The climbing rose, William Baffin,
frames this panoramic view of the backyard garden of Paul
Mandracchia and Gary Hollander.
When Paul Mandracchia was a child growing up in the Southwest
United States, he dreamed of owning a lush, green garden that would
inspire and interest him through each season. Considered a work in
progress, the landscape at his Fox Point home is a fulfillment of that
"When we first saw the house and yard, we thought it was
cluttered, but had great bones," Mandracchia says of the 1950s
ranch he shares with his partner, Gary Hollander. The back of the
house has a whole wall of windows that looks over this private yard.
We didnít even notice the windows inside because they were hidden
with stuff, but we just saw a lot of potential in this home."
A sunny spot in the backyard features
Lychnis, day lilies, Asian lilies, geraniums and roses.
Sixteen years later, they are still surprising friends and
passers-by with what is to be found behind the unassuming house on
"A garden can be a great ice breaker," Hollander says.
"People stop and ask questions, people want to come back and see
what weíve done. Even people who keep to themselves but have a
gardening interest, will start up a conversation if they know you
What visitors find when invited into the backyard is a lush
landscape of greens, golds, yellows and whites. Many different sizes
and textures overlap and complement each other. From sturdy evergreens
to delicate roses, there is a lot going on here, but much like this
home and its occupants, it is not flashy or exotic, but rather
carefully constructed layers that balance different qualities and
enhance existing features. Surprises are found within the layers that
add to the special and unique qualities of the space.
The fiberglass sculpture in the garden
is by Paul Mandracchia. At its foot is the violet astilbe
Visions. On either side is the tall yellow ligularia, The
Rocket. In the foreground a drift of pachysandra and hosta
provide ground cover.
"I guess we started a hand-me-down garden with plantings from
friends," Mandracchia says. "One of the things I enjoy about
this space is so many things here were given to us by friends that
when I look at it, Iím reminded of that person. With gardening, you
have to be spontaneous and play off what is already there. We choose
things that will do well in this climate, and there are plenty of
choices. We tried a lot of different things, we made mistakes, and we
move things. Just like anything else, you learn over time. Our yard
gets a lot of shade and we choose things that do well in the shade so
there is a lot of green, but we add interest with various leaf shapes,
patterns and colors so it is never boring. We add a little shot of
Shade-loving plantings in the backyard
include evening primrose, Trollius, violet astilbe, hostas and
If there is a philosophy that helps nourish the gardens of
Mandracchia and Hollander it is this ó if it is too high
maintenance, they donít want it. "When some people have a
garden in mind, they want perfect rows of one color or very exotic
plants that donít do well in the climate," Hollander says.
"If you have to cover, spray or pamper it to live, it has no
business being here. We spend time out here maintaining what weíve
done, but there is nothing overly fussy here."
Although not fussy, the garden still holds some unusual surprises,
such as the holly in one section or the less common varieties of
hostas all around.
Golden barberry, blue iris and Korean
lilacs are among the plantings in the front garden.
The garden provides a release from Hollanderís work as a
psychologist. Mandracchia is an artist and a writer and finds the
garden a place to express himself artistically. Mandracchia says that
Hollander is the big-picture gardener, while he is the details guy.
"I take care of the bulbs, Paul is the rosarian," Hollander
says. "We are usually in agreement about what needs to be done or
what we want to add."
"In Phoenix you donít have a lot of the lush greenery ó
there is just not the same amount of rain," Mandracchia says,
"but interestingly enough, the soil is similar here to what was