This beautiful 1930s home in the historic Willo District of Phoenix had tons of charm but a neglected front yard. In close concert with the owners I came up with some ideas for the landscaping that would be in harmony with the style of the home while bringing it gracefully into a new era.
California Pepper trees, Giant Bird of Paradise and Fortnight Lilies added texture and visual interest while paver stones replaced the austerity of big slabs of broken concrete. A low stone wall reminiscent of old Europe now runs from one side of the property to the other providing a necessary division between lawn and flower beds.
The stone work on this project was critical in terms of what I was trying to accomplish. I needed the curves to be just right and for everything to come together at the point shown below in such a way that there was no abruptness to it. This is the highly visible starting point for the low stone wall that sweeps from one side of the front yard to the other.
I chose a reddish brown stone with moss on it for this wall in order to get more of an old world look. The stones are cemented into place but the cement is backset so that it doesn't show, giving us the feel of a traditional Italian stacked stone wall.
I hired stone masons to install the wall but still did a lot of finishing work and the choosing of stones for the top layer myself. I drew the curves out on the ground with a stick, my foot and some spray paint rather than laying it out on paper. And then I watched carefully throughout the installation and made modifications to the curves as we went.
Simple paver stones were chosen for the driveway pads, the sidewalk and the patio so that there would be as little attention drawn to them as possible. It's clean, it's classic in its look and it has a nice simplicity to it.
At the point where the stone wall met the front sidewalk I chose to dip down with the wall and inset the stones into the sidewalk and thus keep the curve of the wall going to the other side where it would rise up again and resume its normal height.
As the stone wall continued its journey across the front yard it also created a beautifully rounded bed under the orchid tree that I filled with agapanthus, calla lilies, statice and pittosporum.
None of this project was drawn out on paper. The ideas came as a result of listening carefully to my clients and then explaining to them as accurately as I could what it was I was seeing happening in my mind's eye. It's an unconventional approach to designing gardens but it works well for a lot of people.
I don't see gardens flat on a piece of paper or plants and trees as squiggly little outlines. When I'm standing in somebody's yard I see the garden all around me as if it'd been there for decades all grown up and doing what gardens do. The challenge is then explaining to my clients what I'm seeing and hoping they trust me enough to go with it.
For me this is a more natural, organic way to create gardens. Things can and do change as projects progress but those changes generally mean a more beautiful garden than if we'd been bound to a plan drawn in a computer and printed out on a piece of paper.
One of the things my clients wanted most to see happen with this project was the creation of a small patio area where they could put out chairs and visit with their neighbors from their front yard, which is a popular tradition in the Willo District. The mature Jacaranda tree forms a nice canopy over the area and I added a California Pepper to create a little more intimacy and softness.