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Desert Classic Reborn

Succulents, such as blue chalksticks and kalanchoes, mix with agaves and pincushion cacti to form a tapestry of color and texture in the garden.

Thirty years after its creation, a timeless landscape receives a modern-day makeover.

By Nancy Erdmann | Photography by Mark Lipczynski

In an era when it’s not uncommon for a relatively new residence to be torn down and rebuilt in a different style, there are some that stand the test of time. In a Scottsdale golf-course community, one such house drew the attention of a couple who appreciated its classic style and postcard-perfect setting.

“We had lived in another home in the same gated neighborhood for 15 years, attracted by its location, overall beauty and amenities, and we had fallen in love with this property long ago,” recalls the wife. “We weren’t looking for another place to buy, but when it came on the market, we could not resist the opportunity to restore it to its original glory both inside and out.”

Conceived more than 30 years ago by architectural designer Lash McDaniel, a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner, the desert Spanish-style residence was carefully sited to offer some of the best views of the Valley, the fairway and nearby Pinnacle Peak. Its stepped, boulder-accented grounds and verdant gardens perfectly suited the picturesque environs. Retired landscape designer Lorenzo De La Garza, who did all of the original boulder work, gives much of the credit for the conceptualization of the property to McDaniel.
“Whenever Lash designs a home, he always incorporates the landscape into his masterplan so that everything flows from inside to out,” he remarks. “Our job was to take his vision and make it real.”

However, over time and due to neglect, the gardens had aged and were due for a refresh. “Our goal was to enhance the beauty of the house by bringing in a variety of mature cactus specimens, succulents, greenery and lots of year-round color,” says the husband.

Having admired the work of landscape designer Peggy De La Garza at houses in their community, the homeowners reached out and were pleased to learn that she was part of the original design team. More than three decades after installing the gardens with her husband, De La Garza was back on the scene to update the property. The Masters of the Southwest award winner remembers the day she first saw the landscape after such a long time. “All of the boulder work was still intact and looked great, but the vegetation was overgrown. It was time to give the yard a complete facelift,” she recalls.

1. A handcarved cantera planter bench created by interior designer Judy Fox is filled year-round with colorful annuals. Located in the front courtyard, it draws the eye toward Pinnacle Peak. 2. Wooden doors open to a private garden off the master suite. The bronze sculpture of a Hopi maiden is by artist Martha Pettigrew and was a gift to the homeowners. Paving is brown flagstone.

“The landscape draws your eye in many directions as you arrive as well as when you leave.”

—the homeowner

“When Peggy shared her ideas, we had no doubt she would be able to incorporate her designs to transform our property,” says the wife. Cactus specimens that had outgrown their space were relocated to other parts of the yard where they had more room to mature, the plantscape was substantially augmented, and more than 60 tons of additional boulders were brought in.

In the front yard, “We removed a lot of jojobas and craned in a number of specimens to create focal points, which were missing,” explains De La Garza. Because much of the ground is bedrock, an extremely hard stone that sits below the surface, the only way for her to install the plants was to create elevation changes by building up the soil and arranging boulders on top of it in a way that would form planting pockets. From giant organ pipe cacti and statuesque saguaros to blooming prickly pears, desert spoons and yuccas, these iconic desert plants create a tapestry of magic. “Peggy did a great job with the renovation,” says the designer’s husband. “I think it looks even better than it originally did.”

This dynamic front yard vignette was created to echo the mountain’s iconic boulder-strewn crest. The specimen-size senita cactus and mature saguaro tower over a bed of saguaro spears, golden barrel clusters and a variety of agaves and blooming perennials.

To echo the feel of Pinnacle Peak visible from the front yard, De La Garza created rock vignettes by placing some of the boulders upright among the greenery in a manner that mimics the look of the stone-strewn mountain. “I love the way the use of boulders adds interest to the property,” says the wife. “The landscape draws your eye in many directions as you arrive as well as when you leave.”

While the front of the house reflects the desert, the backyard has a decidedly European feel, with less cacti, more lush greenery and lots of flowing color. “We decided to pull out the existing stonework on the patio along with the pool and decorative tiles and start over with a lighter palette,” the wife says. By changing the hardscape to Cantera stone and adding brighter tile work, it allowed the couple to bring in some blue tones, which can be seen in the pots and chair cushions. “We were looking for a resort feel, as if you are on vacation every day,” she adds.

For De La Garza, having the opportunity to revisit a project and bring it into the 21st century was a rare joy. “This garden had good bones, so it just made sense to build on what was already there and make it even better,” she says. And the homeowners feel the same way. They knew the house was a gem even before they bought it.

Architectural designer: Lash McDaniel, Lash McDaniel Design. Landscape Designer: Peggy De La Garza, Trademark Landscape.

For more information, see Sources.

“This garden had good bones, so it just made sense to build on what was already there and make it even better.”

—Peggy De La Garza, landscape designer

1. A massive organ pipe cactus acts as a beacon to the home’s front entry and serves as a much-needed focal point in an area that was previously overgrown. “We also added elevation changes and brought in tons of boulders to reflect the surrounding desert,” says landscape designer Peggy De La Garza. 2. Architectural designer Lash McDaniel stair-stepped the outdoor living areas to flow with the natural terrain. The yard’s original boulder work was still intact, so De La Garza brought in a more lush plant palette during the update for a Mediterranean vibe. 3. With its blue palo verde in full bloom and boulders layered to create visual interest, this driveway setting is another reminder of the desert’s distinctive beauty. 4. The De La Garzas worked closely with McDaniel during the design of the original backyard. “Peggy and Lorenzo made sure to stay true to my vision, and Peggy updated the yard beautifully,” he notes. Twisted junipers, lavender, roses, flax and a small section of grass soften up the hardscape. 5. McDaniel says he looks at every panoramic view when placing a home to get it just right. “Since this house sits right on the golf course, it was important to know how many golf balls could potentially end up in the yard and design accordingly,” he explains.

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