Bold Color and Rich Greenery Are the Showstoppers in This Phoenix Landscape
A ’90s-style landscape takes on a contemporary vibe with splashes of color, distinctive plantings and an unusual water feature.
By Nancy Erdmann | Photography by Michael Woodall
The Southwest has a way of captivating people, especially those who have never lived here before and are experiencing its magic for the first time. As the climate shifts throughout the year and the metamorphosis of the landscape takes place, there is much to admire. For Texas transplants Darcie and Tyler Brossart and their son, Andrew, relocating to the Phoenix area in 2012 brought on a whole new appreciation for the desert.
“I have always enjoyed gardening and having a beautiful yard,” Darcie says. “My grandmother had the most wonderful flower beds around our family farm in North Dakota. As a child, I would spend summers there, and I developed a deep love of growing beautiful, interesting plants from my grandma. To me, there is nothing more calming and inspiring than sitting in my yard and taking in the beauty of my surroundings. When we came to Arizona, this was our opportunity to try out a desert landscape.”
The couple, who moved due to a job relocation, were thrilled to live in the Southwest after years of visiting. “We purchased a house in a small gated community in East Scottsdale. Our son was 10 years old at the time, so we were looking for a nice family-oriented neighborhood,” Darcie says. “We pretty much renovated everything on the inside. The former owners had a very conservative aesthetic and we wanted to bring the house into modern times. Two years later, we were ready to tackle the outdoor spaces.”
With its overgrown vegetation, over-pruned, poodle-shaped hedges and a dated boulder water feature, the original landscape felt stuck in the ’90s. “Most of the backyard was covered in cool deck, which is not a good option when your backyard faces southwest,” Tyler says. “We quickly realized that the paving was anything but cool, from both a temperature and aesthetic perspective.” In addition, their dog would constantly kick up the granite ground cover onto the decking. “It was like stepping on a Lego,” Darcy recalls of treading on the rocks with bare feet. “It had to go.”.
In 2014, the front yard was redesigned by landscape and pool designer Kirk Bianchi, a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner. He completed the backyard the following year. “We told Kirk we wanted a modern, Southwest aesthetic; decking that would not burn our feet; an abundance of hearty and unusual desert plants with something always blooming; a section of synthetic grass for our dog; and various types of seating that could be enjoyed during different parts of the day and night,” Darcie remarks.
A fresh plant palette conceived by Bianchi and co-designer Morgan Holt—also a Masters of the Southwest winner—included all new trees, plants, cacti and large ceramic pots filled with flora. “I wanted a huge saguaro with multiple arms on it and Morgan found us the perfect one,” Darcie recalls. “And the yard flowers all year round.”
To update the existing pool, Bianchi changed out its blue-gray finish with a more sophisticated gray-green hue and removed the boulder rock pile at the pool’s edge. “I wanted to replace it with something subtle and unobtrusive that had a lighter touch, both audibly and visually, than most typical spillway features,” he explains. His solution was to construct two weaving serpentine seat walls that intersect at the back of the pool, each featuring rills—narrow streams of water that come from a pipe and flow into the pool, producing a quiet, soothing sound.
“We replaced the boulder water feature with a weaving seat wall that created an undulating, sensual line throughout the yard.”
—Kirk Bianchi, landscape designer
He replaced the cool decking with Marbella shellstone pavers, which made a noticeable difference to the homeowners. “I was pleasantly surprised by the stone, which is made up of ancient coral and shells that come from sites quarried in Southeast Asia,” Tyler says. “It does not get hot. We can stand on it in the middle of summer and not burn our feet. Kirk really urged us to go with it. And, while it is more expensive, it was worth every penny.”
The Brossarts say they mostly use their updated backyard as a sanctuary retreat. “We enjoy opening our large wall of folding windows to fully enjoy true indoor/outdoor living,” Darcie says. “Sitting in our big swivel chairs on cooler nights, fire blazing, to watch the sunset and ultimately see a sky full of stars is what desert living is all about.”
Landscape designer and pool renovation: Kirk Bianchi, Bianchi Design