Desert Oasis

February 11, 2014

Gardens are often reflections of regional history, climate, and style. And the garden on this approximately one-and-a-half-acre lot in Paradise Valley, Arizona is no different. Phoenix- based landscape architect Chad Robert, of Exteriors by Chad Robert, Inc., took his cue from the property’s Spanish Colonial house. Evoking the mood and style of old Arizona gardens, he used salvaged street cobbles from Mexico to pave the patios, and incorporated plants such as sour oranges, cacti, and palms in a series of garden spaces and rooms. “The garden is a sequence of surprises,” says Robert. “Unexpected things happen as you move through the garden.”
 

 A sour orange (Citrus aurantium) hedge growing behind the original low garden wall provides complete privacy from the road, allowing the first surprise experience to happen: from the street, the path into the garden begins wide, narrowing as it moves from the public sidewalk to the private home. It makes a sharp turn so the garden is not seen until you actually walk through the entrance. A blue palo verde tree (Cercidium floridum), with its mossy green trunk and striking branching pattern, draws the eye toward the entry gap between the two walls, and hints at the wonders to come.

 

Once inside the outer wall, the Saltillo tile path traverses the driveway in the outer garden, leading straight to an enclosed patio. Instead of creating a solid mass of hot paving for the driveway, Robert placed black street cobbles from Mexico in uneven parallel lines, a car tire’s width apart, and planted grass to fill the rest of the space. The stones provide adequate driving surface for cars without overwhelming the long narrow space with too much hardscape. This early twentieth-century driveway style makes a potentially hot and utilitarian space, cool, verdant, and visually delightful.

 

 The house footprint includes a kitchen wing that juts into the garden space, creating two distinct garden rooms. On one side, a large, partly covered patio has views to the distinctive Camelback Mountain. Paved with salvaged Mexican street cobbles, it is a comfortable outdoor sitting and dining room. A water feature—a Corinthian capital resting on a fluted column in a tile-lined basin—marks the focal point at the end of the patio. Custom-made of hand-carved Adoquin stone, the architectural element emits a gentle flow of water. At night, uplighting highlights the intricate design and the glistening wet stone.  

 

 On the opposite side of the kitchen wing, a simple, rectangular swimming pool is painted a dark color to enhance its reflective properties. The smoky gem in the green lawn is a masterpiece of understated elegance, softened by the nearby beautiful Chitalpa tashkentensis. Its soft pink, tubular blossoms echo the color of the house.  

 

 The periphery of the garden, which wraps itself around the house like a cat curled up to sleep in the warm sun, is wilder than the inner portions. Here you’ll find the citrus orchard; a dry stone riverbed to handle the occasional “gully washer” rains; a desert stroll garden filled with an intriguing and diverse assortment of cacti, succulents, and drought-tolerant desert flowers; and a sloped grassy area where the children can run and play.

 

“The clients had a wish list and an idea book with photographs they had collected of designs and garden features they liked,” says Robert. “That was really helpful.” Robert and his clients worked together to create a garden that is harmonious with the house and its desert surroundings, and that provides a series of delightful and often surprising garden experiences and outdoor living spaces.

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