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The Finishing Touch

“The original landscape was traditional with no surprises or moments of interest and it obscured the architectural features of the house,” recalls landscape architect Donna Winters. She replaced the neglected greenery with layers of desert-friendly plantings that enhance the home’s facade and create a sense of arrival.

An overgrown garden is transformed into a lush landscape that celebrates its Sonoran setting.

By Nancy Erdmann | Photography by Scott Sandler

The decision to move from California to Arizona after becoming empty nesters wasn’t a difficult one for Claudia and John Schauerman. Dining and entertainment venues were limited where they lived, and the active pair wanted to be in a less congested, more bicycle-friendly area with great restaurants and cultural options. Long-time friends of theirs who had moved to Scottsdale many years prior thought the couple would love the desert and suggested that they relocate. “We visited the Valley several times to check it out and acquired many friends in the process, which made the prospect of moving even sweeter,” says Claudia. She and John ultimately settled in Arcadia, drawn to its neighborly ambiance and proximity to Old Town Scottsdale.

The couple’s home is located on a former horse property known as The Lombardi Estates. It is one of 13 in the small gated community. “This section of Arcadia had fallen into disrepair and, in the late ’90s, the family that owned its 4-acre parcels sold them. Geoffrey Edmunds Homes developed the area, which is now known as 6500 Camelback,” notes Dave Martin, president of the community’s homeowners association. “[Hockey star] Wayne Gretzky was one of the first buyers.” While the Schauermans were looking to downsize, the house they bought was larger than what they initially wanted and it lacked a native desert landscape, which was high on their wish list. “But we fell in love with the neighborhood, the beautiful pool and the view of Camelback Mountain, so we settled in,” says John.

Because updating the dwelling’s interiors took precedence over the garden, it would be five years until the landscape was given its opportunity to shine. “It became an overgrown albatross,” Claudia admits. “Our maturing shrubs turned into thickets, and the sago palms overtook the outdoor dining area to the point where we stopped going out there. The yard just wasn’t that inviting anymore.” In addition, the couple’s monthly water bill was too high for them to justify irrigating grass they never used. They wanted to transform the lot into a desert-friendly oasis with a bit of Santa Barbara lushness thrown in.

“John and I love the peacefulness of Desert Botanical Garden, with its gorgeous plants and meandering paths, and we wanted our yard to exude that same beauty and delight,” notes Claudia. “We also wanted an infusion of color without costly irrigation.” After interviewing several designers and looking through a stash of Phoenix Home & Garden magazines, the couple chose landscape architect Donna Winters. “All of our favorite gardens were by Donna. We were drawn specifically to how she combined different types of plants with such smooth cohesion, mixing desert cacti and succulents with more water-loving vegetation and brilliant blooms. Her ideas flowed like paint from a brush, and we quickly realized that she possessed the artistry and ability to transform the yard into our own special Eden.”

1. The front courtyard is a welcoming entry where rose vines and bougainvilleas climb the walls and a French limestone trough fountain sets the mood. A colorful pot with wispy plantings adds to the peaceful setting. 2. A pavered path runs from the front entrance  through another garden made cozy by a low wall with thick caps that provide a more substantial feel to the space. The rich green hue of Mexican fence post cacti matches the home’s newly painted shutters. 3. Structural forms of cacti and succulents combine with softer desert flora throughout the front and back yards. Heat-hardy yellow-flowering damianita thrives in this sunny setting, as do San Pedro and totem pole cacti. 4. Grass was removed to make space for recreational areas, such as this bocce court covered with a shade structure constructed of pretreated red wood. A special bocce mix was used for the court’s gravel.

 “We removed mature vegetation and trees and incorporated regionally specific plants that provide drama.”

—Donna Winters, landscape architect

Winters, a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner, walked the grounds and uncovered other areas of need that the Schauermans had not considered. “The hardscape was very chopped up, and there were very few usable spaces to sit and enjoy the garden,” she recalls. “Plants were so overgrown that you could hardly see the pool, and the views of Camelback Mountain were obstructed by trees. There also was no sense of arrival in the front yard.” Furthermore, the landscape obscured the architectural features of the residence.

One of the first things the couple did was paint the exterior of their mustard-yellow Tuscan-style house a soft shade of cream with sage-green shutters to give it more California coastal appeal. Because the HOA dictates that each property has a certain amount of grass, Winters couldn’t remove all of it, but she reduced the lawn to its minimum requirement and began to rework the grounds, which were heavily vegetated with manicured hedges, ficus trees and palms. “We removed mature vegetation and trees and incorporated regionally specific plants that provide drama and created vignettes to accentuate both the landscape and the house,” she explains.

1. Winters used bougainvillea and horsetail reed around the pool to produce a riparian feel and soften the hardscape. “Paths were added to create movement. Around every corner is another opportunity to view the yard from a different angle,” she says. 2. Overgrown shrubs and trees once blocked the view of the pool and Camelback Mountain from inside homeowners Claudia and John Schauerman’s central Scottsdale home. A major renovation transformed the property into a lush desert retreat and opened sightlines to the surrounding landscape. 3. A fire pit designed as a social gathering place for friends and guests is situated near the bocce court, which is often used late into the night. “The idea was to create destination areas that would draw people into the garden,” notes Winters.

“John and I love the peacefulness of Desert Botanical Garden, and we wanted our yard to exude that same beauty and delight.”

—Claudia Schauerman, homeowner

As big as the front yard is—it takes up almost a third of the lot—the entry courtyard felt small. “Donna found the space needed something to give visitors a sense of welcoming and arrival” Claudia remarks. The stone patio was cut in such a way that it narrowed toward the door, with adjacent planters restricting where people could stand while waiting to enter the home. Winters’ remedy was to regrade and replace the flooring with cantera pavers to open up the area; she also installed an inlaid cantera-and-limestone mosaic “carpet” to beckon guests. “Donna suggested adding a fountain as a little surprise element and courtyard seating in which to relax and take in the beautiful winter sunshine and vista. What a difference it all makes.”

The Schauermans like to entertain and enjoy participating in a spirited game of bocce. “We have great memories of playing on our travels and thought it would be fun to build a court in an unused section of the backyard,” says John. An arbor over the court provides shade while offering some visual grounding and definition to that part of the landscape. Designed by Winters, the 60-foot-long structure can be illuminated at night, allowing the homeowners to make use of the area late into the evening. “The last time we played, the losers made breakfast for all,” notes Claudia.

Whenever possible, the Schauermans invite their large extended family and friends to visit. During the COVID-19 crisis, their daughter, Maeve, and her husband, Sylvain, hunkered down with the couple for several weeks. “They swam and worked out to their yoga and aerobic videos on the pool deck, and Maeve practiced ballet on her pointe shoes in the breakfast nook overlooking the garden,” Claudia remarks. “We have never used and enjoyed our garden more and are so thankful to be able to have such a beautiful place to ride out the storm. We put our faith in Donna and her team and could not be happier with our garden’s transformation. And we’ve made lifelong friends in
the process.

Landscape Architect: Donna Winters, Enchanted Garden Landscapes Inc.

For more information, see Sources.

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