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Peak of Perfection

Raised beds and pots filled with cacti and succulents add a finishing touch the surrounding landscape. “By adding saguaro spears to the garden, the naturally occurring saguaros that are growing beyond the property line are brought into focus,” explains landscape designer Chad Norris.

In the shadow of a landmark summit, a North Scottsdale garden is a study in Sonoran splendor.

By Shannon Severson | Photography by Michael Woodall

Rising more than 3,000 feet at its highest point, Pinnacle Peak is one of the Valley’s most recognizable land forms, and a view of it from any distance is an enviable real estate attribute. Now imagine having the majesty of the spire as part of your immediate backyard. Such is the case for homeowner Hyon Hwang, whose house sits at the base of the iconic feature.

With a profusion of natural beauty as the backdrop for her property, Hyon knew she needed a garden that would maximize her surroundings without overpowering the views. To achieve a look that is mature, lush and filled with plants that complement the natural desert, she tapped the talents of Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning landscape designer Chad Norris.

1. There’s not a bad view from anywhere on the property, and potted specimens add interest to the foreground of each vista. Here, a tall Argentine toothpick cactus (Stetsonia coryne) is balanced by artichoke agaves (Agave parryi var. truncata) and fire barrels (Ferocactus gracilis). 2 & 3. The originally unremarkable approach is now a journey of botanical discovery. Large boulders are interspersed with clusters of golden barrels, yuccas, senitas (Pachycereus schottii) and organ pipe cacti (Stenocereus thurberi). Ironwood trees bloom a heathery pink, while blue agaves (Agave tequilana) and bougainvillea add vibrant bursts of color. 4. Beyond the patio, golden barrels, agaves, yuccas and other heat-loving plants combine for a look that is both natural and refined.

“This is the ultimate location. People buy houses 30 miles from here just to have a view of the summit,” Norris explains. “Hyon’s home isn’t over-the-top as far as the architecture goes; the location and the landscape really make it what it is. The garden needed to be representative of its setting.”

The house, which sits at the end of a long driveway, is hidden from the street. Guests climb the steep curvature, which leads to an open auto court and the front entry. Originally the approach was dry and unremarkable, with scrub brush scattered about, an ironwood tree or two, and a lone ocotillo. Now it’s a luxurious panoply of desert specimens.

Norris’s design begins at the street level. “I wanted to create some curb appeal, so I removed the brush, added boulders at varying levels above the retaining wall that lines the driveway, and incorporated cascades of bright pink bougainvillea for a soft touch,” he says. “There’s a lot of texture and variation; it’s a natural layout that feels a bit wild.” Rows of saguaro spears line the drive, the repetition of their tall columnar shapes guiding vehicles toward their destination.

“I wanted a very welcoming entrance,” says Hyon. “The cacti of different sizes, the flowers peeking out from amid the rocks—it’s an invitation.

“A garden is one of the first things people notice about a house. It is the enhancement, just like the makeup we put on our faces,” she continues. “When you meet someone, you look into their eyes to see who they are. Each landscape element Chad designed is displaying personality, and you discover as you go. It is an expression of my home and of who I am, as well.”

Clusters of giant boulders, both at the entry and in the backyard, are meant to look as if they’ve just tumbled down from the mountain. “The idea was to designate vignettes throughout the property,” says Norris. “This gives the impression that the boulders were here first and that everything else is built around the existing mountain.” The designer’s penchant for planting between the rock elements is on full display, with plant groupings featuring an artful blend of cacti, agaves, lantana and yuccas of varying colors, heights and textures.

At the top of the drive, ironwood trees bursting with pale-pink blossoms frame views that unfold across the mountains toward Scottsdale, Phoenix and Glendale. At night, city lights sparkle as far as the eye can see. “This is where you really get that destination atmosphere,” says Norris. “You’re completely encompassed by the landscape.”

1. At the front entry, a pair of urns brim with elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra) and Mexican fencepost cacti. Bright green pittisporum and a robellini palm add a tropical feel. 2. Argentine giants (Echinopsis candicans) are especially eye-catching when they are in bloom. 3. The rocky terrain slopes steeply upward toward Pinnacle Peak. Norris conceived the landscape to draw the eye toward the spectacular vista without distracting from it. 4. Masses of low-profile golden barrels weave their way through boulders, while taller specimens, such as yuccas and an ocotillo, are placed further out to keep the view from inside unobstructed.

Native plantings give way to a dense, nearly tropical feel at the home’s entry. It’s a look Norris likes to describe as “desert lush.” Here, indigenous plants are layered with potted succulents, hanging plants and palm trees, while vines wind through the slats of a pergola. For Hyon, the verdant effect reinforces Arizona’s appeal as a vacation paradise. “It never feels like winter here,” she says. “It’s green year-round, even December through February.”

The mountainous views take center stage once you enter into the home’s foyer. Large glass walls open the interiors to the backyard, which features a multilevel patio complete with covered seating areas and built-in plant beds. A negative-edge pool reflects the sky and jaw-dropping views of nature beyond.

“When you’re inside, you feel the natural borders of the greenery, the flowers and the stones,” says Hyon. “It all flows together beautifully.

“I use the garden so much,” she continues. “The view of Pinnacle Peak is calming any time of day, and the sunsets are beautiful. It’s both meditative and energizing—and it all looks so natural.”

Landscape Designer: Chad Norris, Desert Foothills Landscape.

For more information, see Sources.

Homeowner Hyon Hwang enjoys open views of the Valley from her patio, which is adorned with a multitude of potted desert plants.

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