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Southern Comfort

Drawing inspiration from the homeowners’ Southern roots, this amenity-filled yard was conceived to feel cozy and convivial. Landscape designer Jeff Berghoff surrounded the pool and patio with swaths of cooling grass and lush masses of ornamental shrubs, seasonal flowers and climbing vines. “By organically placing the planter beds with the hardscape, we were able to incorporate greenery and color while maintaining a comfortable flow,” he explains.

An Arcadia couple eschew traditional desert landscaping for a verdant garden that recalls a subtropical climate.

By Shannon Severson | Photography by David B. Moore

Legendary soul musician Ray Charles once sang, “Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.”

For Aric and DuGué Zion, it’s not a melody that summons fond memories of the Peach State; instead, all it takes is a stroll through the lush gardens of their Arcadia home, where flourishing flora and perfumed blossoms combine in a verdant environment reminiscent of the couple’s Southern roots.

“I am much more of a woods girl than a desert girl,” DuGué explains. “Bringing that sense of being in the South, with all the green that constantly surrounds you there, just adds some extra happiness to my life.”

1. “The original front retaining wall started at the street,” explains Berghoff. “This made it impossible to have any landscaping relief from the road and was visually very stark.” Moving the wall back allowed the designer to soften the setting with lush hedges, colorful blooms and rows of fragrant rose bushes. 2. The landscape offers numerous spots to relax and soak in the natural beauty. A plush bench in the front yard is surrounded by a bevy of perfumed plantings, including roses, lavender, Arabian lilac, myrtle, dwarf olives and upright rosemary. 3. The multigabled home features a whitewashed brick facade and charming blue front door. A meandering pathway of random cut flagstone adds to the property’s English cottage character. 4. “We wanted a zero edge for the pool so it could take on a pondlike appearance and be deeply integrated into the landscape,” says Aric Zion. “The black river rock in the spa gives it an organic quality.” The pool’s dark bottom allows for maximum reflectivity day or night.

Shortly after they purchased the house, which sits on a half-acre-plus corner lot, the couple set about fine-tuning every detail of their vision, both inside and out. They worked closely with landscape designer Jeff Berghoff to develop the exterior spaces in a way that would complement the style of the home and incorporate their favorite activities. While the overall look is English cottage style, the dense plantings are more reflective of DuGué’s home state than the desert. “We wanted to have a large variety of plants and something blooming all the time,” Berghoff notes.

Adds Aric, “Though it has its own beauty, the desert can get kind of repetitive. We have lived in several homes in Phoenix, and this is our second residence in Arcadia. This time, we decided that guests shouldn’t be able to tell that they’re in Phoenix. There’s not an agave or a cactus in sight.” The array of plant specimens, replete with overlapping textures, colors and heights, creates an artistic view from every room of the home’s L-shaped layout.

But the gardens weren’t always winsome. When it came time to reimagine the once unremarkable grounds, the designer and homeowners took both the front and back yards down to the dirt, removing not only the spiky desert-friendly plants but also the existing swimming pool and spa.

“We kept nothing that was originally there,” Aric notes. “Even the driveway is a different material than it previously was. For the trees and vegetation, we had a rule: If you can find it just anywhere in Phoenix, we didn’t want it in our yard.”

Berghoff framed the property with 115 sour orange bushes, which add privacy without blocking the enviable views of Camelback Mountain. More than a dozen mature ash trees extend their canopies for shelter and cast dappled shade on cozy seating areas and open lawns. The barefoot-worthy expanses of grass, which are punctuated by pathways formed from random-cut flagstone, lends a sense of formality to the natural-looking masses of verdure. Hundreds of rose bushes, a signature of the designer, are scattered throughout the property, including a series of pink and white blooms that line a new retaining wall that borders the front yard.

While luxuriant, with plenty of spaces to unwind among the fragrant flowers, the backyard is a fun-filled paradise where Aric and DuGué can lounge and play with their beloved cocker spaniel, Jabhar. “Their must-have was an interactive yard with many amenities,” Berghoff remarks.

1. “The daybed swing is my favorite spot,” says homeowner DuGué Zion. “It is a great place to relax or read a book an enjoy the outdoors while being surrounded by flowers.” 2. A yellow gooseneck barn light adds a bit of sunny fun to the entrance of the spa house. Climbing flora, including scented star jasmine, snail vine and Lady Banks roses, soften the brick facade.“I made sure that we included lots of mature trees and flowering plants throughout the yard so that we would always have greenery around us while we’re outside, just like in the South,” says DuGué.

DuGué notes that she and her husband, “use the space for entertaining friends, co-workers and clients.” And there’s plenty to keep even the largest gathering occupied, from a sparkling, negative-edge pool and river rock-lined spa to a bocce court and an herb garden that supplies fresh ingredients for alfresco dinner parties.

But one of the most novel additions to the backyard is the “spa house,” which was inspired by Aric’s time spent living in Japan. The brick building, whose material palette echoes that of the home’s rear elevation, anchors a covered poolside destination that includes an outdoor kitchen and dining area. Inside, it houses a sauna and glass-tiled steam room, and its rear doors open to a private oasis complete with an open-air shower and private hot and cold plunge pools, all surrounded by trees, flowers and climbing vines.

“I like to swim, workout in our home gym, do multiple rounds of sauna and steam room, and get in the cold plunge,” Aric says. “It’s one of my favorite things to do as a health routine.”

“This is an engaging garden that lends itself to being discovered and explored.”

—Jeff Berghoff, landscape designer

1. Navy and yellow hues dominate the gathering areas between the pool and spa house. Interior designer Molly Brebaugh-Thurston reupholstered the homeowners’ existing seating in a fresh blue-and-white pattern that ties into the door and shiplap that cloaks that expansive dining/bar area. She added bright yellow powder-coated aluminum side tables that can easily be rearranged to suit the needs of guests. 2. In the sheltered privacy behind the spa house, green glass-tiled hot and cold plunge pools are the perfect refresher after a workout. Here, as in other parts of the backyard, Berghoff developed layers of texture and color with sour orange tree hedges, fortnight lilies, gardenias, lavender, myrtle, Indian hawthorn, pink grandiflora, Mexican bush sage and Arabian lilacs.

A yellow gooseneck barn light hangs above the spa house’s blue entry door, tying into the yard’s soothing color scheme. Interior designer Molly Brebaugh-Thurston created the look to be cheerful yet not competitive with the view from inside the home.

“I wanted to do something fun because Aric and DuGué are really vibrant and creative people,” explains Brebaugh-Thurston, who collaborated with the couple on every detail. “Just off the family room, we kept it neutral so it wasn’t too much of a contrast with the interior.

I call it dressy but comfortable. Further out, we recovered some of the outdoor furniture from their prior home, using a blue theme with pops of yellow in the side tables and light fixture.”
The formerly staid Sonoran landscape is now an idyllic image of relaxed Southern style that is the perfect respite at the end of a long day or the ideal spot to gather with friends. Just like the song, it transports guests right into the middle of a balmy, sweet-scented Georgia afternoon, which was exactly what the Zions wanted.

“This is an engaging garden that lends itself to being discovered and explored,” Berghoff says. “You want to see what is around the next bend.”
Interior Designer: Molly Brebaugh-Thurston, Vallone Design Inc. Landscape Designer: Jeff Berghoff, Berghoff Design Group.
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