Outdoor Spaces in a Couple’s Sprawling Estate Are Meant to Evoke Different Moods
A Paradise Valley landscape is both formal and bears a relaxed vibe.
By Nora Burba Trulsson | Photography by Ryan Wilson
Last year, an outdoor wedding took place on a stretch of lawn in the backyard of a Paradise Valley home. Surrounded by clipped hedges, banks of iceberg roses and drifts of rosemary, the garden has a spot-on view of the Camel’s Head rock formation on Camelback Mountain. More recently, some dozen-plus college students—friends of the owners’ son—gathered at the house to bask in the sun, grill, swim, soak in the hot tub and enjoy the warming glow of the fire pit.
Coolly formal and yet bearing a relaxed resort vibe, this garden with a dual personality is thanks to the talents of Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning landscape designer Jeremy McVicars, who created a series of outdoor spaces meant to evoke different moods for the current owners, a couple of Eastern transplants with young adult children.
“We wanted a house and landscape that were a little on the formal side—but welcoming, not like a grandmother’s house,” explains the wife. “And, since we’re from the East Coast and are used to grassy spaces and big trees, we wanted the yard to be greener than most Arizona landscapes.”
The owners found the 1-acre lot overlooking a golf course and the mountain and achieved their vision with a design team that included McVicars, fellow Master of the Southwest, architect Mark Candelaria, interior designer Mara Green and builder Tom Argue. As the site sloped down from the street to the golf course, Argue suggested raising the home’s building pad by about four feet for better mountain views and to ensure privacy from the greens. Candelaria shaped the abode into a clean-lined Mediterranean style, angling it around the lot for maximum views of Camelback to one side and Mummy Mountain to the other, and creating numerous indoor-outdoor connections. Inside and out, Green used pale hues to keep the focus on the views and reflected the formality of the architecture with furnishings sporting elegant lines.
Inspired by the home’s design and the prime setting, McVicars suggested formal plantings and traditional elements that play off the architecture. At the street, a scrim of hopseed bushes and low garden walls screen the house from passing cars and neighborhood walkers, while a formal entry courtyard greets visitors. There, two grand columns mark the courtyard, cooled by a gurgling fountain. The arched doorway is flanked by potted cypress spires, surrounded by colorful annuals. With input from the owners, McVicars added two stately date palms to the entry arrangements. “We knew that Jeremy doesn’t usually do palms in his landscapes,” recalls the wife with a laugh, “but we’ve lived in cold climates before. I had to have palms here, just as a symbol of Arizona.”
In addition to the palms, McVicars suggested ornamental pear trees, oak and Texas ebony to round out the front yard. “We purposely didn’t use big trees in this landscape,” he says. “We didn’t want to block views, front or back.”
Two smaller patios flank the front courtyard—one off the home office with a pea gravel path and a bed filled with annuals; one off the guest wing that features a see-through fireplace, kept low so it doesn’t block views of Mummy Mountain.
In back, the patios and garden areas radiate out toward Camelback Mountain and the golf course, centered upon a deep blue-gray pool, designed by McVicars to be still and glasslike, reflecting sky and clouds. A large, covered patio off the living room and kitchen is broad enough for entertaining and includes a full outdoor kitchen. To one side, a small garden next to the master suite has another fountain, ringed by flowers and lawn. To the other side of the pool, another garden spot has a cafe table and chairs, perfect for morning coffee in the sun. A clear glass-paneled railing edges the yard’s drop-off to the golf course, allowing a sense of separation without the loss of views.
In back, McVicars kept the plant palette simple but relied on layering to achieve texture and depth. Dwarf ollies, natal plum and other clipped hedges define spaces, interspersed with rosemary plantings. Bougainvillea climb up columns. Topiary boxwood and large pots planted with kumquats and annuals reiterate the formal look. As a nod to Arizona’s citrus heritage, a side garden—which has steps down to the golf course—was planted as a mini orchard, with grapefruit, lime, orange and lemon trees. At one end of the backyard, a sturdy row of ficus serves as a barrier against errant golf balls.
“In the design of this garden, each space is like a room. Each one corresponds to a room within the house.”
—Jeremy McVIcars, landscape designer
“In the design of this garden, each space is like a room,” says McVicars, summarizing his approach. “Each one corresponds to a room within the house.”
Now that the garden has matured and blossomed through several seasons, the owners, their family and friends have taken advantage of the setting, from hosting formal weddings to having youthful hangouts poolside. “The landscape is magical,” says the wife. “We are so pleased with the outcome—and we owe it all to Jeremy.”
Architect: Mark Candelaria, Candelaria Design Associates. Builder: Tom Argue, Argue Custom Homes. Interior designer: Mara Green, Mara Interior Design. Landscape designer: Jeremy McVicars, Refined Gardens.
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