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Midwest Transplants Embrace the Desert’s Beauty in Their Spectacular Landscape Redux

Once just a water feature, the pool is now the center of attention with the newly vegetated planting beds brimming with golden barrels, sago palms, Yucca rostradas and vibrant annuals.

An Illinois couple finds inspiration in the desert’s unexpected beauty after a much-needed garden update.

By Nancy Erdmann | Photography by Art Holeman

Often it is family and friends who draw us to a destination so different from our own that, once there, we realize it is meant for us too. Such was the case with Rebecca and Richard Cline, who decided to leave the icy-cold winters of Wheaton, Ill., and relocate to the arid Southwest to be closer to their daughter and her family, as well as friends from their home town.

“We found a house in Desert Highlands in November 2019 and came back the following March for what we thought was a two-week visit. That turned into 11 weeks due to COVID,” remembers Rebecca. “Once we were here for an extended period of time, we began to appreciate what the desert had to offer. And as we became more familiar with the neighborhood while walking our dog, it became apparent that our yard could really use a face-lift.”

One day, the Clines saw a maintenance crew at a property they admired. “We liked the different elevations created through the use of boulders and varying heights of the cacti and other native plants.” Rebecca says. “So we took down the name and number of the company from their truck and reached out.” The couple soon discovered the landscape had been designed and installed by Peggy De La Garza, a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner who has worked extensively in the area. “Peggy’s work is very present in this community, and she knows exactly what can and cannot be achieved while staying within the HOA specifications, so we knew she would be a great fit,” Rich remarks.

When De La Garza first saw the yard, she remembers it being little more than raw desert overgrown with weeds, brittlebush and bursage. “It wasn’t much of anything, and the Clines wanted their landscape to look similar to other properties I had created on the same street,” says the designer. Because the hardscape was in good shape, she didn’t have to make any changes to the paving, the walls or the pool, so all of her creativity went into the plant design. “That meant taking out the majority of the existing flora and revegetating the grounds in a way that would suit the couple’s contemporary-style house.”

Rich says he and his wife wanted a more manicured look, with degrees of elevation. “We have lived in the Midwest our entire lives and were not familiar with the types of plants needed to achieve that goal. This was also the first modern house we have owned.” De La Garza instructed the couple on the importance of connecting the indoor spaces with the outdoors, as they would be spending a lot more time outdoors in their new setting.

1. Characteristic of its desert surroundings, the rejuvenated yard exudes a quiet beauty with the addition of wispy trees and various cacti and succulents. 2. Known for her meticulous boulder work, landscape designer Peggy De La Garza craned in a series of rocks to form the basis of her design. “When the boulders arrived, Peggy made sure the crane placed them just so,” recalls homeowner Rebecca Cline. “We watched as she motioned to the crane operator to position the boulders a little bit this way or that way, carefully stacking the flat rocks on top of each other.” 3. “The landscaping was very sparse and piecemeal when we moved in, and what was here was very overgrown,” recalls Rich Cline. “After everything was finished, our landscape looked like it had been here ever since the house was built.” 4. Mimicking how desert flora grows in the wild, De La Garza used a layering technique in her planting design to transform the front yard.

“We began to learn about the look of a modern landscape. We also weren’t aware of the restrictions in place in our community regarding the plants that were already on our property,” Rebecca says. “We have a dead ironwood tree in our front yard that I thought should be removed, but I was told we weren’t allowed to do so. It wasn’t until we understood that it’s like a piece of art in the yard that reflects the native desert from hundreds of years ago that we have grown to enjoy it, as well as others like it, in the neighborhood.”

De La Garza visited numerous plant nurseries, handpicking the best specimens based on height, texture and overall appearance and filled the yard with enormous euphorbias, saguaro spears, yuccas and prickly pears, along with Japanese blueberry trees that help soften the hardscape. “The entire yard was completely transformed,” she points out. “We used a lot of the same types of plants in clusters to keep with the contemporary vibe.” For instance, in a long planter that backs up to the pool, she retained three existing sago palms on one end, added rows of golden barrels on the other end, and filled the center section with colorful annuals. When the weather is cooler, she goes with geraniums, and in the heat of summer, it’s vincas and pentas. Serving as a backdrop to all of this are blooming bougainvilleas set between treelike Yucca rostradas.

“The entire yard was completely transformed. We used a lot of the same types of plants in clusters to keep with the contemporary vibe.”

—Peggy De La Garza, landscape designer

1. A lush blending of sago palms, geraniums and barrel cacti come together in a dynamic trio of poolside planting beds. When the temperatures rise, the geraniums are swapped out for heat-loving pentas and vincas. 2. The homeowners wanted a more manicured look in their landscape, so De La Garza chose vegetation that isn’t fussy, yet retains the overall essence of a natural desert design. 3. Perennial Euryops daisy (Euryops pectinatus) provides cheery yellow blooms year-round.

“We love looking out and seeing the row of yuccas in the raised bed. Having it lit up at night is spectacular,” Rebecca enthuses. “And the geraniums provide a stunning backdrop to the pool.” Rich says he’s fascinated by the fact that in the Southwest, desert blooms that are here today are often gone by nightfall. The couple often sits on their back patio watching the evening sun cast shadows on Troon Mountain and Pinnacle Peak. They also like to entertain family, including their five children, spouses and grandchildren. “The grandkids love the pool, but I think Ajax, our English cream golden retriever, uses the pool more than any of us.”

For more in formation, see Sources.
Landscape design and installation: Peggy De La Garza, Trademark Landscape, Phoenix,


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