D.A. Horchner

Turn a sunken courtyard inside out by bringing in a natural landscape

Sharon Cohoon,  – March 31, 2008

Hilltop Homes provide great view –along with some unique challenges. By the time you’ve tucked a house into one of these rocky sites, there’s often little natural landscape left. So designers must find creative ways to reconnect the steep, denuded slope to its setting.

At this stunning hilltop site in the Tesuque Valley north of Santa Fe, landscape architect Faith Okuma designed a series of stone terraces to gracefully link the upper section of the property with the lower section, which drops down 25 feet in elevation. Rain and irrigation runoff from the upper terrace helps support a small patch of blue grama grass lawn just below it.

In turn, runoff from the lawn percolates down to a sunken courtyard at the lowest level, keeping it cool and moist enough to support aspens and coral bells.

Okuma chose flowering plants to enliven a long walkway that connects a guest parking area with the front door much higher up the slope. The concentrated color holds visitors’ attention until their dramatic arrival at the top of the winding path, which overlooks the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Tesuque Valley. Typical Santa Fe courtyard plants are used in a looser way so they evoke the landscape around them. “Instead of feeling isolated,” Okuma explains, “the house becomes part of its surroundings.”

Design: Faith Okuma, formerly of Design Workshop, Santa Fe; 505/982-8399



Use tough plants in a tough climate
Okuma loves what she calls “settlement plants,” which are “the ones still surviving on an abandoned property five years later,” she explains. Most of the plants she used on this exposed hillside property – including catmint, ‘Hyperion’ daylilies, santolina, Veronica spicata  ‘Red Fox’, and ‘The Fairy’, an exceptionally sturdy polyantha rose – fit that category.

Let nature draw the lines
Carefully defined patterns are too formal and precise for a garden that sits in the midst of wild land. Planting randomly and allowing plants to create their own free-flowing design results in a more natural look that blends better with the surrounding native habitat. “Besides, it’s easier to maintain,” Okuma says.

Embrace tradition
The gates and walls tell us we’re in Santa Fe. Though these vintage gates weren’t needed for privacy at the isolated location, Okuma incorporated them to help provide the mood she wanted.Fresh Dirt:  Get the latest tips, tricks, and planting ideas
on our garden blog.

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