Landscape designer Paul Connolly hated the wooden utility pole that dominated the backyard view of his Sabino Canyon-area clients.

Connolly, owner of Sundrea Design Studio, couldn’t chop down the pole, so he designed a landscape that essentially forces visitors to ignore it.

By creating several focal points and inviting gathering spaces, attention is diverted from the transformer-topped pole to the landscaping, including the weathered teal gate and the built-in fireplace.

“You really don’t see it,” Connolly says of the pole, which is further hidden by a new patio roof that helps block the sight.

Connolly’s design led the Association of Landscape Designers to name him in August as the 2013 Landscaper of the Year.

He earned the title because his gold-award design in the International Landscape Design Awards scored the highest among all entries.

The estimated 3,000-square-foot backyard at the home, whose owners did not want to be identified, was undeveloped except for the seven-foot-wide patio that ended with a three-foot drop-off into the yard.

That drop-off remains to accommodate a manmade drainage system that now looks like a natural dry creek, although it’s now covered with Carolina jessamine.

The land then slopes up into several terraces and ends at the property fence with patios around an above-ground spa and the fireplace. Gardens and pea-gravel or stone paths weave through the spaces.

“I really like to blend the natural elements with the patios so the plants and hardscapes work together,” Connolly says.

He also likes to create several small gathering places that provide a sense of “coziness” within a large space.

Here are some other features:

— Elevation changes help hide the above-ground spa. It sits wrapped in synthetic stone on a lower level. Steps lead to the gathering space at the next terrace, which provides easy step-in access into the spa.

— The large gate with hacienda-evoking sconces is used only as access to a neighborhood hiking trail. Making it look like a major entryway adds another focal point to the back of the landscape.

— Connolly chose plants that won’t get unruly at maturity. Valentine emu, blackfoot daisy, bulbine and blue elf aloe stay trim without much maintenance.

— Because of the house’s orientation, the patio didn’t need the roof for shade. Instead, the covering visually extends the interior living space to the outdoors.

— The kitchen hides a wall that separates private and patio gathering spaces. Behind it is an artful private space, which is at a different level and that has access only from the master bedroom.

Contact Tucson freelance writer Elena Acoba at