Spectacular Plant Compositions are the Star Attraction in a Desert Garden: While living in New York City, Joanie and Richard Zecher enjoyed gardening on their terrace. They filled the space with seasonal color and also grew a lone tree in a pot. “After moving to Arizona, we went a little overboard with tree planting,” jokes Richard.
When they moved into their Desert Highlands home in north Scottsdale, it was minimally landscaped and its few trees were not sited properly. “Deciduous mesquite trees had been planted in areas that needed evergreens to provide shade or privacy screening,” Richard explains. The couple asked landscape designer Peggy De La Garza of Trademark Landscape to transform their yard into a more functional and visually exciting design.
De La Garza completely restructured the front yard’s basically flat appearance by craning in 100 tons of boulders, contouring mounds and forming a desert wash. “Creating varied elevations helps a landscape appear natural,” states the designer. “Contouring also provides definition and creates spaces to position specimen plants for visual wow factor.”
She incorporated many ironwood and palo verde trees, 27 saguaros and a hand-selected collection of agave, cacti, desert spoon and yucca, blending their colors, forms and textures into a distinctive showcase.
“We wanted the front and side yards to resemble a desert botanical garden that we could walk through, and Peggy has created that beautifully,” says Joanie. In this setting, a picture-perfect cluster of organ pipe cacti near a boulder formation is one of the homeowners’ favorite vignettes.
In contrast to the desert gardens that surround the home, the enclosed back patio offers a tropical twist. “We entertain frequently and wanted family and friends to enjoy a resort-like feel,” Joanie reports. Backyard amenities include a waterfall that tumbles into the swimming pool, a relaxing spa, comfy seating areas and a rooftop deck for viewing sunrises, sunsets and Fourth of July fireworks displays.
The backyard’s unique planting beds also grab visitor attention. “Peggy has a terrific eye for composing artistic arrangements with plants,” remarks Joanie. Depending on time of day and season, the beds receive significant shade, an exposure that can be challenging to fill with desert-adapted species. The designer combined dwarf agave and other succulents, including kalanchoe for its neon-bright flowers.
“The back of our home faces east, which is well suited for spending time outdoors in the afternoon any time of the year,” observes Richard. Aided by an extended portico, much of the backyard living area is in shade by 3 p.m., even in summer, allowing the couple and their guests to sit with a glass of wine or take a dip in the pool shielded from direct sunlight.
The patio’s morning sun and afternoon shade also provide ideal exposure for a small rose garden planted in memory of the couple’s son, Brad Herberger, who passed away in 2007. “We transplanted his beloved roses from his home to ours,” says Joanie. Richard learned to tend the roses from friend Dr. Tom Wilson, who grows hundreds of roses in his own yard.
“Although Joanie and I enjoyed our flowers in New York, we’ve learned so much more since moving here,” says Richard. “With the desert’s year-round growing season, gardening has become a great hobby for us.”