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Wild About Color

The entry to this hillside home offers a dramatic study in contrasts, with its bold desert specimens softened by blooming vines, annual color and layers of greenery.

Nineteen years after its initial install, a hillside garden is brought back to its former glory.

By Nancy Erdmann | Photography by Art Holeman

Canadian Diane Oldach couldn’t have picked a better vacation home than the one she found in North Scottsdale seven years ago. “It backs onto the base of Pinnacle Peak in a semicircular design that incorporates the natural lay of the land with an amazing view of the city lights,” says Diane, who shares the home with her fiance, Brock Allison. “There are grand windows in the back facing the peak, and the front overlooks the Valley.”

Private and picturesque, the landscape was first developed in 2000. “My husband, Larry, designed the two pools, both spas and three rock water features. We added an enormous amount of boulders and desert-adapted plantings,” says landscape designer Peggy De La Garza, a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner. “The hardscape was impressive then, and it still is now. This was a big project. It took us a good two years to build.”

What makes this setting so unique is the way the house sits between the front and back patio areas. Each yard has a pool that abuts floor-to-ceiling windows so that it appears as though the pools flow into the house and are joined underneath. “You can see the water’s reflection in the glass; it’s like the two pools are one,” says the designer. 

While the patios and boulder formations remained impressive, after several years and multiple homeowners, the yard had begun to lose its luster, as neglected plants died, outgrew their space or no longer complemented the landscape. “It was time to bring the garden back to its heyday,” says De La Garza, who did the renovation. Just about every area was redone.

 “We wanted to bring in more cacti and new planters and increase the colored plantscape areas, while staying true to the surrounding native landscape,” Diane explains. “Because Peggy knew the property, she could speak clearly about her vision for improving the landscape. She was the driving force behind the project and had all the innovative ideas.”

“When you’re outside, you feel as though you’re somewhere else, like Hawaii.”

—Peggy De La Garza, landscape architect

Introducing color was a key component of the redesign, and this is where De La Garza shines. “People call me the ‘color lady’ because of the way I bring flowering annuals and perennials into a garden. Diane wanted lots of vibrancy, and I was determined to give it to her,” she says

Beginning in the front patio area, De La Garza carefully tiptoed her way along the narrow edge of the pool, which is the only way to get to the other side of the patio from outside. “Because of the site configuration and the fact that we’re on a hillside, our guys had to climb over boulders and walk very carefully on the pool’s edge to bring in plants, dirt and all their equipment,” notes the designer. 

From her precarious perch, she instructed the crew on what needed to go and what could be saved. Healthy, overgrown plants were moved to other areas on the property where they have a better chance of surviving, and an array of fresh palms, succulents and cacti were added. De La Garza filled in any open spaces with vivid bougainvilleas—bursting in a rainbow of hues—that she trained to meander along the tops of boulders and through their crevices. “When they are at peak bloom, the color is just unbelievable,” says the designer.

Thirteen new pots took the place of old containers that had begun to disintegrate. Densely packed, they overflow with masses of annuals, including several varieties of geraniums, one of De La Garza’s favorites. “They’re hardy, and they bloom for months and months,” she says. 

The home’s sun-drenched motor court is enhanced with a tapestry of indigenous and desert-adapted vegetation. De La Garza likes to incorporate variations in plant scale as well as layers of color and texture into her projects. 

While the south-facing front yard is considered the main outdoor living area, with its meandering pool, built-in spa and enormous boulder water feature, the backyard on the north side of the house is a condensed version. “It’s very secluded, and the edge of the property backs up to a wall of bedrock,” says De La Garza. “The terrain is rocky. When we did the first landscape, Larry had to bring in tons of boulders to mask the craggy cliff face.”

With Pinnacle Peak serving as a magnificent backdrop, the main feature of the backyard is a spa and shallow reflection pool with a decorative tile medallion on its floor, a tie-over from the original homeowners. Behind it, a striking boulder water feature mimics the beauty of the distinctive mountain it was designed after. A covered patio with a built-in barbecue serves as an alfresco dining area. 

Here, too, De La Garza filled in with her trademark aesthetic, using bougainvilleas, geraniums, and tropical bird of paradise to create a riot of color. “I took a quaint area and planted it with a mass of blooming plants,” she says. “Now when you’re outside, you feel as though you’re somewhere else, like Hawaii.”  

While Diane now enjoys spending as much time outdoors as possible, she’s quick to point out another unique feature of the property that gives her and Brock one of the best reasons to head to Arizona for a reprieve from the Canadian climate: The landscape was designed to connect with an adjacent residence by way of a vine-covered entry off the driveway. 

“The original owner lived there while building what is now our house, and he used it as a guest house after moving in,” says Diane. Today, this neighboring abode is occupied by her daughter. 

 “Every time we come here, it feels like coming home,” Diane says. “It’s all very warm and inviting.”

1. Awash in a sea of color, this backyard vignette, with its straight-on view of Pinnacle Peak, features landscape designer Peggy De La Garza’s signature styling, which includes the addition of flowering annuals and perennials. 2. Making the most of a cozy backyard, De La Garza reinvigorated the plantscape with jewel-tone annuals and perennials. 3. Vibrant bougainvilleas, hardy geraniums and tropical palms bring a lush vibe to the setting, which includes a reflective pool and spa. Floor-to-ceiling windows at the edge of the pool reflect the picturesque backdrop. 4. Many of the property’s cacti and succulents that had become too large for the garden spaces were transplanted to the front yard during the renovation. The result is eye-catching curb appeal. 5. Situated on the south-facing front terrace, the patio and sheer overflow pool were designed to incorporate spectacular views of the Sonoran Desert. 6. Just off the motor court, a gate opens to a vine-covered stairway leading to the neighboring house, where Diane’s daughter lives. Its outer landscape is designed in the same manner as her mother’s. 7. The front yard of the daughter’s home, complete with its own stunning water feature, offers an almost identical view of Pinnacle Peak as the one in Diane’s backyard. Again, boulders were mounded up to replicate the feel of the iconic summit and tie the landscape into the surrounding mountainside.

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