This Lush, Jaw-Dropping Tropical Garden Has Been Scottsdale’s Best-Kept Secret for 50 Years
By Carly Scholl | Photography by Mark Lipczynski
On an ordinary suburban street in Scottsdale, an otherworldly garden bursts up and out from the backyard of a two-story home, a tangle of massive trees, bamboo forests and vines coexisting in its own semitropical microclimate. The 1.74-acre property doesn’t just host the owners’ family and abundant flora, however. Peacocks, chickens, turtles, ducks, koi and a rooster can be found preening, splashing and nesting throughout the lush landscape, as well.
Though the husband and wife have made excellent caretakers of the property since purchasing it in February of 2020, the grounds have been a home to menageries of animals and hundreds of plant species for nearly 50 years.
“I bought the house in 1971 and spent most of my life there,” explains John Cline, the former owner, a renowned artist. “At the time, it was just an inexpensive home, and it was the last development before there was absolutely nothing to the north. The property used to get covered in tumbleweeds that blew in from the desert.”
When he purchased the home, Cline had just moved from Los Angeles. “I kind of wanted to be a farmer,” he laughs. “I planted a garden and kept a cow, sheep, goats, peacocks, pheasants—and all kinds of other animals—in the backyard. But then my business, Phoenix Art Group, took off and I couldn’t take care of all of them anymore. ‘Farmer John’ went corporate.”
Over the next 40 years or so, the artist continued to renovate, renew and replant the property. “In all the time I lived there, I just kept redoing it,” he recalls. “I created a lot of little spaces that you can just relax in,” Cline adds. “I was out there every day planting, watering and trying new species.” Around 1986, he installed large ponds and water features throughout the garden. With the added humidity, the botanical life flourished and the landscape became a verdant jungle. Bamboo, mulberry trees, palms, roses and ferns are just a small sample of the diverse plant palette that thrives in an environment that is on-average 12 degrees cooler than neighboring properties.
In addition to the flora and fauna Cline cultivated over many years, he also amassed a large collection of architectural elements and statuary—many of which still preside over the garden. Antique doors and gates usher visitors through many winding brick pathways, while large urns from Asia and European marble sculptures are tucked under tree limbs and dangling vines. Perhaps Cline’s most awe-inspiring discovery is the early 19th-century dining room paneling, which he uncovered in a San Francisco warehouse shortly after buying the house. “It came out of a chateau in France,” he notes. “It was originally black in color from a technique they employed back then called ‘fuming,’ where they used a candle to fuse the stain to the wood. I owned it for a couple years before finally restoring it. One morning I woke up, grabbed a sledgehammer and knocked out a wall—which meant I had to do the dining room.” Today, the stately wood-paneled space opens up onto a bricked patio leading to the gardens, a perfect merging of the artistic interiors with the wild exterior.
“It was difficult to leave some of the statues behind, but they’re in good hands. I think there are still some things that I left in the garden that haven’t been found yet.”
—John Cline, former homeowner
After almost five decades of pouring his time, energy and creativity into the property, Cline sold the house to the new owners. “I lived most of my life there and loved every minute of it,” he asserts. “I couldn’t have sold my home to anyone better. When the family saw it, they wanted it. I just felt that they were the right fit. They are perfect.”
The couple have since seamlessly taken up the mantel as groundskeepers for this unique landscape. “We love everything about this house,” the wife says. “We don’t want to change it, only enhance it by cultivating more plants and cleaning up some areas. We’re adding edible gardens to each side of the house so we can grow as much produce as possible, and we are having some of the fountains retiled and some walkways repaired. But we do not want it to be manicured. We loved how it looked when we first discovered it.”
“Desert gardeners might be surprised to see some of the species that are growing in this microclimate. There are plantings of bay laurel, white bird of paradise, ferns, camellia, several types of bamboo, philodendrons, alocasia and soursop. We’ve planted more than 200 new specimens since moving in.”
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