Meet Jeff Berghoff, One of the Valley’s Most Sought-After Estate Garden Designers
2022 MASTERS of the SOUTHWEST Award Winner - Jeff Berghoff
Some 25 years ago, this creative went out on his own, working from a spare bedroom in his Tempe townhouse. Today, with a staff of 300, he’s become one of the state’s most sought-after estate garden designers. Jeff Berghoff
By Nora Burba Trulsson | Portrait photography by Steve Craft on location at the Musical Instrument Museum
Up long private driveways, behind tasteful gates and sequestered by dense green hedges, landscape designer Jeff Berghoff creates his estate gardens. Specimen cacti, meandering paths and lush, green private spaces mark his installations, frequently highlighted with drifts of his signature white iceberg roses. Throughout Paradise Valley, Arcadia, Scottsdale and beyond, Berghoff has earned a well-deserved reputation for designing and building outdoor spaces for dream homes, filled with accents ranging from elegant pools and lavish outdoor kitchens to one-of-a kind touches, such as a helicopter landing pad and a private, Tony Hawk-collab skate park.
Lest you think Berghoff is an upstart, think again. He’s been at this for 25 years and credits his success to hard work, a great team—which numbers 300 these days—and the luck of having several legendary design mentors on his rise up the landscape ranks.
“I had a will to do this, and, since my youngest days, I’ve always hustled work,” reflects Berghoff, sitting inside his sunny and capacious Scottsdale headquarters, the site of a former Nissan dealership. “When it came to learning, I was a sponge soaking up knowledge from all the people who have influenced me over the years.”
Growing up in Tempe and Mesa, Berghoff went to ASU with the idea of studying computer science. But a spring break trip to California where he toured interesting buildings convinced him to change his major to architecture. At the time, ASU’s school of architecture included iconic master instructors such as architects George Christensen and Bruce Kimball; nationally known architect and urbanist Reed Kroloff was the assistant dean. But despite this creative milieu, Berghoff’s visions of an architectural career quickly came to a screeching halt. “Reed Kroloff pulled me aside one day and said, ‘Jeff, you’re not going to be an architect,’” Berghoff recalls. “I was really pissed. I didn’t know what he meant.” But Kroloff recognized that Berghoff’s college projects were less about the architecture and more about site and approach. He urged his student to go into landscape architecture. “Reed said something to me that finally resonated,” Berghoff says. “He told me that he didn’t want to see me working for a large architecture firm, drawing stairway details for the rest of my life.”
Berghoff swallowed his pride, took the advice and got his degree in landscape architecture. His first post-ASU job was working with landscape designer Marcus Bollinger at Landscaping by André, a firm, which at the time, was known for its desertscapes in Carefree and North Scottsdale. There, Berghoff worked with another rising star on the landscape scene (and future Phoenix Home & Garden Master of the Southwest), Chad Robert. But a desire to learn the ins and outs of commercial projects led him to Gage Davis Associates, which was known for doing golf and ski resorts. “Landscape architect Wendell Pickett was my direct boss there,” explains Berghoff, “and he went on to start Greey/Pickett in Scottsdale. It was Wendell who noticed that I was so passionate about residential garden design. He told me that I should really start my own company.”
In 1997, he did just that. “I had a desk in a spare bedroom of our Tempe townhouse,” Berghoff remembers. “My wife was in grad school and we were basically living on student loans. How crazy was that?”
But three weeks after hanging up his shingle, Berghoff had two strokes of luck that launched his business. First, George Christensen got him office space in a Scottsdale building owned by interior designer Nancy Kitchell, where the likes of Christensen, architects John Douglas and Banks Upshaw, and interior designer Paula Berg were headquartered. “My office was literally a closet with a desk and a skylight,” Berghoff laughs. “I was a nobody, but my name was on the door, along with those giants of Arizona design.
The second lucky break? Christensen recommended the budding landscape designer to do the garden for one of his architectural clients—University of Phoenix founder John Sperling. “John had a 4-acre estate in Arcadia, and he believed in hiring young talents,” says Berghoff. “I got the job. I went from having three guys on my team to 20, and that project started me on estate work.”
Berghoff soon realized that he could deliver a better project to clients if he also did the installation and maintenance of their outdoor spaces, thereby expanding those services. He also found his niche in becoming the Valley’s “green” landscape designer. “I learned a desert palette working with Marcus Bollinger,” says Berghoff, “but most of my clients today want a greener look. We try to do that responsibly, planting desert natives at the edge of the property, then doing a lusher planting in private spaces. We embrace technology to make our gardens sustainable.”
During the course of a quarter of a century, Berghoff figures he’s done some 2,500 landscapes, including private gardens for mansions situated on hundreds of acres. “We don’t just do large estates,” he points out. “One of my favorite projects was a jewel box courtyard with a small pool for a Phoenix townhouse. The whole thing couldn’t have been much more than 800 square feet.”
With small satellite offices in Tucson and San Diego, Berghoff has also ventured into commercial installations and maintenance for several shopping centers, and has done some hospitality projects in Phoenix, including work on Paradise Valley’s El Chorro Lodge, a recent collaboration with architect Wendell Burnette on the new Christopher’s restaurant and master plan for the Wrigley Mansion, and creating the landscape for restaurateur Sam Fox’s new hotel, The Global Ambassador.
“When you walk through a Berghoff garden you never want to leave because it transports you to a different time and place, whether it’s a French garden or a natural desert composition.”
– Mark Candelaria, architect
All of which makes Berghoff the go-to person on many a design team. “Jeff is the consummate professional,” says interior designer David Michael Miller, a frequent collaborator. “He listens to the clients to understand their lifestyle and stylistic goals and incorporates those components into his work. Jeff always brings to the table his own good taste, his own solid design sensibilities, and inevitably elevates the finished project.”
“Jeff and his company have adorned more of my clients’ homes than anyone,” reflects architect Mark Candelaria. “No matter the style or the location, he is the epitome of what it is to be a master. He orchestrates plants, paths, lighting, irrigation and the technology behind it all into magical and inspiring beauty. When you walk through a Berghoff garden you never want to leave because it transports you to a different time and place, whether it’s a French garden or a natural desert composition. He is a joy to collaborate with.”
Says architect Burnette, “For the Wrigley Mansion, Jeff was able to breathe new life into this historic place and was still able to be sensitive to its unique site. He was one of our lead team members and working with him was a pleasure.”
Amidst the accolades, Berghoff remains humble and focused. “We work at the pleasure of our clients,” he says firmly. “We want to see them have the home of their dreams realized, and we want to be good stewards of those spaces.”
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