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2 award-winning Tucson landscapes contain lessons for homeowners

2 award-winning Tucson landscapes contain lessons for homeowners

  • Updated

Two award-winning landscapes offer up some hacks that can make your backyard a little more inviting.

One tackled a problem with a view, while the other turned a backyard into a spa resort.

The landscape companies who created those redesigns won Excellence in Landscape awards presented by the Arizona Landscape Contractors’ Association in November.

Solana Outdoor Living LLC won the 2016 award of distinction in the category of residential redesign costing between $50,001 and $150,000.

Horticulture Unlimited Inc. received an award of distinction for residential redesign under $50,000.


Stefan Gschwendtner and Jenny Bertram wanted to freshen the look of the backyard and finish off some bare spots behind their Foothills home.

But most of all, they wanted to get rid of the view of their neighbor’s two-story home that sits on a hill.

“It always was an eyesore for us,” says Gschwendtner, who moved into the house with his wife, Bertram, in 2007. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice blocking the view of that house while we’re sitting in the spa or pool?’”

Landscape designer Allen Denomy of Solana Outdoor Living solved the problem with a 9-foot wall of rammed earth. It’s positioned so anyone seated in or near the pool or spa can’t see the house. The rest of the hilly vista is preserved.

The ancient building method uses natural materials and allows for creating texture and color.

The wall was built into sections to keep it from becoming monolithic. The surface is finished with wavy horizontal lines that mimic a mountainous silhouette. It’s colored in tan, rust, peach and lilac pastels.

Here are some of the other changes:

To meet Bertram’s request for purple color, lots of lantana, Texas ranger, Texas mountain laurel and lilac vine were planted. Tiles of various purple tones in the outdoor kitchen area and the pool were added.

  • Concrete pavers replaced flagstone walkways throughout and flagstone was used to cover stucco benches that surround the fire pit. “Just by changing materials gives it a face-lift,” says Denomy.
  • Three new small patches of artificial turf provide what Denomy calls “a pop of green.”
  • A huge cantilevered umbrella swings around to provide shade over a dining area or over the pool.
  • A dramatic fire feature over the pool and flowing queen palms took the feel of the yard from a Southwest setting to a tropical one.

Before the redo two years ago, the couple used the backyard mainly to swim in the pool.

“It’s so nice out here now,” Bertram says of the finished project. “You want to spend all your time out here right now.”


Patty and Ross McCallister used to spend many summer days in Flagstaff. Then they realized they could instead make the backyard of their Fort Lowell Historic District home more inviting.

“Instead of going someplace and spending time in a resort, we had the potential of a resort in our backyard,” says Patty McCallister.

One of the problems, though, was how hot the backyard felt with its “sparse” Southwest landscape, says McCallister.

Dawn Fried, vice president of Horticulture Unlimited, helped design the small touches that transformed the yard.

Her first prescription: A bubbling fountain in a tall cobalt pot. “Adding a water element is always going to give a feeling of coolness,” Fried says.

Plants also add to the resort feel. “Vegetation can give you a feeling of coolness throughout,” she says.

The landscape was dominated by yuccas, agaves and Texas rangers. They were replaced with softer palms, ferns, creeping fig vine and succulents. Color was added with lantana, blackfoot daisy, lady slipper and a mock orange bush.

The McCallisters made sure to keep the old mesquites, as well as the oak tree, Arizona willow and a rose bush that are gifts.

Small lights were added to the mesquites. “At night it’s just magical,” says McCallister.

Other easy changes continued to cool down the look of the backyard, even though no shading was added to reduce the actual temperature.

  • River rock that filled plant beds and inclines were replaced with dirt. The rock then was reused as accent trim throughout the yard.
  • A dirt pathway was updated with flagstone.
  • Bare adobe walls for the corner fire pit and barbecue area were embellished with hacienda-style tiles full of color and pattern.
  • Additional color was added by using large ceramic pots, most of which hold cacti and succulents.
  • Pool supplies and toys that used to clutter the patio are contained in a storage space screened from view with corrugated metal.

The couple, who have lived in the home for more than 20 years, have spent much more time outdoors since the landscape was redone a little over a year ago.

“(Horticulture Unlimited) brought in this lushness,” says McCallister. “Now it’s like a staycation in our backyard.”

Contact Tucson freelancer Elena Acoba at

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