A multipurpose living space that looks out on a Zenlike desert garden won the Growdown competition at Tucson Botanical Gardens.

Janis and Phil Van Wyck, owners of Van Wyck Projects, won the judge's award last Sunday at the gardens' first such event, subtitled "The Great Tucson Garden Design Challenge."

Four landscape designers had three days to build gardens based on submitted plans on the theme "Small Gardens, Big Ideas." Each contestant worked with 300 square feet of space, about the size as two spaces in a parking lot.

The gardens are on exhibit at the botanical gardens at least through April.

Everything in the Van Wycks' "A Room With a View" entry was made for this garden, including the sloped metal roof of the three-walled "room" and a fountain in which water flows from a small boulder in a trough.

The soil-cement wall exposes embedded rock, while a mature palo verde soars above the "room" to provide shade for agaves and salvias.

A planter inserted into a pony wall sparkles with jewel-toned succulents.

The wood floor and benches with upholstered cushions allow for a variety of uses: yoga, sleeping, relaxing and entertaining.

"We wanted an outdoor, protected space that's easy to maintain," Janis Van Wyck says.

Scott Calhoun won the people's choice award for his colorful border-inspired patio.

The design by the owner of Zona Gardens includes more than 30 ceramic pots filled with silver cacti, rust-colored steel wall panels with circular cutouts and pot shelves, and a matching chiminea with a grill.

He adds vibrant color with tangerine and teal walls and plastic-piping chairs and ottomans, along with old Sonora, Mexico, license plates as hanging artwork.

Here are what the other designers did:

• Ezra Roati of REALM, an Urban Organics Company, flanks a water-harvesting and planted arroyo with a dog play area and edible plants in containers of corrugated panels.

A concrete bench in "An Urban Arroyo" allows a good view of both sides.

• Christine Jeffrey's "Modern Desert Garden" combines gabion seating, a shade sail, purple dagger yucca and a block wall with shrubs planted in the top bricks.

The designer with LJ Design & Consulting adds color with baby blue- and terra cotta-hued tiles forming small squares in the sandy stone floor.

If you go

• What: Growdown exhibit of four small gardens by local landscape designers.

• Where: Tucson Botanical Gardens, 2150 N. Alvernon Way.

• When: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. through April.

• Admission: $13; discounts available.

• Information: 326-9686, www.tucsonbotanical.org

To-do list for April

There's April work to be done in the yard, according to the Tucson Botanical Gardens' horticulturists.

• Clean and repair your drip irrigation system and adjust it for warm-weather watering.

• Prune frost-damaged shrubs.

• Finish spring planting and start summer veggies, including melon, squash, cucumber, eggplant and okra.

• Fertilize roses, irises and container flowers.

Contact Tucson freelance writer Elena Acoba at acoba@dakotacom.net