a latilla-style covering in the back allows airflow and light to filter in. Interior designer Connie Supman worked with homeowner Shannon Goldwater to select the furnishings and colors. “Shannon just fell in love with the blue and terra-cotta color scheme,” she says. Norris added two planting strips to delineate the outdoor living space from the rest of the paved yard. 2. Visible from the front door, this striking scene is the first view that guests see when they enter the house. Norris complemented the tiered pool area by constructing a linear fire feature a step above the spa and mounding the planting bed behind it even higher, so that each element is visible. Shannon describes the landscape as “lush, indigenous Arizona cacti, plants and trees, with a manicured Mediterranean feel,” which is expressed in the clipped hedges, floral beds and flat areas of faux grass. The curved modular sofa can be easily separated into two pieces, but it adds a more dramatic feel to the patio when pushed together, says Supman. 3. Designed for maximum impact, the entry to the driveway was artistically laid out with hand-selected boulders and a stunning organ pipe cactus specimen. 4. The homeowners have to be vigilant in order to enjoy the blooms from their Argentine giant cactus, as the flowers open at night and close up by morning. 5. The homeowners, who are both Arizona natives, love the look and feel of the desert, so Norris kept the front yard as natural as possible. “I added a spineless totem pole cactus to the right of the front door to portray a softer feel closer to the home,” he says. “These types of plants help transition from one area to the next.” 6. An existing roundabout in the driveway was expanded upon and replanted to create a more defined centerpiece, says Norris. Doing so also adds more continuity to the rest of the entry. 7. This front yard seating area near the motor court was designed with a pergola to serve as an inviting entry to the garage area. Scrambling up its columns are orange-blossoming tangerine crossvines that bloom almost year-round. 8. Norris retrofitted this cantera entry fountain so that water would cascade from four scuppers and flow into individual vessels, leaving space to grow annuals in its basin.

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