South Mountain Garden: Building a Private Sanctuary


Designer: Steve Martino Landscape Architecture

Landscape development is a situation where one can spend an enormous amount of money and still have all their original problems when finished.
The major shortcomings of suburban gardens are:
• Lack of privacy,
• Habitat displacement.
The goal was to transform this small problematic backyard into a livable outdoor room and invite wildlife by responding to the site and environment. Located next to a popular park trailhead, the site is 7 feet below the adjacent busy sidewalk. Although zoning limited fences to 6 feet in height, it was allowed to build the ‘sheds’ 2½ times higher than a fence in the required setbacks. The designer used this knowledge to create the 13 foot tall screening utilitarian sheds. They make the street activity disappear and are the dramatic backdrop to the outdoor living space. The roof deck rises above the street for mountain views while providing bonus views back to the city. Native plants and natural permeable surfaces connect the new space to the natural desert surroundings and create habitat for wildlife. All the trees were salvaged and recycled from a construction site nearby. The small water feature provides refreshing sounds and saves the amount of water used in the majority of the typical gardens with swimming pools. This small desert garden creates an alternative model for the standard suburban backyard — one that is appropriate to neighborhood and the climate. It is simple, sustainable and dramatic. It creatively solves the privacy problems: no more closed curtains for this client.