Phoenix Home and Garden – April 2012


A Renovated Desert Property Offers Regional Elements and Panoramic Views: If a picture is worth a thousand words, John Samatas only needs one word to sum up the reason he decided to purchase this 9-acre north Scottsdale parcel: Views.

“The lot I bought will have unobstructed views forever,” he says of the land’s 360-degree vistas of the Phoenix area, Pinnacle Peak and the McDowell Mountains. Samatas built a house there in the late ’90s to reflect his Western leanings but left the landscape largely untouched. “The backyard was basically an extension of the desert, with stones and cactus,” he recalls.

Ten years later, with the addition of grandchildren and the hope of soon relocating from Chicago to Arizona full time, he decided to undertake a major remodel that was overseen by architect and project manager Steve Benitez. Struck by the landscaping done by Peggy and Larry De La Garza of Trademark Landscape at a nearby house, Samatas called the couple and brought them on board to overhaul the grounds.

Peggy says she was excited the first time she saw the lot and began to envision its full potential. To accommodate the homeowner’s wishes, the design team came up with a three-pronged approach: Create resortlike spaces near the house, add and update water features, and integrate desert plantings throughout. “This is lush landscape near the home that transitions into lush desert and Sonoran Desert beyond,” explains Peggy. She notes that in addition to salvaging existing vegetation, they brought in many more species; she speculates that the grounds now contain thousands of plants. Most are frost-hardy and drought-tolerant once established.

To incorporate more family-friendly areas and water features, Larry overhauled the property’s hardscape. This included expanding the entry courtyard, updating the pool and spa, and adding a streamlike water feature in the backyard that meanders under a bridge, around patios and over terraced boulders.

Boulders are the centerpiece of the design; more than 250 tons of hand-selected rocks were placed throughout the lot. Larry says he visualized a “drawing” in his head showing where each boulder would go and how it would blend into an area. “I look for boulders that will best fit into the natural setting. They need to be weathered and look like they’ve been sitting there for a while,” he comments.

“I didn’t want to disturb the integrity of the desert,” notes Samatas. The homeowner explains that he wanted the revamped landscape to reflect the lot’s natural appearance yet also offer pockets of lush Southwestern plantings and waterscapes. The finished project was exactly what he had hoped for—a peaceful retreat surrounded by the Sonoran Desert.

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