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Paradise For Two

The owners of this Scottsdale home say they were going for the “wow” factor for their renovated landscape. “One of the reasons we selected this neighborhood was because it doesn’t have an HOA,” notes homeowner Pamela Churchill. “We didn’t want to have any restrictions or regulations on our landscaping.”

Enamored by the Sonoran Desert’s unique beauty, an East Coast couple ventures into a landscape renovation of specimen-size proportions.

By Nancy Erdmann | Photography by Michael Woodall

The Southwest’s arid environs and distinctive plant palette are unlike anywhere else in the country. For some newcomers, especially if they’ve grown up in an area with a four-season climate or are avid gardeners, the desert conditions can take some getting used to. But when Connecticut natives Paul Rosow and Pamela Churchill relocated to Arizona five years ago, they couldn’t have been more excited to embrace their Sonoran surroundings. “This was all new to us,” recalls Paul. “Everything was so unique.”

The landscape at their Scottsdale home, however, was anything but special. It lacked color, was flat and uninteresting, and was devoid of any wow factor that the couple was looking for. After a misguided foray with a landscape company that filled the lot with tiny plants, the pair regrouped and found someone more on par with their aesthetic vision.

Giving Paul and Pamela the botanical beauty they desired was Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning landscape designer Chad Norris, who embarked on a complete redo of the acre-plus property. “We had him rip out the newly installed plants and start over,” says Paul. “We just wanted everything to be perfect.” Their goal was a landscape that looked mature and captured the natural essence of the desert.

A stunning array of specimen cacti, unusual succulents, native trees and indigenous shrubs—including crested Madagascar palms (Pachypodium lamerei ‘Cristate’), Snow prickly pear (Opuntia ‘Snow’), rose pincushion cacti (Mammillaria zeilmanniana) and giant senita cacti (Lophocoreus schottii)—were key to the new design that shaped the look of the entire property, Norris explains. “Pamela and Paul wanted their yard to stand out and be a reflection of their fun-loving personalities.”

One key request was to have year-round color. But instead of loading the yard with flowering annuals and perennials, Norris instead based much of his palette on the hues of the spines and flesh of the cacti and succulents, which usually stay consistent throughout the seasons. Vibrant red and golden spines of barrel cacti, purple pads of Santa Rita prickly pears, blue leaves of Agave weberi and yellow and green patterning on variegated agaves add unexpected assemblages of rich color.

When the flowering shrubs, cacti, succulents and desert trees do come into bloom, it’s like the icing on the cake. The dinner-plate-sized flowers of the numerous nocturnal Argentine giants (Trichocereus candicans) peppered throughout the property are particularly eye-catching. “It’s just fantastic,” says Paul. “We have such a unique mix of plants. Everything flows together beautifully.”

When the flowering shrubs, cacti, succulents and desert trees do come into bloom, it’s like the icing on the cake. The dinner-plate-sized flowers of the numerous nocturnal Argentine giants (Trichocereus candicans) peppered throughout the property are particularly eye-catching. “It’s just fantastic,” says Paul. “We have such a unique mix of plants. Everything flows together beautifully.”

1. “Having moved to Arizona from the East Coast, we wanted a variety of cacti and palms because they are so unique to us,” says homeowner Paul Rosow. He and Pamela also desired splashes of color throughout for diversity. Planted along the front drive are fire barrel cacti, artichoke agave, blue yucca, blue agave and the state’s iconic saguaro. 2. One of Paul’s favorite plants is the crested Madagascar palm, a recent addition to the garden. 3. To the left of the pool, an existing spa and raised patio with a beehive-style fireplace add to the allure of outdoor living. A Mediterranean fan palm was brought in for a touch of tropical flair in a mostly desert landscape. Although the saguaros in the background are situated outside the property, they appear as if they are part of the garden. 4. Pamela uses a rope attached to a massive mesquite tree to train for Spartan races. 5. The stairway leading from the sports court to the pool was planted with cardon grande cacti and an Indian laurel ficus. Paul says the tree helps block the view of the sports area from their master bedroom.
Norris uses color, texture and shape to create intriguing plant combinations throughout the landscape. Here, purple lantana adds seasonal interest.

“We call our property ‘Paradise,’ because it feels like we are on vacation every time we step outside.”

—Pamela Churchill, homeowner

Norris reworked the front yard, systematically adding elevation with mounding, boulders and retention walls. Mature blue agaves (Agave tequilana), yuccas, fire barrels (Ferocactus) and Perry’s agaves (Agave parryi var. truncata) were layered with colorful lantana, Moroccan mound (Euphorbia resinifera) and groundcover, culminating at the home’s entry where a saguaro and a pair of magnificent yuccas show off their poufy white blooms. “I wanted to accentuate the sense of arrival, so that as guests drive up toward the front door they feel as though they’ve reached their destination,” he explains. “We wanted to create a resortlike setting with splashes of color for diversity.”

1. The circular drive allows guests to enjoy the entire expanse of the front yard where mature specimens give the five-year-old garden a mature look. 2. Leaving the existing pool untouched, landscape designer Chad Norris created a lawn area beyond it for the couple’s two Australian labradoodles to roam around. Almost all of the plants were brought in at full size, so the homeowners didn’t have to wait years for them to reach maturity. 3. Saguaro spears, a blue yucca and an organ pipe cactus bring plenty of height and drama to the pool area. The bronze statue on the left is by Paul’s brother-in-law, sculptor Bruno Lucchesi, and represents Paul’s two children when they were young. The dog statue is by the homeowner’s sister and Bruno’s wife, Ann. 4. A raised boulder waterfall and the addition of trees and palms add elevation to the backyard. “This creates an impactful, climactic vision from anywhere in the yard as well as from inside the house,” Norris explains.

“Pamela and Paul wanted their yard to stand out and be a reflection of their fun-loving personalities.”

—Chad Norris, landscape designer

In the backyard, too, the designer created magic. Integrating boulder outcroppings and large senita, totem pole, cardon and barrel cacti—along with an assortment of palms—around the existing hardscape pool and boulder waterfall, he was able to blend low-water-use vegetation with more verdant plant varieties, into what Norris calls a “lush, high-desert retreat.” Everywhere you look, picturesque vignettes showcase the array of plants added to the garden.

For Paul, who loves to walk the grounds, this is about as good as it gets. A fastidious plant groomer, he likes everything to be in its place and look its best. Anything amiss catches his keen eye. “If a plant isn’t faring well, I’ll immediately replace it with something else,” he says. Pamela, too, enjoys the yard but on a more physical level. “I train for Spartan races, and one of the obstacles in these events is to climb a 30-foot rope, so we had a rope put up in one of our big mesquite trees for me to train on,” she remarks. Both enjoy swimming in the refreshing pool, and an adjacent sports court set up for pickleball and basketball gets plenty of use.

“Our landscape brings us so much joy,” notes Pamela. “It’s a fabulous space for entertaining and just hanging out and relaxing. We call our property ‘Paradise’ because it feels like we are on a vacation every time we step outside.”

Landscape Designer: Chad Norris, Desert Foothills Landscape.

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