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Peek Inside the “Beautiful Hill,” a Lush Garden With Plenty of Corners to Explore

As designed by Jeremy McVicars, Dana and Ali Ardebili’s front yard features a cobblestone path and a handcrafted wood gate.

Just steps from a busy business district, the “beautiful hill” is a lush green spot with corners meant to be explored.

By Nora Burba Trulsson | Photography by Ryan Wilson

At Dana and Ali Ardebili’s garden, coyotes creep up the hill to feast on red table grapes and the occasional chicken that makes the poor decision to leave the fenced-in coop. Herons and ducks lurk around a pond below the waterfall, eyeballing lazy koi. Above the vineyard, a bat house attracts the nocturnal mammals that happen to flit by. Paths lined with rosemary lead to the vegetable garden; roses bloom and children play.

The Ardebilis’ bucolic setting isn’t out in the country or at the edge of a forest. Instead, the lush landscape—home to the couple and their two young boys, as well as animals, both domestic and wild—is just steps from the busy Camelback Corridor. The enchanted garden is thanks to a collaboration between the couple and the talents of Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning landscape designer Jeremy McVicars.

A few short years ago, the home and the garden were but a vague dream for the couple. “I work nearby,” explains Ali, a mechanical engineer, “and I always cut through this neighborhood because I liked the setting.” He became curious about a property encircled by a white wall, which featured a man-made hill, dotted with boulders and bisected by a waterfall, pond and stream that ran from one end of the lot to the other. The land, it turns out, was owned by a prominent Phoenix businessman who tore down an existing dwelling and installed the knoll and the water feature with the intent of eventually building his Tuscan-style dream house. The dwelling never happened, but the owner used the site for weddings and other events. 

One day, Ali saw a “for sale” sign on the 1.5-acre property and convinced Dana that it would be the perfect place to build their own dream home, with a garden large enough for family gatherings and plenty of space for their boys to romp. Both blessed with creative talents, the Ardebilis designed their European-style farmhouse residence, working with architect Cory Wiebers to draft the plans and builder Tom Landon to make the dwelling a reality. Not long after the abode was completed, Ali and Dana began thinking about what they could do with the landscape, short of leveling the hill, which seemed to rather loom above the new house. They reached out to McVicars, who has become known for his rooted-in-tradition landscapes, which Dana and Ali thought would be the perfect complement to the architecture of their historically inspired residence.

1. A soothing hand-carved fountain marks a brick path to the front door. The hillside is visible beyond. 2. Gravel paths and clipped hedges flank one side of the pool in the backyard. 3. A rock fireplace warms a seating area next to the pool. 4. Off the living room, a covered patio has views of the pool and yard. 5. One of the Ardebilis’ chickens contemplates life outside of the coop.

“The existing landscape wasn’t in great shape,” recalls the designer of the first time he walked the property. “The stream took up a lot of the front yard. Dana and Ali wanted a landscape that was both elegant and casual, something with a sense of discovery, where they could live outdoors. We pretty much started over.”

In front of the house, a large swath of lawn replaced the man-made stream that once bisected the property.

McVicars removed the stream, yielding more usable space for the front yard, while the waterfall, pond and hill remained. He then came up with a plan that featured many zones, both obvious and hidden, that could be reached by a series of meandering paths and trails. With the new planting materials and hardscape, McVicars aimed to incorporate the hill into the rest of the landscape.

From the street view, a decorative wrought iron fence encircles the property. Cars are welcomed to guest parking in front and the garage in back with a drive made of cobblestones. “We gave the house some street presence with the reclaimed European cobblestones, which are 300 years old,” McVicars says. “They vary in size and were hand-set to give a nice rumble when you drive over them.”

1.Part of the hillside was reimagined with a vineyard planted with table grapes. 2. Tucked into the hillside, the ramada is the site of many alfresco meals. 3. A clay pitcher, a potted succulent and some earthy beads create a garden still life. 4. The garden’s raised beds provide salad ingredients. 5. Shaded by a mesquite, the waterfall and koi-filled pond are cooling elements at the edge of the hill.

For pedestrians, a front gate was also designed by McVicars and hand-built by Ali with Dana’s help. “We did the gate in the garage during the COVID-19 lockdown,” recalls Ali with a laugh. “Some people baked bread—we made gates.”

For the front yard, McVicars replaced the stream with a wide swath of turf, perfect for kids and dogs, and added low garden walls to define the approach to the front door and entry patio, which is warmed by a fireplace.

In back, a covered patio off the great room overlooks the swimming pool, designed by McVicars to look like “a spring of water,” surrounded by random stone coping to suggest a natural setting. Across the pool, another fireplace casts a warm glow on a small seating area. For dinners alfresco, a beamed ramada is large enough to shelter a table for 10 and grilling equipment. It is also adjacent to salad makings, thanks to raised vegetable beds.

Ali and Dana also crafted the fenced-in chicken coop (another lockdown project), near the pool in a corner of the yard designated by McVicars. “We started out with 12 chickens and are down to four, thanks to coyotes,” says Dana with a sigh.

When it came to the hill—which, it turns out, serves the practical purpose of blocking sound from a nearby busy thoroughfare—McVicars suggested a series of retaining walls that define the mount’s different sections as well as a looping trail that leads up and around. A vineyard takes up part of the slope, while a citrus grove (and bat house) crowns the top. On the opposite side of the hill, a hidden chess table is tucked between a row of agaves and the shade of an old mesquite tree. Inspired by the knoll, the Ardebilis opted to keep the name “Bella Collina,” or “beautiful hill,” the moniker the previous owner had given the property.

1. Petunias and other annuals add color around an artful garden object. 2. The homeowners found the old water pump on the grounds and installed it next to the pond. 3. A low garden gate marks the entry to the front patio. 4. Raised garden beds, hidden behind low hedges, provide fresh herbs and vegetables.

Dana and Ali also reworked all of the plumbing mechanics of the waterfall and pond, now lined with reeds and umbrella plants. “Dana wanted koi in the pond, so she found some for sale on Craigslist,” remembers Ali. “She met the sellers in a parking lot and came home with nine koi in Tupperware containers.” 

When it came to the plantings, McVicars made note of the neighborhood. “This is an older, established area, with big trees, lots of citrus and overgrown vegetation,” he explains. “We went for a green look, with carefully planned irrigation to help conserve water.”

“The beauty of this garden is that you don’t see everything all at once from the street. It reveals itself as you wander through.”

—Jeremy McVicars, landscape designer

Elms and oaks were added for shade and structure, rounding out the handful of mesquite and ash trees left from the original landscape. Dwarf ollies and fig vines soften walls, while sour orange creates a privacy hedge in the backyard. Woven between patios and along walkways, rosemary, blue hibiscus and three shades of iceberg roses add scent, texture and color. Plantings of Cimarron sage serve as a silvery counterpoint to darker green foliage. Throughout, bright annuals add drifts of color to smaller beds and large pots. 

Now mature, the garden has been a cool, shady extension of the Ardebilis’ abode, perfect for the low-key family gatherings they enjoy hosting—and great for their children. “Dana and I like to be hands-on in the garden,” says Ali, “and our boys have lots of room to explore.”

“It’s a great place for kids without looking like a playground,” agrees McVicars, who also notes the abundance of wildlife attracted to the setting. “The beauty of this garden is that you don’t see everything all at once from the street. It reveals itself as you wander through.”

Architect: Cory Wiebers, CW Architecture. Builder: Tom Landon, In Builders. Landscape designer: Jeremy McVicars, Refined Gardens.
For more information, see Sources.

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