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Saguaros on the sofa.

Beautiful things happen when indoors and outdoors work together

Like an outpost in the wilderness, the rancho mirage, California, garden of interior designer Steve Chase gives respite from the sun, yet is open to the untamed desert at its edge. In an intriguing interplay, manmade spaces mesh with the natural desert.

Areas immediately surrounding the house are formal extensions of the interior. These outdoor rooms, a pergola off the library, and manicured garden beds filled with bold, textural plants are designed for viewing from both indoors and out. Pebble and rock paths, flanked by cholla and saguaro cactus and palo verde trees, lead from these manicured areas to the wild-looking landscape beyond, where sunlight plays over more casual plantings.

"I want the garden to look wild, but to cooperate with the formal geometric architecture of the house," Chase says. Order and formality characterize the outdoor rooms: furnishings of cast cement are bold and blocky, planting beds contained by poured aggregate paving are geometric, and barrel cactus are planted in lines. But Chase preserved the desert aesthetic in the 10-year-old garden with his choice of colors, textures, and materials that harmonize with the desert's sand, stone, and vegetation.

Though gardening in this wild slice of desert poses unique challenges--not the least of which is seriously armed plants--it offers its own rewards. Among them are the unsurpassed views of the majestic Santa Rosa Mountains towering beyond, bats sipping nectar from saguaro blossoms at dusk, and parched land that explodes into spring green following winter rain. Chase feels his garden's strength is visual, and his greatest pleasure is the tremendous serenity that it brings.

"There's a fine line between looking wild and being wild," he says. "People think my garden is low maintenance because it looks natural. But the look requires constant maintenance. The cactus have minds of their own. They outgrow their bounds. They lean when I intend them to grow straight. I have to move plants, rescale, and trim."

Chase says it's not a garden to play in, but evidence of his wit and artistry suggests it's a garden he enjoys playing with. Bold color and fanciful mosaic-tiled furniture electrify the dining gazebo. But even this assertive design is tempered by the natural landscape beyond, which partial glass-block walls both keep at bay and integrate visually.

The garden is a stage for Chase's outdoor art collection; sculptures, stone and metal artifacts, and natural objects like the stacked flagstone table (pictured above) are displayed and enjoyed.
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Author:Ocone, Lynn
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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